Today's workplace is characterized by change - people are losing their jobs and with the diminished workforce at many businesses, responsibilities are changing.
Normal reactions to change are shock, denial, resistance, grief and acceptance.
Early in my career I worked at a state mental hospital. I had been hired to train the staff. I love teaching, so I was very happy with my job. I could teach whatever I liked so I offered workshops on stress management, new games, and team building.
One day I received a notice that the teaching unit was closing and that I was now assigned to be a staff psychologist on the unit at the hospital where the long-term mental patients were housed. (SHOCK)
I was hired to teach. I didn't want my new assignment. So I simply didn't go. (DENIAL)
I staged my own version of a sit-in strike, stayed in my old office and continued teaching. Two weeks passed (RESISTANCE).
One day the psychiatrist from the chronic care unit knocked on my office door, took me by the hand and led me to my new office on the chronic care unit.
I left my lovely office with windows looking out onto a beautiful field and moved to my new "office." It had been a linen closet in its previous life - narrow, no windows, dark paneled walls. I took one look and burst into tears. (GRIEF)
Once I made friends with the other staff members and we started planning for treatment of these patients, my attitude began to change. I bought sky blue paint and painted the closet walls to look like the sky. I found posters of windows looking out on lovely gardens and hung them up on my sky blue walls. I was moving into ACCEPTANCE.
The pattern I experienced, moving from shock to denial to resistance to grief to acceptance is the normal course of a reaction to change.
The assertive approach to the challenge of change is defined by claiming the change in a way that works for you. Approach the change positively and gain as much as you can from the process.
Here are the steps to developing a positive approach.
1. Use reframing
Powerlessness is a consequence of workplace change. The decisions often come from corporate headquarters and you cannot do anything to make the results any different.
The unassertive person grumbles and complains in response to the lack of control when the change is announced.
The assertive approach is to "reframe" the way in which you view the change. A photo framed in a solid black frame will look much different than a photo in a cheerful red frame.
If your job responsibilities have shifted, a positive reframe is: "Now I have the opportunity to learn a new skill."
Or if you suddenly have twice as much work as you did before, you could reframe by saying, "Now I'll challenge myself to refine my time management skills."
2. Make a plan for the future.
Examine your goals. Where would you like to be in five years? What are the steps you can take now to aim toward that future life? Write a commitment plan and stick to it. Examine the new form of your current job and determine if it now fits the goals toward which you aim.
If moving to a different job or place of employment is part of your plan, begin now to examine what you need to do and start to take the steps necessary to control your own career.
For example, when my job at the hospital changed from training to chronic care, I began taking steps to leave the job and find a new one.
Starting the process of identifying your values and goals affirms your self-esteem in the middle of change.
3. Take care of yourself.
Handle your stress about the change assertively before it overwhelms you.
- Use deep breathing and muscle relaxation to relieve physical stress.
- Take baths at the end of your stressful workday, get massages, or take a yoga class
- Take breaks during the day to walk around, to take deep breaths, or to gaze out of the window.
Once when I was undergoing a stressful relationship change, I swam laps every morning. With each stroke I said to myself, "I'm angry about !@#$!@," and at the end of the swim, I felt refreshed and relaxed for the rest of the day.
4. Get support for yourself.
Respect is the foundation of asserting yourself. Having respect for yourself includes noticing that you need some support in this time of change. This can take several forms. Go into therapy to sort things out; lean on your friends; talk to others at work about the effects of the changes on your lives.
Change takes time. The secret to adapting to workplace change is to remind yourself that change takes time. Allow yourself time for the process of reacting to the change through the stages of shock, denial, resistance, grief, and acceptance.
Then take steps to move through the change:
- Make a plan,
- Take good care of yourself and
- Get support.