"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown". - H. P. Lovecraft
Many of us desperately crave change at work, and yet we’re uncomfortable and terrified when it occurs. But change is inevitable (and necessary for businesses to survive and thrive), so you’ll need to learn how to overcome those fears.
There are many people who fear change at work for a variety of reasons. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking stupid and fear of the unknown.
The only one who really likes change is a wet baby, Why? We’re creatures of habit and changes at work move us out of our comfort zone. Depending how we view the change and how it is presented to us by management, it can be more or less stressful and bring up a variety of fears.
Changes at work are among the top life stressors that one can experience. How we thrive is through routine and predictability. It gives a sense of control. When there are big changes, we are suddenly thrown into a state of uncertainty.
Most employees respond to internal changes in their work environment with nervousness and resistance because change for most people raises questions about contribution, and they associate it with negativity, they think, "What am I doing wrong to make my employer think that things should change?”
What types of changes really scare employees?
Revised job descriptions, raises and promotions, hiring freezes and budget cuts may be at the top of the list of unsettling workplace changes.
Reorganizations, changes in management, and changes in job responsibilities all can set off alarm bells as they may signal that one’s job itself may be at stake. New management sets off a lot of different anxieties. Will I like my boss? Will my boss like me? Will I be valued for what I do? Will I have a say in decisions? Do I have to start from square one proving my worth, or will I be respected?”
It’s perfectly normal and healthy to be a bit fearful, confused or unsettled by workplace changes at first. In fact, it’s quite normal to feel nervous and upset when things go out of our control. The unhealthy part occurs with inappropriate or unhelpful responses. Fighting change, presenting a negative attitude or ignoring its meaning or importance will not bring success to the uncooperative staffer. The intelligent, mature and driven employee will manage their fear and look for avenues to adjust to change and thrive in the new environment.
Here are tips for overcoming your fear of change at work:
Acknowledge the change. The first, most important thing to do in the presence of unsettling changes, is to acknowledge it. Recognizing and accepting change will be the first steps toward managing it.
Acknowledge your fears. When you fear change, write down your fears on paper so you have them in an objective form and can stop dwelling on them. Then go through each one and jot down what you would do in the event that fear came to pass. Knowing you have a backup plan can defuse the emotional angst.
Accept your feelings and seek support. When you’re going through a transition, it is natural to feel uncomfortable. Depending on the change you may be coping with loss of co-workers, a project, prestige, or simply your predictable routine. You may be experiencing a variety of fears. Expect and accept your feelings and reach out to others to share your experiences, reactions, and emotions. Talking with your colleagues, your partner, your friends will make you feel better and remind you that you’re not alone.”
Designate "worry time.” Worrying interferes with productivity, mood and morale—so don’t let it spill over into every crevice of your work day. If you’re worried about the changes, designate a time each day when you’re going to focus on those fears—preferably outside of the work day. But also use that time to overcome those fears.
Communication can’t be an afterthought, or passed off onto someone else or to a specific department. Periods of great change require an intentional, concerted effort by all leaders [and employees] to focus on great communication. Communication during a massive change, like nature, abhors a vacuum. And any gaps in communication get immediately filled by rumors.
If employees are effectively communicating their fears to co-workers and leaders within their organization, those concerns can be addressed and calmed, through more communication.
Stay positive. Fear can come from creating negative (or even catastrophic) scenarios about the future in your mind. In other words, your anxiety and consequential fears largely result from how you view the change. How are describing the upcoming change to yourself? What are your negative beliefs about this change and how you handle change? Think of past situations when you had to deal with change. Ask yourself questions about times you’ve successfully navigated change in the past. What was the situation? How did you handle it? What worked for you in how you handled it? Did you get support from your friends? Take good care of your health? Were you active in seeking solutions? What personal qualities did you exhibit that helped? Were you persistent? Patient? Insightful? Brave?
Know how transitions work and have realistic expectations. When you jump into a swimming pool it usually doesn’t feel good at first. Then a few minutes later (assuming we stay in) it feels better. Did someone warm up the pool? Or did we adjust? We have the capacity to adjust to change, but that takes time.
Be flexible and available to take on any new task that might accompany the change. Keep a positive outlook on the opportunity to take on any new challenges and exceed expectations.
Even if you don’t like something new in the system, if you are flexible, people will want to work with you, and there’s a greater chance for change. If you ‘rage against the machine,’ so to speak, no one is going to rush to have your back or be your teammate.
Reduce your stress. One very effective technique to reduce workplace stress is meditation.It only takes a few minutes and can be done at work. If you don’t have a private office, you can meditate in your car or even in the bathroom whenever you’re feeling tense – anywhere you can be alone and uninterrupted.
Regular meditation will make you feel more calm, relaxed, and peaceful. I recommend practicing morning and evening, and whenever your anxiety spikes throughout the day.
Increase your value. Take the time to know how valuable you’re perceived as being within the organization, then make the effort to find ways to become more valuable. Valuable employees typically get through changes unscathed, or even better than before.
Keep working. Sometimes in reorganizations, it takes some time before the scope or even specifics of your job are clearly delineated. Do whatever you can. Work will give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment, it will be your part of keeping morale up during the reorganization, and gee—that’s what you’re getting paid for.
The bottom line is, change isn’t going anywhere—so you’ll need to learn how to overcome your fear of it.
Change is life. Change is the new, constant reality of any workplace. And if it’s not, it ought to be, because the riskiest thing any businesses can do in the new, uncertain world order, is to not change.