Meet Jack. He’s dealing with a lot of change, right now. His manager might say he’s not dealing with it very well and point to his drop in productivity, increase in sickness absence and lack of engagement. Sure, the organisation is mid-way through a restructure and uncertainty is rife – there has been a lot for a while and will be for some time to come. But his manager would argue that others in the workplace are facing the same situation, and they seem to be handling it better than him. There’s Sally, for example, who is at the same level as Jack. She sees the restructure as an opportunity; Jack views it as a threat.
This illustrates how everyone deals with change in a different way. When an organisation goes through change, there will be people like Sally and Jack, as well as a swathe of people somewhere in the middle. During change of any sort, management want their employees to stay focused and productive whilst keeping an open mind and a positive outlook about what is happening in the organisation, often for an indeterminate period of time. That’s a big ask for someone like Jack who finds it hard to stay in a place that’s frightening and stressful, especially when there is no end point in sight.
What his manager doesn’t know is that Jack has a lot of change going on in his personal life too. His wife has just been made redundant, his 18-year-old daughter needs financial support as she starts university and his mother has had a fall and is struggling to manage on her own at home. Jack is experiencing change-overload and his mental wellbeing is suffering as a result, especially as none of it feels remotely positive.
To make it worse, the organisation has been tight-lipped about the restructure. Without information, employees will create their own narratives and, as humans are predisposed to scan the horizon for threats and danger, these narratives tend to be negative. For example, Jack doesn’t know yet how the change at work will affect him, but he’s heard rumours about redundancies – just like his wife experienced recently – and he fears that someone of his age might struggle to find another. Losing his job would be disastrous for his family. With a dearth of information, Jack backfills the story and he focuses on frightening possibilities, rather than his work, and becomes increasingly stressed.
As an employer, how do you support people to deal with change in a meaningful way? Simple. As well as communicating clearly and frequently with the workforce, you provide resilience training.
Resilience training gives individuals the tools that they need, regardless of how they approach change, to manage their mindset. It can’t eliminate the difficulties or obstacles, but it does give people the techniques to cope with them in a healthy and resilient way. They are better-placed to dealing with the adversity and bounce back from them faster. This applies as much to their personal life as it does to work. Building resilience helps the whole person, not just the one that turns up to work each morning.
By training someone in resilience skills, you are helping them be proactive in their own mental wellbeing. They will learn how to create an environment, both physically and emotionally, that enables them to deal with problems and difficulties. It also helps them to recognise what they can and cannot control or influence.
For Sally, resilience training will support her to fine-tune her resilience and access the highest level of performance; for Jack, it could be life changing. And for the organisation? By supporting employees through turbulent times, it is making a savvy investment with the potential for a high return in terms of high levels of productivity and engagement. Change might be unavoidable; stress and poor mental wellbeing are not.
Article by Julie Griffiths, The Wellbeing Project