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Adapting to change: How to better handle change at work

Today’s world of work is evolving rapidly, with new technology and disruptions continuously shifting job responsibilities, processes and expectations. No wonder employers now look for people who, regardless of their role, continuously develop and nurture their ability to be able to deal with workplace changes positively.

But adjusting to change is not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. In fact, not everyone accepts change in a positive way. We are creatures of habit and so many of us find that change can trigger a range of emotional reactions, from mild discomfort or nerves through to intense panic or fear.

If you struggle when facing workplace change, the good news is that shifting your mindset and adapting in a constructive way is a skill that, like any other, can be learnt.

What is adaptability to change?

Firstly though, what does it mean to be adaptable to change? In short, this refers to the ability to quickly and successfully embrace change and adopt effectively in response. It’s about handling change in the workplace in a way that leads to continued success for your organisation and your career, rather than fearing and resisting it.

Crucially, the ability to adapt well to change is important for your long-term career success since it is now a skillset that employers look for as a core capability in their workforce.

If you find that the prospect of change causes you some fear and anxiety, it’s therefore important to learn how to embrace change – and in so doing, develop an important, transferable skillset. Here are ten top tips on how to improve your adaptability skills and embrace change at work:

1. Challenge your interpretation of the facts

During any time of change, you will likely face unfamiliar challenges which may make you feel apprehensive or anxious. Instead of dwelling on these, challenge your interpretation of events by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is your interpretation of the change you are facing rational, objective and based purely on the facts?
  • Can you challenge your interpretation with an opposing argument?
  • If so, what’s the alternative perspective of this situation?

The way you interpret facts and information relating to the change you are facing, and the meaning you give them, is what will determine your approach to change, the course you take and ultimately how successful you will be in adopting the change. By objectively examining a challenging situation and doing your best to remove your negative and potentially unfounded assumptions, you’ll have a more positive emotional reaction and, subsequently, will be able to determine the practical steps you need to take to arrive at a productive outcome.

2. Ask questions

When receiving news of an impending change, your immediate reaction will most likely be emotional and you may experience feelings of shock and worry. This is completely normal. Much of the anxiety you feel will be rooted in the unknown, and the “what if’s”, and the only way to alleviate the ambiguity is to get the information you need. Don’t wait for people to provide it to you, ask! Your manager may not know that you want or need the information. The sooner you have all the facts, the sooner you will be able to process them and interpret what they mean for you.

3. Recognise and rationalise the voice of caution

When confronted with a situation that’s unfamiliar, there’s often a voice of caution at the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow. During times of change, this area of the brain likes to take charge and urges us to resist and be cautious. By recognising that this is what is happening and reminding ourselves that all will be okay, we can stay open-minded and prepare to take on the change in careful, measured steps.

4. Reframe change as an opportunity

Fear about change often comes from negative thoughts about what the future could hold. When you become fearful in this way, consciously look to turn your negative feelings into something positive.

The key to reframing your response to change as a positive one comes from understanding exactly where your worries are coming from, then challenging this.

Begin by exploring what it is about the change that you see as negative or that is causing you worry. For example, are you worried about a lack of support or an increased workload?

Now consider whether your interpretation of these aspects could be reframed in a positive light. For example, additional responsibilities and the opportunity to manage your workload more independently could help to advance your career.

The following questions may help:

  • Forget the way the change was worded when it was communicated to you. Instead, think about how you would word this challenge or change if you were to explain it to others. This may help you understand what it is about the change that’s troubling you.
  • What are the real implications and opportunities for you?
  • How will the change affect your life in a practical sense? For example, will you have to work longer hours or tackle some difficult decisions without as much guidance from your manager? Will you take on additional responsibilities that will help your career progress longer term? Will it give you the opportunity to build new skills?
  • In the past, when you handled change really well, what did you do and what actions, in particular, really worked?

The aim here is to try to keep things in perspective and aligned with what really matters to you and your career.

5. Break down the information

Take some time to work out exactly what you will have to do differently day-to-day as a result of this change. Breaking down the big picture into smaller portions that you can then control makes change feel more manageable. Transitioning to a new way of working, for example, may seem daunting and unfamiliar, especially in a tight timeframe, but segmenting it into individual, practical steps like the following will make it seem less intimidating:

  • Consider the key tasks that you normally complete day-to-day and identify which will change and which will stay the same;
  • Highlight any new responsibilities you will have, what they entail and when key actions will be required;
  • Find out what the new priorities will be, what the expectations will be for you individually going forward and how this will be monitored;
  • Find out how you will need to work with your team going forward, such as more regular meetings or collaboration;
  • Think about how you will need to use systems differently or what new software you will need to become familiar with;
  • Identify any areas where you feel you may need more knowledge or skills to carry out your role successfully;
  • Make sure you are checking in regularly with your colleagues and manager to run through any decisions or processes you are unsure of.

6. Dip your toe in the water

When working towards embracing change, the first step is always the hardest. Therefore, it’s crucial that you dip your toe in the water as soon as possible. Identify a simple task to start with before working your way up to more complex activities you may need to tackle as a result of this change. Achieving quick wins should help subdue some of the anxiety you are experiencing.

7. Be patient with yourself, persevere and ask for help if needed

It takes time and perseverance to adapt to change and you may not see differences overnight. Remember also that asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness, so make sure you are talking to people who can help keep you on track. If you are struggling to adapt to a particular change you are facing, then ask to be directed to any relevant employee assistance programmes or training resources that could help you. Talk to your manager about signing up to Hays online learning - Hays Thrive, which provides a full library of training courses that could help.

8. Broaden your comfort zone

Your comfort zone is the set of behaviours and actions that together create the drumbeat of your day-to-day life, reducing risk and stress and providing us with a sense of security. It is this comfort zone that is often threatened by change, so the challenge is to identify how to quickly establish a new routine, and thus a new drumbeat so that you can rebuild self-confidence and a sense of security.

Think about how to map out your day or week now as a result of the change. What are the key regular activities you will need to do? How long will they take? When will you do them?

9. Celebrate daily wins

With time, what might once have seemed a significant change to a way of doing things will start to gradually integrate into your day-to-day and feel much more natural. This is an ongoing process, so if you encounter the odd setback, continue steadily nonetheless. Take each step one at a time, set yourself daily goals and then reflect on what went well.

During times of change, it is very easy to focus on what you couldn’t do or what went wrong, rather than what went well. Focusing on your wins every day, no matter how small, will help you to see that you are moving forward and working on embracing change.

10. Remember it’s a lifelong skill

Finally, it is important to remember that change can occur at any time and you will likely experience many periods of change throughout your working life. Embracing change successfully is therefore an important skill that will serve you well throughout the whole of your personal and professional life.

So, in summary, knowing how to adapt to change at work is important for your career long-term. When facing change, don’t just sit there and let it happen to you. Remember, you may not always get to choose when change impacts you, but you can always choose how you respond!

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