Dealing With Change in the Workplace

When dealing with change in the workplace, many times leaders miss one of the most important steps: dealing with people's emotions. Here's how you can navigate this potential minefield

If you  are leading people and a business, you'll need to be good at dealing with change. Of that there is nothing more certain!

Regardless of whether you are having a change program foisted upon you or you are heading up the change management process, you are going to have to cope with navigating your way through the chaos and come out the other side with a positive outcome.

Many change programs (no matter their size) fail because there's one crucial component that isn't given enough weight; the impact of people's emotions toward the change. If you underestimate the critical nature of dealing with people's feelings, you are setting yourself up to fail.

There are many common reactions to change in the workplace. Let's look at several of them and how you and your leader can best handle each of them:



Often people are bumping along and feeling all is well in their world and bam, out of seeming left-field, change is introduced ... well, they may go into shock. Like a deer caught in headlights, they may become paralyzed, and it may take a while for them to realize/accept the need to adjust.

They might experience several negative emotions such as distress, disgust, surprise, grief.

Their performance may decline as they possibly need time to make sense of, and come to grips, with their loss and sense of unease.

Their Leader can support them by:

  • Listen to them and understand their sense of loss
  • Feed information that reinforces why the change is important
  • Give them time and space to come to grips with the situation
  • Encourage them to ask questions, (in their own time), and when they have the right ‘head-space’

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After some thinking time, they are likely to have some confusion and many questions.

Be prepared that they may be a little chaotic, jumping from one 'what if' question to another.

They are possibly being hit by many rumors and speculations about the change. They likely have a great deal of uncertainty about exactly where the truth lies.

Their Leader can support them by:

  • Provide them with as much information as possible
  • Keep them focused on short-term objectives and goals, whilst at the same time helping them to see the bigger picture
  • Provide reassurance by taking as much time as is necessary to address issues and concerns (both with individuals and the bigger group) about the change in the workplace conditions
  • Help them to develop strategies for dealing with each of the stages of the change process
  • Stay close to the ground so you quickly address any rumors that speed around



Somewhere between shock, confusion and anxiety often lies the buffer zone of denial.

Not wanting to deal with all that is coming up, they may find they deny that the change will be of any consequence to them. 

They will look to other people and data to seek out evidence that the change is unnecessary and shouldn't have to occur.

Their Leader can support them by:

  • Not expecting large leaps into acceptance
  • Allowing sufficient time to face up to the change and its repercussions
  • Helping them to see that remaining in denial is risky - e.g. imagine if you were still using a manual typewriter and all your colleagues are using computers!

Anxiety & Fear


Once people have moved through shock, confusion and denial, (and this could happen in a few minutes or over a number of weeks), they start come to grips with the notion that the change is inevitable. Yet, the shape of the future may still be dark and murky.

Questions like: "How do I fit into this? Am I capable? Will it work for me?" will all be running around in people’s minds. They may be unsure whom, if anyone, to trust.

Their Leader can support them by:

  • Communicating directly, honestly and calmly with - not whitewashing anything
  • Helping them fully comprehend the meaning of the change for and how much input they will have in the change process
  • Working with the to develop a brightness of future that each person can look forward to
  • Not making any rash promises that can't be kept
  • Talking with individuals frequently to help lessen the severity of the 'negative nellies' who may be pulling them down
  • Be like a beacon that helps them to guide and navigate their way safely through the change and glide them into the future

Go to Part 2 of this article and get the next four emotions that you'll need to deal with as you navigate your way through organizational change

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