24 August 2021

Change at work; fears and opportunities

Thinking deeply

Changes at work can engender feelings of anxiety but can often lead to very positive outcomes.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

Change evokes a range of emotions, ranging from one end of the scale to the other – from fear to excitement.

There’s one certainty about change though – it will always happen. And it’s highly likely, if not another certainty, that change in business will continue at a faster rate than ever before.

Many people still working in 2021 remember telex and fax machines, dialling ‘9’ for an outside line, typing pools and in some industries when a liquid lunch wasn’t just commonplace, but borderline compulsory. Change is inevitable, most change is positive, and change represents opportunity. Resilient people not only accept change, most will embrace it.

The last thirty years has seen technological change on an unprecedented scale. That, however, didn’t prepare us for the Covid-19 sledgehammer – something that has probably changed workplaces forever.

See also What is workplace resilience? – the previous article in this series.

Change means different things to different people

What constitutes ‘change’ varies for different people. It can mean new colleagues, a new boss, change of role, physical move, change in business ownership or perhaps the loss of a key contract or customer. Sometimes change can be brought on by external forces – a change in legislation perhaps, or political shift.

People respond differently. While one person may embrace a change in ownership and new responsibilities within the space of a week, someone else will be reduced to tears over a swapped or missing chair. People are different; sometimes unpredictable, occasionally irrational.

Working from home

Few people would’ve expected waking up on New Year’s Day 2020 that within three months their whole working life would be different. Some jobs became classified under a “key worker” umbrella – people in the NHS, bus drivers, supermarket and pharmacy workers, police officers among others. Some people were furloughed – a word most of us (come on, admit it) had never heard before. Many people – particularly in areas like hospitality – simply lost their jobs. For millions though, the big change came with the massive migration and headspace shift to WFH – working from home.

Previously largely the preserve of freelancers, the self-employed and people needing to focus on things for a day or two away from the noise and hubbub of an office, working from home suddenly became the norm for many.

Contrary to what some people feared, things didn’t grind to a halt. Some may have started their working day fifteen minutes after crawling out of bed and I’m-not-getting-properly-dressed-for-work-because-no-one-can-see-my-pyjama-bottoms-on-Zoom may have been a common sentiment but things didn’t fall over. In fact, people, on average, started to work longer each day. Business Insider quoted Office of National Statistics data – people working from home worked an average of six hours unpaid overtime each week, considerably more than people who were office-based. A Guardian article in early 2021 indicated the figure was more like an extra ten hours a week in the UK.

Change. Something to fear or an opportunity?

Change can generate fear. It generates other emotions too, but success comes from navigating change. The ability to manage change successfully comes largely through resilience.

For many, the pandemic put previous concerns into perspective. Why worry about the commute to work, dodgy air-con or if your boss is a bit pernickety when there’s a global pandemic raging?

Tackling change with a “resilience armoury” reduces the potential negative impacts of change. So, what should we look to have in that armoury when a big change, like the pandemic, hits us full-on? There are a few things to consider:

How strong is the company? Are the foundations (good management, solid team and structure, finance) in place to withstand a big jolt to the system? Are systems and processes robust? Is technology up to date? Is IT support strong?

What is management’s approach to their people? Do they empower and trust employees? How do they communicate with them? How effective is the HR team? Are the right HR systems in place to support employees?

Regular, open and effective communication during a time of crisis or change goes a long way to alleviating employee concerns.

Employees with a positive attitude – those whose mindset is about what can be done as opposed to what can’t – are invaluable during a time of change. Not only is their own output and quality of work important to the organisation, but they are a positive influence and act as a catalyst for others.

Despite what might happen in some areas in an organisation, change is usually accompanied by opportunity.

Simon Wooldridge, Content Writer, MHR

Simon Wooldridge

Simon is a content writer at MHR.

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