Anxious About Change

Posted Thursday, August 2, 2012

By Dr. Eric McKibben, Associate

CHANGE. That one word evokes more anxiety in employees than any almost any other word uttered by managers. Upon hearing the word “change”, many workers immediately start to grumble and some even plot to thwart the change process. They may intentionally drag their feet or even sabotage the organization’s change efforts. Why does change elicit such strong negative emotions, and why do those emotions often result in negative behavior?

The psychologist William James said we experience emotions when important events occur that could harm us. For example, organizational change could harm employees who are not adequately prepared to change. He said emotions have three components: physiological arousal, behavioral expression, and an experiential state (i.e. fear or happiness). Put simply, change triggers our survival instinct and we respond in these three ways. Our fight or flight response is activated, we experience fear, and we behave in a manner to minimize the threat.

Interestingly, we often do our best work – we are most innovative, strongest, agile, etc. – when we experience a level of arousal associated with fear. We have the opportunity to thrive when we experience emotion-causing events such as change. You, as a manager, have to seize that opportunity and show your employees that they can thrive as a result of change.

To lead your employees through change I recommend these steps:

1. ARTICULATE why change is important. One stumbling block to keeping employees engaged in the midst of change is unclear rules or nonexistent plans. Focus on providing a clear path for the execution of change. Clearly state the personal benefits of change.

2. Drive employee OWNERSHIP of the change. Employees who own change make change part of their identity. We are happiest and most productive when doing the very things that we are.

3. Give your employees more CONTROL. Employees who feel that they have some control over how they do their job are less resistant to change and much more resilient when change occurs.

4. Get FEEDBACK from your employees. Seek information from your employees. Your employees will feel responsible for initiating the change which will give them ownership. It’s not your idea to change, it is their idea.

These actions will help your employees see organizational change as an opportunity for their personal growth. When you create ownership and share control in the change process, you allow your employees to see change as a way to improve their own job knowledge and skill set.

Taking these four steps will help your employees see change as something positive. They will have a stake in the change process and they will see change as a challenge to master rather than something to fear.

One comment on “Anxious About Change

  1. Doug Krull on said:

    Hi Eric,

    I see you have moved! I hope you’re liking your new position.

    Best wishes,


    PS-Do you happen to know Marti Glass’ email? Thanks mucho.

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