Control What You Can; Namely Yourself

I suspect that you have had times in your work life where things were going on around you that you had very little if any control over. Perhaps the company you worked for was experiencing a hostile takeover, some new software program was being rolled out that you didn’t see the need for or your job itself was being made redundant and you were being reassigned to another department. Things as I say you had no input into or could not stop from happening.

Now while the above represent some pretty strong changes, your own experience might be something such as being told your shifting from one desk to another; from that spot with a window to the outside world to a cubicle in the middle of the floor where no natural light penetrates.

Whenever these kind of situations present themselves, many people have an immediate urge to push back, resist the change and fight it with all the energy they have.  Like an animal being backed into a corner, this is when some people are at their most dangerous. Employees who quietly go about doing their jobs suddenly become vocal opponents, charged with energy and committed utterly to maintaining things as they are.

What’s at the heart of things for many people is the perception that the changes around them are being done to them.  They haven’t been in on the discussions that went on in the background and so when the announcement is made announcing changes, it comes as a shock. So much so that their shock is manifested through questions like, “Why weren’t we consulted?” “Is there anything I can do – we can do – to fight this change?”

Most of the time, the energy put into resisting change would be better applied to getting on board with the change. In fact, the faster you accept the news – whatever it is – and adapt to the changes big or small, the healthier it will be for your mental state of being. I admit though, for many its a hard thing to do. I mean it’s one thing to know on an intellectual basis that change is inevitable and quite another thing to experience it on an emotional level and react calmly and be accepting of change right away. For some people it takes a great deal of time to accept and adjust to new changes, especially if they are sweeping.

It may be that people who have experienced a lot of change in their personal and professional lives adjust to new changes faster and better than others. So yes, perhaps if your family moved many times growing up, you find it easier to adjust to changes in being moved from one desk to another or one department to another than say, a co-worker who has a long history of staying in one place. Likely too, if you find the new place has a positive in it, such as being closer to the lunchroom or further away from someone you don’t work that well with personally, you can find reasons to ease the transition.

The one thing you and I always have complete control over when it comes to dealing with changes is our reaction to those changes. Make no mistake, it’s control and the clear loss of it that most often causes the emotional disruption. “Don’t I have a say in things?” Doesn’t my view have any importance?” These are the kind of expressed feelings that display a lack of control; no one consulted us and asked us about the pending impact the changes would have on us.

The best time to think about how we will react to any news of sweeping changes is when changes are not occurring; when things are fairly normal. This is when we can rationally think about how we’d respond, how we’d react in some hypothetical situation. Like planning for some disaster at work and putting into place our emergency response procedures on a dry run, it’s all about preparing for shocking news and knowing how to best gain a measure of control in what might be otherwise a debilitating situation. Control what we can and gain some traction.

One of the most immediate things we can do is consciously let new information sink in when we hear it without reacting. Make sure what we think we hear is what was actually said. Hearing the news – whether it’s covering for a workers unexpected absence for the day or relocating to the other side of the office permanently, making sure we received the news accurately is essential.

Secondly, we have to decide if the news is huge or small, and be aware of not over reacting. We’re being pulled for the day and covering someone’s workload, it wasn’t expected when we walked into work first thing but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small disruption. The faster we accept the change and put energy into complying, the better for all concerned.

Big news and big changes understandably cause more disruption. However, the same principle applies. The sooner we accept the news and keep or regain our composure and control the better; we’ll be better equipped to respond appropriately and get on with things.

If you want to learn to adapt better for your own mental health, start with a conscious pause when you hear news affecting your work.

Your Day Just Got Changed? Adapt!

So the scene is this: you arrive at work and spend the first 10 minutes getting organized and then just as you plunge into your work for the day, the boss pops around and due to an unforeseen absence on the team, you’re duties change for the duration of the day. Two equally important questions for you; what’s your immediate reaction and does it show?

Despite what we may believe or like to believe about authority figures in the workplace, no the boss does not typically spend their commute into work wondering what they can do to sabotage your day. In fact, their probably just as frustrated having to change people’s work assignments for the day because that means work isn’t getting done by someone –in this case you; work that needs to be done or you wouldn’t have planned on doing it.

