5 Best Ways to Handle Change in the Workplace

by Amy Steinberg Published Nov 12, 2018 Last updated Nov 12, 2018

“Change can either challenge or threaten us. Our beliefs pave your way to success or block you.” — Marsha Sinetar

Change is inevitable, ongoing, and occasionally all-consuming. And it’s true: depending on your attitude to change, it can either challenge you to reach new heights, or threaten you to the extent that you surrender. When you’re a professional who has already accomplished an incredible amount in your field, changing circumstances can feel overwhelming. You’ve already achieved so much—do you now have to start over from scratch?

Fortunately, shifting circumstances don’t have to be an impediment to our success. In fact, by embracing change and supporting our own development through every stage, change can be a powerful force of growth. Let’s talk about how to not only handle change in the workplace —but how to use it to excel.

Where Will You See Change in the Workplace?

Change can occur at any time and in any level of an organization. This is a particularly volatile time in many industries. Innovations in technology move at dizzying speeds, generational shifts change our collective values, and social movements shape the future. Here are some changes you might encounter:

  • Organizational Scale. Large-scale organizational changes can sometimes take you by surprise in the workplace. This could include a complete reorganization of roles at every level. While these changes are less common, they can impact every single aspect of your workday engagement.
  • Project Shifting. With advances in technology, you may suddenly find that roles and projects you took on before are no longer needed. Perhaps they can now be handled more efficiently with automation or tech solutions. This can be disconcerting in the moment but open you up to new opportunities and skill sets.
  • Deadline Change. On a small scale, changes happen every single day. Deadline changes, for example, can throw you off balance if you’re not ready. However, they can also force you to push yourself in fascinating ways.
  • Personnel Change. Let’s face it: our co-workers often become like extended family. Changes in colleagues can trigger an avalanche of shifts in the organization.

Five Ways to Excel Throughout Changes

“The more you adapt, the more interesting you are.” — Martha Stewart 

1. Flexibility: Jump into Little Changes & Settle Into Bigger Changes

These ideas may sound contradictory, but a key aspect of adapting to change is being able to take each situation as a unique set of challenges. So sometimes you’ll have time to settle in and reflect on big changes. But other times, you’ll have to jump right in.

When it comes to minor changes or shifts, it’s important to be able to think on your feet. Sometimes, if a project deadline gets switched at the last minute, you won’t have the luxury to reflect – you’ll have to delve right in and do your best. This quick-action thinking can really help you grow as a professional and can challenge you to push yourself in ways you never thought possible.

However, if there are more major changes unfolding at your organization over the course of weeks or months, then it’s a good idea to give yourself time to reflect before jumping to judgments or conclusions. If there is a massive policy change, for example, then you might need extra time to reflect and consider. Don’t expect to adjust immediately. Think about all the different aspects of the change and settle in gradually.

2. Acceptance: Practice Non-Attachment & Understand Impermanence

Though they are associated with the Buddhist philosophy, the ideas of impermanence and non-attachment can be adopted by anyone. These philosophical concepts can be a powerful ally for handling change. First, you need to accept the impermanence of all life’s situations. This means that everything we’re seeing and experiencing in subject to change. The only constant is that there is no constant. Though this may sound overwhelming, it’s actually a very liberating idea.

Once you’ve accepted the impermanence of situations, you can practice a philosophy of non-attachment. This doesn’t mean you’re uncaring or detached from happenings in the work space. You can continue to be passionate, knowledgeable, and invested in the success of the business. However, by keeping the concept of non-attachment in mind, you can stop seeing changes as scary or personal. When massive organizational shifts happen, you can remind yourself that nothing is permanent and everything evolves. Acceptance is key to adaptation.

3. Talk it Through: Prioritize Communication

“As the world we live in is so unpredictable, the ability to learn and to adapt to change is imperative, alongside creativity, problem-solving, and communication skills.” —Alain Dehaze

Communication skills can turn an anxiety-provoking situation into a learning opportunity. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! In the case of shifting responsibilities at work, it’s important to feel comfortable talking through a change. Open the conversation up to your colleagues. How are they coping with the change? Do they have any advice or guidance to offer? What are their initial impressions? As long as your communication is open-minded and non-judgmental, it will only be beneficial.

If you are a leader in your organization, now is your time to practice communicating to others. It’s your opportunity to provide excellent leadership, positive guidance, and authenticity to your colleagues and others in your organization. You might find yourself surprised by other people’s reactions or impressed by their ability to cope and evolve.

4. Educate Yourself: Change is an Opportunity to Learn

If you want to handle change gracefully and powerfully, you need to be willing to educate yourself. In some situations, it can be difficult to admit or accept that you’re confused or need additional guidance. In addition to seeking out communication with colleagues and other professionals, take the time to educate yourself on the unfolding changes.

Has there been an organizational change that seems puzzling and overwhelming? Educate yourself on the reasons behind the change. Have your projects changed drastically? Be willing to learn new skills in order to not only cope—but to excel. Although it can feel intimidating to expand your skill set when you’ve already put so much work in at your profession, change offers an incredible opportunity for growth. By understanding that excellence is tied to lifelong learning, you’ll be way more capable of adapting.

5. Perspective: Laugh, Relax, and Let Go

“Purposeful laughter is a realistic, sustainable, and generalizable intervention that enhances employees’ morale, resilience, and personal efficacy beliefs.” — Beckman, H., Regier, N., & Young, J.

Laugh about it.

We’re not kidding. Laughter Online University cites some interesting studies on the power of laughter in the workplace. In one Indian study, laughter was associated with significant reduction in cortisol levels and heart rate. In an Australian study, laughter was shown to significantly enhance psychological well-being of participants.

When uncomfortable changes threaten to bring you down, try to open yourself up to laughter and other relaxation techniques. It’s important to keep your perspective intact during stressful situations and approach the situation with a sense of humor. Reacting this way can also help bolster up your colleagues and make transitions easier for everyone on your team.

Yes: change can be difficult, challenging, and even scary. It can unsettle long-held beliefs and push you outside of your comfort zone. But those aren’t negatives. In fact, sometimes change can present just the opportunity you needed to grow, learn, adapt, and practice acceptance. Change is outside of your control. But the way you react to changes? That’s up to you.