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Chapter 17. Preparing For The Effects Of... > Ten Commandments for Organizations C...

Ten Commandments for Organizations Coping with Workplace Change

  1. Provide a continuous flow of accurate and up-to-date information about the coming change, throughout the entire process.

    PROBLEM: A lack of accurate, current and official information will power the rumor mills, causing much unnecessary anxiety, pain and low trust. Further, without definitive word from an authorized spokesperson, employees will incorporate their own fantasies and can grieve needlessly.

    COMMENT: One senior director of a government agency undergoing reorganization and requiring massive redeployment has set up monthly “Town Meetings” to keep 1,100 employees informed of the latest developments.

    Other organizations use memos, e-mail, and unit meetings to keep the valid information flowing and the rumors down. Human Resources professionals have commented that a lack of information creates a climate of uncertainty, which feeds anxiety much the same as waiting for the results of a biopsy.

  2. Maintain a personal knowledge base regarding predictable patterns of change-loss grief reactions, and the skills for responding to people who are mourning.

    PROBLEM: If you don’t know what to expect from a grieving person, the feelings can be very upsetting to you.

    COMMENT: Your comfort level in being with a sad and angry employee will be raised if you anticipate certain feelings, attitudes and behaviors. Additionally, having helpful listening and response skills, as well as specific helping techniques, will increase your comfort and reduce your own stress.

  3. Maintain awareness of your own personal loss and grief issues that may be activated by the change-loss.

    PROBLEM: Managers often struggle with their own loss issues in times of change. Failure to acknowledge this in some way will increase personal stress and decrease availability to help others.

    COMMENT: All persons in the midst of a corporate transition, regardless of their roles, are subject to grief reactions. Talk with a close work friend, a consultant or someone outside of the organization. Writing down your feelings and concerns in a private journal can help to relieve some of the grief. Externalizing your grief material will relieve the pressure and increase your effectiveness in helping other employees.

  4. Maintain current awareness of the realities of the specific change-loss and its effects on all employees.

    PROBLEM: When managers avoid dealing with the effects of workplace changes on employees, they cannot plan for employee support. Denial of the reality of a change-loss situation can block out information about what is really going on in the hearts of employees.

    COMMENT: One director has arranged for over 1,000 employees to have direct access to him via confidential, anonymous e-mail. Each day he can read what people are feeling and concerned about and can respond to the messages personally on a computer bulletin board.

  5. Acknowledge the value and contributions of The Old.

    PROBLEM: When employees feel that their former organizational unit or group has been attacked or its value discounted, they typically react with anger, defensiveness and resentment of The New system.

    COMMENT: Rituals and ceremonies, even letters of acknowledgment of the value and contribution of the old group, will facilitate letting go of The Old and moving toward The New.

  6. Provide for continuity between The Old and The New by creating transitional roles, reporting relationships, and organizational groupings, and by generating informal and formal organizational means to keep people feeling that they are still a valued part of the organization.

    PROBLEM: During the in-between time, there is an increased possibility of instability, confusion, and anxiety.

    COMMENT: Provide temporary titles, appoint transition teams with specific tasks, and provide frequent updated procedures as the transition moves along. This gives employees a feeling of control, of structure and stability. Don’t let acting titles become permanent.

  7. Provide opportunities for people to grieve, by providing ending rituals for The Old as well as formal and informal grief support services.

    PROBLEM: When no opportunities to express the feelings of grief are provided, those feelings are stuffed or go underground. When feelings are not expressed and there are no regular avenues for channeling fears and other concerns, the employee lacks an internal support system for addressing the Four Tasks of Mourning. The effect of this is “getting stuck in grief.”

    COMMENT: One executive provided small groups of employees an opportunity to express grief and ask questions at a regularly scheduled roundtable.

    An ending ritual, at which an entire department or other group says goodbye to “the way we were,” helps with letting go. A formal history of the group/ department/unit can be created by the employees. A memory book of symbolic photos can be assembled and shown at the goodbye ceremony. Planting a tree or putting up a plaque in honor of the old group can also help with looking to the future instead of the past.

    Save some decorations, a piece of equipment or some symbolic items from The Old setting to be placed in The New. These can be a photo of the group or company, a logo, or a photo of the old office or building.

    Hold meetings for explaining the relationship between change in the workplace and grief in the workplace, and what to expect from grief reactions and the process of grief.

    Weekly support groups and individual counseling can also be an important contribution to supporting employees through the grieving/healing process.

  8. Provide opportunities for people to discover, as soon as possible, the part they will play in The New.

    PROBLEM: Not knowing their planned future role poses a major threat to employees facing workplace change. This breeds anxiety. The identity and social network developed in The Old is not transferable to The New. There is uncertainty about who one will be, how one will be accepted and how well one will do in the new group.

    COMMENT: As soon as possible, give employees an opportunity to learn what the new system will be like. Orientation to location, equipment, other staff, schedules and procedures will help to give employees a sense of the new work environment.

    Where new skills are required for new job descriptions, training should be provided sooner rather than later. Knowing what is expected will reduce employee anxiety and establish clear work goals. For many, these specific objectives may help to reestablish career goals. The loss of dreams and hopes as a result of workplace change is as hurtful as more tangible losses.

  9. Recognize that employees will be at best ambivalent and possibly resentful in The New, and will require time to complete the tasks of the grieving/ healing process.

    PROBLEM: Impatience with the time it takes employees “to get over it” and “get up to speed” can actually slow down their movement through the grief process.

    COMMENT: Everyone grieves differently and has a different grief time-frame. If you can get a sense of where a particular employee is in the Four Tasks of Mourning, it will direct you in how to help them. Review “Understanding the Tasks of 14” to determine how you or someone else can facilitate the addressing of the appropriate Tasks. Note: Employees who remain in denial for an extremely long period (who never really address Task I) will need special help.

  10. Create a ritual celebration for The New, and symbolize the new identity of the group and its individual members.

    PROBLEM: When the organization fails to note the passing of an era—the ending of The Old—it becomes more difficult for affected employees to let go.

    COMMENT: Resistance to letting go of The Old was reported by one manager, who described employees bluntly refusing to leave their old offices. This was so in spite of the fact that the new offices were in elegant new buildings. In one company, people literally held on to their desks when the relocation coordinator walked through the door.

    An organization-wide ritual to “pass the mantle” to The New will help to face the employees toward the future. An example of this is the creation of a new logo or emblem that includes part of the old symbols. Both formal and informal rituals involving the new employee groups will help to establish a new identity for employees. As energy is withdrawn from the old attachments and reinvested in The New, healing takes place.


Following are four tasks that an organization must accomplish in order to provide adequate grief support to employees:



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