What a good supervisor does do is first think about what takes priority for the day and then who is most appropriate to change their schedule causing the least overall disruption to the team. Of course on a micro level it’s you being 100% disrupted which is the cause of any initial annoyance you might experience.

So let’s look at those two questions I posed to you; what’s your immediate reaction and does it show? Any supervisor that asks or directs you to change your daily plans and work on something else knows it will come as a surprise. What they are hoping for is that you trust them enough that the decision they have made has been thought out before asking you, and that you’ll make the change in your plans with a positive attitude. The last thing they’ll need or want is for you to dig in your heels and go kicking and screaming throughout your day. Remind yourself that you’re getting paid all through the day whatever the work is and in the bigger picture apparently someone needs to cover the work of the absent person so the faster you shift your focus and attitude, ultimately the better for you.

Now me, I personally have this happen once or twice a month. I’m on a team of 10 Employment Counsellors; 8 at my location and 2 in another. Years ago I admit I’d be flustered whenever we’d have an absence and I’d have to cover some workshop for an absent co-worker. It’s not like you just walk in the class and everything is smooth sailing. It means quickly getting your resources together that you have in various files, finding out if the person had a schedule all planned out on their desk or not and in the case of an ongoing workshop, you try to not disrupt the flow of information with an entirely different style or covering information you’d like to introduce but isn’t on the agenda.

I’ve come to shift quickly actually over time. Now when I am told someone is away, I actually look at the calendar, quickly size up who is most available to cover the absence with the least disruption to those at work, and if it’s me, I actually volunteer to replace the absent person for the day. If it’s not me, I offer a suggestion to the supervisor about how the absence could be covered moving others around. Hey, it’s just a suggestion, and my supervisor has come to listen to those suggestions because her trust in me mirrors my trust in her. She knows I wouldn’t disrupt the day of a colleague just to plow on with my pre-planned day.

The second question has to do with letting your feelings show. So when you’re given news that your planned day is out the window and you’ve got different duties for the day, despite the fact it can be upsetting, do your best not to roll your eyes, sigh heavily and then get all bent out of shape and start arguing. You’re doing something different and the faster you come around to that point of view the better it will be for everyone – most notably yourself. In fact, if you can make the adjustment with an observable positive attitude, that could come back to help you more than hurt you in the future. Supervisors like staff that can roll with change when they are negatively impacted. So you may find their thanks get extended by letting you go early another day, backing you up in a team meeting with more enthusiasm or possibly some kind of work incentive.

Remember too that whenever you are told that your work is changing for the day, from the minute you’ve been informed, you’ve now got precious time to use to get ready for whatever lies ahead. Whether it’s preparing to lead a workshop like me, or going over client accounts so you’re prepared for those face-to-face meetings, the sooner you get going the better for you.

You may lament to a co-worker in private your frustration for the days change; but do it out of the sight of your supervisor. Sure you can say it’s frustrating but say it’s okay too. Explain what you had planned to do if the supervisor was unaware and ask for time at a later day to catch up or for a junior person to do what they can to help you out.

When you adapt to change you increase your worth; solve a supervisor’s problem and you avoid becoming one.

Dealing With Staff Changes

Whether you work in an office, a factory, a theme park or well anywhere for that matter, changes in staffing are bound to happen. With every change, the chemistry in the workplace changes. Employers have two basic desires of their employees as change occurs; deal with it and be productive.

Of course change comes for a variety of reasons. It could be that staff get promoted up the organizational chart, fired, take a leave of absence, maternity / paternity leave, retire, quit and sometimes demoted or transfer to another department or team. There are a lot of reasons that lead to changes in personnel. Why you might even find teams expand their numbers due to increased demand, someone takes advantage of a job share program and works part-time instead of full-time or is whisked away to work on a special project for an extended period of time. So many possibilities.

For whatever reason or combination of reasons, change is a constant. When change happens in your workplace, you will be impacted in some way. How do you typically react when it does? For some, it’s a time of anxiety. After all, will you get along with the newbie? Are they bringing in someone who will be open to being mentored by you and appreciate all your accumulated wisdom, or is the new person actually someone coming in who actually might know more than you and become the new darling of the workplace relegating you to second favourite?

