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Explore how employees can swim or sink during change at work. Over the course of our career, we will be part of several major and minor change initiatives at work. Employees who are positive about change usually succeed and make the transition well at the end. Find out why.


How Employees Can Sink or Swim During Change
By Catherine Adenle

Change is everywhere in organizations, find out how employees can sink or swim during change. If there’s something that Covid-19 pandemic has shown business owners and employees alike, it’s that change is inevitable and that you need to be prepared for it when it takes you by surprise.

If it’s not a pandemic, it is digital transformation, mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, continuous improvement, operational rationalisation, cost-cutting, layoffs etc.. As an employee, you cannot avoid change wherever you work unless you work for an organisation that has buried their head in the sand until they experience market disruption their sector. Nothing stays the same in the business world, and if and when they do in an organization, before long, such business will fold up. Think of Blockbuster and Netflix, then, think of Sony Walkman and iPod. Doing things the way they have always done it for many years in any organization is the bridge to being forgotten as a business in this digital age.

Over the course of our career, we will be part of several major and minor change initiatives at work. Employees who are positive about change and take positive actions related to any change being implemented usually succeed and make the transition well at the end.

See 7 Undeniable Reasons Why Quick Adaptation to Change is Vital at Work

In many workplaces, however, it is normal for most employees to have a reactive attitude towards change rather than embrace it, find out more about it, know how it could benefit them or plan for it, leading to a “swim or sink scenario” with unfortunately negative outcomes. As an employee, it is highly important that you know how you can swim and not sink during change.  Knowing how to not automatically fear or resist change when it is introduced in your workplace will help you to navigate the change curve and get to a new beginning quickly.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where many organizations have been forced to switch to the work-from-home model with their employers haven’t been able to offer the same level of support and training, as usual, which has led to individual efforts which now weigh more. And, depending on these efforts and their attitude in general, employees can either fail or emerge as strong leaders.

These are how employees can sink or swim during change. These ten scenarios explain how things can unfold for employees during change at work:

Ways employees can swim during change at work

1. Identify the barriers of the change

The first thing that will determine how employees can sink or swim during change is finding out the details of the change. Employees should read up on what’s changing, how is it going to change, when is it changing, who is going the change going to affect and how, what could be the outcome of the change and what’s in it for them.

As an employee, ask questions and read up on any communication available about the change. Know the people initiating and executing the change and follow up on any relevant change information. Knowing all about the change and its specific elements will make change easier as it is the first step towards finding solutions. Otherwise, you will be fearful of the change and you will be wondering in the dark, fighting what you perceive to be an invisible enemy, and not knowing exactly where to concentrate your efforts.

2. Thinking outside the box

Once employees know all about the change, facing change means thinking fast, adapting to new situations, and joining others who are leading the change to challenge old thinking patterns. Employees who swim during change are able to learn fast, and they focus on solutions, not on problems. They are collaborative, creative, proactive, and come up with ways to solve problems even if they’re closely affected and don’t have an instruction manual of how to benefit from the change.

3. Showing initiative

When it comes to determining how employees can sink or swim during change, it is important to highlight that the employees that swim don’t sit back idly waiting for any change execution to pass. They get involved, show
the initiative, and don’t choose to do just the bare minimum. During transitional processes, these are the employees who take charge and want to get involved, whether that means being the first to learn how a new software or workflow process works or adjusting how they work to meet the new change requirements.

4. Strategic thinking

Strategic thinking is the opposite of taking rash, irrational decisions. Employees who show strategic thinking during change are analytical and can consider the many variables that can influence business outcomes in the long run. Such employees get noticed easily and they are usually rewarded for their efforts.

5. Positive outlook – focus on the opportunity in change

Employees will swim during change when they remain positive. When things are changing and feel unsettled at work, it appears to employees that management could care less about their feelings or that their efforts are not appreciated. However, employees who move away from feeling this way and are pragmatic make the judgement call to quickly move forward, focus on what they can do, rather than fixating on events over which they have no control. These employees usually have the bottom line in mind. Being positive during change is a major way to swim and not sink during change.

See How to Cope with Change at Work: 10 Ways

How employees can sink during change at work

6. Tanking under pressure

Change usually comes with extra pressure for employees and it takes employees out of their comfort zones.
Those who sink cannot adapt to this pressure and see it as a threat rather than be motivated by it or see it as an opportunity for growth. They are cave dwellers that will want to preserve the way it used to be. They usually bury their heads in the sand, detach themselves, find every problem the change will bring and no solutions. They do whatever they can do to resist the change until they are left behind.

Infographic: Reasons Why Employees Resist Change by Catherine Adenle

Why Employees Resist Change (Infographic)

7. Rejecting responsibility

Employees who sink during change will usually not want to take part in what could make a change or its implementation successful. They will not partake in discussions, projects or anything that could help them to get involved. Not wanting to accept responsibility and respect the measures required by the change is a surefire way to sink and can be a red flag for what is coming down the line for such employees.

8. Failure to put themselves forward

The employees who sink during change will never put themselves forward to take on any responsibilities during change. Most of the time when there’s change, training will be required. Whether it’s a new process, system, product, software or an overhaul in operational services, employees need to be trained. When leaders ask for employees to volunteer to lead or partake in the training, those that will sink will sit back and not show interest.

9. Seek and get involved in change communication

Communication is essential before, during and after any change. Employees who will sink will not seek or communicate effectively during the transitional process. Employees who refuse to communicate and are hesitant to ask for feedback are much more likely to feel overwhelmed and might not survive the change. To not sink during and after a change, know the information surrounding these 12 Significant Things to Communicate Before Change in Organizations.

10. Fearing the unknown

Sometimes, change doesn’t wait for everyone in the organization to be ready and can be required by external events. If an employee fears the unknown, they’re much less likely to learn, keep an open mind, and they make decisions driven by panic, not strategic thinking.

See How to Support Employees During Change

For employees and organizations, change will always come around. The key thing for employees to know about how to swim and not sink during change at work is to know what they have control over. Some aspects of our lives will always operate outside our control. Hence, it’s important for employees to remember what is within their control and what is not. Focusing on what is within our control is a key step to not sinking during change.

As employees, always remember that your emotional and mental well-being is more important than any work. Reaching out to others and experts for help if you are struggling with change at work is never a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of strength.

Now that you have explored how employees can sink or swim during change, what can you add? Let’s hear from you. Leave your comment below.

Catherine Adenle
Founder, Catherine's Career Corner. The career site empowering and inspiring ambitious candidates of all ages and professions to thrive and work smarter on their careers. Gladly helping all career-minded people worldwide to explore their career, manage change and understand how new technologies are changing and enhancing the future of work.
Catherine Adenle
Catherine Adenle

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