How Change Stresses Us Out

The stressful nature of change is perhaps one of the main reasons it’s so unpopular among so many employees.  A recent study highlights just how stressful periods of organizational change can be by analyzing a major change effort in a New Zealand based healthcare organization.

Whilst stress is an ever-present in organizational life to a large extent, the authors nonetheless believe that change projects trigger stress on another level as they generally produce a cloud of uncertainty and ambiguity that unsettle employees.  This is especially so when the change is poorly managed and communication is insufficient to adequately explain why the change is needed and how it will unfold.

Tailored coping strategies

Whilst we all have a range of coping mechanisms to manage stress at work, our ability to do so inevitably varies, depending on things such as the individual’s personality, emotional intelligence, and their social identity.  Equally, specific stressors required unique coping strategies.

This was certainly evident in the healthcare organization studied in the paper.  It highlights how employees attempted to maintain their psychological wellbeing in the midst of the changes unfolding around them.

It proved remarkably challenging for employees to seek help or confide in others, because the fear of appearing weak was incredibly strong.  Nonetheless, some employees were able to tap into support networks.  What appeared crucial across the board was the ability and willingness to be proactive in solving any problems that emerged, whilst also actively managing one’s thoughts and emotions.

“Managers have a key role to play in anticipating when organizational change may elicit stress and in helping those affected to cope with it,” the authors conclude.