On the positive side, when someone comes into your workplace they too have a past. They have work and educational experiences unique to them, and they might bring new energy, ideas, challenge the status quo. This can be good to shake conformity up a bit and stimulate in you a drive you’ve been missing.

I found out yesterday that one of our Clerks has successfully competed for a position as a Social Services Caseworker. While she’ll be staying in the organization, she’ll be reassigned to another office and replaced with someone but the timeframe wasn’t announced. While she’s not the Clerk for my team, nonetheless she is an employee in our office, and that impacts us all.

Having been a Caseworker myself prior to my own job change to an Employment Counsellor, I fired off a lengthy email, dispensing my own philosophy when I was in that role, giving her tips on how to manage both her caseload and her mental health as the job can be stressful. I want her to succeed by also to truly value the job and excel in the role because it is so impactful on the clients served.

So we have two Clerks leaving us, one at the end of this week and now a second in a week or two I’m guessing. While I’m happy for both women, I can’t help wonder who is coming to replace them. Not consumed by this of course, just curious. On my own team, we’re down a member at the moment, and one day that position may be filled but for now we’re operating minus one and have been for some time.

Ever find yourself speculating on changes to come? My co-worker and I have. Who is near retirement? Who is likely to add a family member? Who seems ready for a promotion or change? Conversely, who is here for life and plans on being buried in their office! We even talk about the often taboo subject of ourselves. We’re pretty tight with each other but change is coming there too. My colleague is putting his hat in the ring for some other positions down the road and I may have to deal with a new office-mate. I might even find myself shipped off to another office down the hall perhaps.

Change is constant. I suppose for some their reaction to change depends on how distant or near the change is to them in terms of their own reaction to it. What if your immediate supervisor were to change? Good? Disastrous? About time? Depends doesn’t it on your relationship with the person now.

One thing I learned over time is to adapt with change. Embrace it don’t fear it. The more you resist it the longer it takes you to deal with it. The sooner you accept it, the better you come to deal with it and move forward. And it won’t do anyone any good to compare your new co-worker to your previous one. Just think how much a new husband or wife enjoys being compared to the previous holder of that title. It grows old very quickly.

New people are different people. They might keep their desk tidy or cluttered. They might bring plants to work or goofy (to you) stuffed toys on their desk. They might have light sensitivity and you like natural light streaming in. There’s going to be some discussion needed on boundaries, compromises, shared space, work preferences etc. Expect that.

Change requires change on your part even when you still hold down the same job but others around you move in and out. Imagine yourself joining your team and what you’d hope to find on your first days. Be welcoming, accommodating, helpful and respectful. You were the new person once yourself.

If you are so inclined share your way of doing things, explaining the, ‘why’s’ behind your actions. It’s always wise to share the ‘why’s’. Gotta love those emails with subject lines, “Staffing Changes”.

Something New In The Workplace

In every single workplace, from time to time something new arrives. Sometimes its the arrival of a new employee, a newly renovated working area, a change in furniture, or in the case of Social Services technology in Ontario, an entirely new computer database and online system.

Now with change, as with many things in life, you’ll have those who embrace it, loathe it, love it and even a few who don’t seem to care one way or the other. Good advice 99% of the time is to embrace it because it’s coming whether you like it or not, and the day it arrives you have to deal with it. For me personally, that day is today.

I love change in general. Change prompts me to adjust, work with conscious awareness of the present, learn something new, use skills that sometimes go unused for periods where little changes, and it keeps things interesting instead of stagnant.

The most interesting thing about this technology change is that it’s a complete overhaul, not just an upgrade to a newer version of a past program. On the surface of things, I have my reservations about it in some respects; it appears cumbersome, it isn’t intuitive to use, there are many steps to take to complete processes that in the current model are well understood and simpler. But it’s here and I’m thrilled.

This one is different though. In the new year our clients will be able for the first time to sit anywhere they have internet access and log in to view their file. They won’t be able to see all of it of course, but they will be able to see if cheques have been released, if something is holding up their assistance; even enter some new relevant information such as an address change or change in their family size, employment status or rental amount. First we learn it, then we teach them how to do all these things.

