change curve 2Following my earlier two articles, some thoughts on the “down” side of the change curve – anger, guilt and depression.

Change at work

The personal and emotional reactions of people, in the face of major change, are naturally influenced by the type of person they are and, at work, are then often aggravated by the culture within the organisation.

However, whilst we will nearly all go through these three phases, some will experience them far more than others, and there is no set pattern or timescale, no matter what the issue.

  • A person who is naturally quite volatile, may well be the most “angry”, although not necessarily. They may become very quiet, withdrawn and depressed.
  • A person who is naturally low key, seemingly not a “happy” person, may become sad and depressed quite quickly. However, maybe they will start to feel guilty, which may make then them more angry.
  • A person who naturally thinks they should worry about others and looks out for what is going on, may feel guilty for not spotting something sooner or for not noticing others’ issues. Maybe, though, they will become quite quiet and concentrate on themselves, rather than others.

So, to repeat myself, as a manager / leader:

  • remember it’s a natural reaction, it is a temporary state and you need to talk to people
  • be aware of others – notice the people who are more angry, or express guilt or are depressed; decide how and when to approach people or get help if you think it is appropriate; let senior management know, particularly if you are worried about individuals – either for their own health and well-being or the impact on others
  • treat people as individuals – they will not all feel the same things at the same time and may be less tolerant of each other than you might expect
  • you need to really listen to people to help them deal with the emotions – not always the “done thing” at work
  • be aware of how much you are empathising with them – in many cases you will also be impacted by the change and will share the same feelings. Depending on your relationships with your colleagues, you will need to decide how appropriate it is to say “me too” or not. This will not be appropriate if you are the person managing the change, then stepping away
  • if there is some kind of counselling service, whether as part of the change management, or a private health scheme, help those who seem to need it to access that service

However much this is a business change, people’s reactions are personal. And as discussed before, some work changes are indeed personal, such as redundancy, where the work practicalities will be a long way secondary to the personal, emotional side for many people, including those not made redundant.

Dealing with a tragedy

As mentioned in the first article, the change curve was derived from work with the bereaved and is applicable to any personal tragedy. When someone goes through a traumatic experience, whether a bereavement, a natural disaster, major accident or incident, they will also go through these emotions.

I would still say that if you are coping with dealing with such an issue, find the best way for you to deal with it, whether that is talking to the right person for you, contacting a helpline or counsellor or writing things down. If you are close to someone else, who is dealing with such a tragedy, watch out for their emotions and provide the support you can. Not only do you need to remember it is natural, they may need that reassurance. A man who’d been divorced for many years was describing what he had been through and said that he wished he’d realised years earlier, how normal the feelings were.

There is no one right way to deal with these huge events – whether there is a child whose parent has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, or a parent, whose child has been diagnosed with such an illness; nor someone who has been bereaved or been involved in a major traffic accident and seen someone fatally injured.

  • anger can be difficult to deal with, particularly as, in these situations, the person they are angry at is the one who isn’t there or who is going through the illness themselves
  • then again, depression and sadness can be hard for others to cope with, especially when this goes on for some time
  • guilt often does not make sense to others; when someone says “what else could I have done?” the logical answer is frequently “nothing”

The other thing to bear in mind is no matter how many people are affected, they will all go through their emotional journey in their own time, rarely will two people after the same incident be feeling the same thing at the same time, whether they are siblings who’ve lost a parent; parents with a sick child; friends in the same car when an accident strikes. Supporting each other often seems the natural thing to do and is often the hardest.

What can I do?

I work with business change projects, helping leaders to anticipate the stages their colleagues will go through and how to help this, in the context of the project. Managing these emotions at work, where they’re often least expected, is as important – get in touch if you are involved with a business project. If there’s any kind of change, these issues will be there ….