What Makes Change in the Workplace So Stressful?

By December 11, 2014 No Comments

stressed business womanThis article was published on in December 2014

In today’s fast paced, highly competitive and technology driven world, change in the workplace is inevitable but that doesn’t mean it is easy.  Change can be very stressful.  At the heart, we all want to feel that we are valued and liked, that we are doing something worthwhile or important and that we have some control on our future.  Change whether chosen (a new role or a new job) or forced (a technology or process change, re-organisation, take-over or merger) tends to throw these three things up in the air.


With unwanted change, in particular, there is often an inherent sense of loss.  This could include loss of colleagues, loss of comfort zone, loss of familiarity or loss of a history of earned respect (the boss before knew that you were generally a good, decent, hard-working individual, this one doesn’t know you from Adam or previously I knew my job inside out but now I am like a beginner).

It is worth remembering at these times that loss has 6 stages: shock, denial, resistance, anger, sadness and acceptance.  When trying to come to terms with an unwanted change, it helps to accept that the adjustment process is likely to include elements of loss, uncertainty, confusion, intense emotions and feeling out of control.  Even knowing this is normal, can help to ease the stress.


Change both wanted and unwanted can bring insecurity.  Before the change, perhaps you knew roughly what to expect each day, how your relationships would go, how well you could do your job and what the future was likely to hold for you.  With change, some or all of these things may become unclear.

With wanted change, people are more likely to constructively deal with these insecurities focusing their energy on coming up to speed, building good relationships and taking actions which they believe will help create future security.

With unwanted change people may deal with insecurity in a more negative ways.  Bitching with colleagues about the change is one possible manifestation of this.  It is a way of feeling comfort (I’m not alone), connection (they understanding me) and that you still fit (we all feel the same).  This can bring brief feelings of security and stress reduction but is also damaging for the business and the employees creating a downward spiral of motivation and productivity.

Two-Way Open Communication

Communication is one key to addressing the natural insecurities that arise from change, but all too often instead of two-way open communication, communication tends to be one-sided and one-way (employers to employees) and pitched at a level that doesn’t give space for the day to day concerns, challenges or emotional impacts to be aired.  This can result in employees who shut down, stop providing constructive feedback and stop seeking support in dealing with the change.  At worst it results in employees who rebel (either consciously or unconsciously) and start doing things that actually hamper the success of the change.

Employers are wise to remember that all the communication in the world won’t make change easier if the communication process doesn’t help employees to feel that they are still valued and important and to become clear on what the change means personally for them.

Employees are wise to recognise that much of the stress of change comes from feelings of insecurity and to seek ways to constructively channel their energies to feel secure again. Among other things, that could involve asking for more clarity, seeking training and constructively highlighting issues as they arise.


Erica McKinney is a counsellor, psychotherapist, life coach and healer with a private practice in Shankill, Co Dublin and Aughrim, Co Wicklow.



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