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Coping with organisational change

Several people I know who work in large organisations were informed before Christmas that their jobs are redundant or ‘at risk' of redundancy because of organisational plans - to cut budgets, change the way they are delivering products or services or some other reason.

The timing is unfortunate and adds to the pressure of Christmas - Christmas is a time when everyone is expected to be jolly, expenditure is high and you have (rather too much) time to think.

Of course, people react differently to this type of news.  Some adopt the ‘as one door closes, another opens' philosophy and feel confident in their ability to thrive or survive in their current or another organisation, whereas others fear the consequences, feel paralysed and demotivated.

There are 5 stages that people typically go through when they hear bad news - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Understanding these and that going through them is a normal process for most people helps us cope with the situation more effectively - for ourselves or in dealing with others.

Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified these stages from her research on bereavement and for most of us, losing our job counts as bereavement. They also apply to other situations which evoke strong emotions such as when relationships break down.

On hearing people are shocked – listening in silence, trying to take it in or responding angrily. After that the stages are:

  • Denial – surely this can’t be happening to me?

  • Anger – feeling unable to accept the situation. What have I done to deserve this?

  • Bargaining – starting to explore the impact of this for you – mainly for the short term.

  • Depression – feeling sad, helpless or hopeless.

  • Acceptance – beginning to feel that you will be able to cope.

This cycle not only affects those who are exiting the organisation but also the ‘survivors’ – those who remain. Survivors can feel guilty about keeping their jobs when others lose theirs (and wonder when it will be their turn). Any trust they have in the organisation may be lost or diminished and they are often overlooked by organisational change processes.

Both groups – those that leave and those that remain – can benefit from support and career coaching. Few organisations recognise this. If treated honestly and with respect, former employees – even those made redundant - can continue to be ambassadors for the organisation.


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