“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.
The quote above was written in the 1920s, yet it is still very apt and relevant today, especially in the workplace.
Change is inevitable and necessary these days in order for businesses and organisations to survive and thrive. Although some people embrace change, most people feel very uncomfortable with the thought of change. Sometimes change is imposed on people, and the change may have a direct impact on leadership, roles and work priorities.
According to Ruth Gmehlin, there are four types of people, and therefore behavioural reactions, to change:
- People who thrive on change—results-oriented people who embrace quick decisions and changes, challenge the status quo and initiate change activity.
- People who aren’t bothered by change—optimists whose enthusiasm and creative solutions for dealing with change keep others motivated during unstable situations.
- People who resist change and need time to prepare—steady decision-makers who don’t like to be rushed and appear to “put up” with change.
- People who are concerned with the effects of change—cautious, careful, objective thinkers who seek to maintain high standards, regardless of changes going on around them.
Those who fear change at work do so for a variety of reasons. These fears are often associated with fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, fear of criticism and fear of the unknown. And, of course, fear of retrenchment, especially in today’s challenging economic climate. This fear is real and normal; however, change is “the new normal”, and people must learn to overcome fear and embrace the changes ahead.
Change does not always have to culminate in fear and anxiety. How well organisations manage the process of change and transition and how much we perceive we have control and influence over the change are the keys to managing the fear of change.
Below are 5 strategies you can employ in order to manage fear during times of change:
- Celebrate or recognise the good work that was done under the old system: This step is often missed in change management. In an effort to “sell” the change, employers will sometimes dismiss or minimise any successes of the past. This may leave long-standing employees feeling unappreciated. Recognising how they were able to accomplish so much under the previous system is more likely to leave them open to engaging with change.
- Interview employees regarding their feelings: It is critical that managers and supervisors understand what employees are feeling regarding the change. It is only when you accurately understand their feelings that you know what issues need to be addressed. Implementing change requires the ability to market and to sell. It is difficult to sell effectively without understanding your buyer’s needs, concerns, and fears.
- Communicate: Communication is key in ensuring transparency throughout an organisation. Informing your employees about what will change will help reduce fear, as people then know what to expect. Ensure that communication occurs well in advance and often and that it is both positive and honest.
- Acknowledge change: It is important for an organisation to acknowledge that change is complex and scary. Normalising how your employees feel makes them feel understood. With this acknowledgment, however, there must be a support system in place that manages the anxiety on a day-to-day basis.
- Get people involved: One way of allaying fears is to allow employees to drive the change. If you are a part of the process and are clear as to what the goals are, it is likely employees will feel calmer, as nothing is being done behind their backs. The sooner you involve employees in the process, the better off you will be implementing the change.
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Gmehlin, R. (2008). How Change Affects Teams. The Ottawa Business Journal. Retrieved from https://www.trilliumteams.com/articles/5/how-change-affects-teams-may-1-2008
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