Of course there is the usual nervous excitement that comes with change. Questions about how quickly I’ll pick it up and be able to use it comfortably are on everyone’s mind including mine. Some people across the province have been so intimidated by this new system, they’ve actually resigned from their jobs and taken early retirement rather than learn a new system.

Now while I’ve got my reservations, I’m also 100% in as I should be. After all, if I give it my best effort and grasp it I benefit. If I give it 100% and I don’t get it as quickly as I’d like, I can always be honest with myself and say I gave it my best. And if I self-sabotage and fight it tooth and nail and grumble about it to anyone who will listen that isn’t all that productive because it’s still going to come this morning. All I’d have accomplished with that attitude is be the guy the good people avoid. I don’t want that.

There will be bumps and problems. It may crash today as everyone gets on it across the province at the same time. It may run slow, and some people who thought they would be able to get on and get to work may in fact not be able to log on for some reason at all. That’s anyone’s guess. I’m not saying I’m predicting problems, but if you anticipate that problems may happen that have to be worked out, it makes them easier to accept when they do happen. Of course it could just run beautifully too, and that would be most welcome!

In our office we’ve got a team of people ready to help. This implementation team is doing what they can to make the transition fun. Today they’ll provide us with lunch, we can wear jeans today, and upon arrival we’ll all get ‘treat bags’ with swag and the promise of chocolate throughout the day if we want it. They have also identified themselves with blue t-shirts so they’ll be easy to spot and to get help from.

We have also notified all our clients of this transition to a new system. Some won’t care of course, and that’s not being mean, it’s just being factual. New computer system or not, they just want good customer service and want their questions answered and their money for food, rent and transportation. Can’t blame them at all. Hopefully we get their support and patience as we transition, but we can’t demand it.

Seeing change as an opportunity is healthy. On the other hand, change does have it’s downside for some. On Friday of this week one of my team members is moving on to another job in another division. She’s very good at what she does and has a great attitude. She’s also fun and nice to work with because she and I share some similar philosophies of service and care. I’ll miss her.

But change is opportunity. Someone will replace her and that’s a change to embrace because it’s a new person to throw into the mix and will affect the chemistry of the team. Might be great, might not be, but why not think positively given the alternative is to be pessimistic? New to the job, experienced, male or female, who knows. We all want to find out and will in time.

Change is just that; change. It is neither good nor bad itself. It’s how we perceive and act on it that matters.

Flux Caused By Job Changes

I’ve read over the years how many people will in their lifetime change jobs about 8 or 9 times, and change fields entirely 3 or 4 times. That’s quite comforting actually if you find yourself in that position not by choice but by necessity. The anxiety and stress that can come on in this period is ever so slightly mitigated when you come to the realization that this is a normal thing; not something specific to you alone.

You can perhaps draw on your own life experience, but for those just starting out in their careers, or those who got their current job right out of University or College and have yet to experience this, I’m happy to provide examples.

I’ve a friend who worked almost 20 years in retail. Starting out in an entry-level position, he rapidly rose in the retail world to the point where he was managing a national chain store. After having been in the position of Manager for years, the challenge was pretty non-existent on a daily basis. Living in a smaller community, he was in a position of needing a change for his mental stimulation, but his income was never going to be matched if he left to pursue another job. And after being in retail for all those years, what else could he possibly do outside of the retail field which had lost its lustre?

In this case, the decision was made for him as he found himself one day out of work and not of his own choice; change was wanted, savings found, and the easiest way to start that in Head Office’s view was to start at the top. Forced out of work, what to do? Where to go? The flux he was living was a period of transition from what was known to what could be.

A second example is the case of a respected fellow who actually made his own position redundant. He found himself also out of work after having been in the highest possible position in his field. Relieved of his duties he was close to retirement but still had 4 or 5 years before he could officially retire. Again, that what-to-do mentality was both exhilarating one the one hand and just a little unnerving on the other. Flux; change.

I too have experienced a great deal of this over my lifetime. I’ve been in Retail, Municipal Government, Non-Profit, For Profit, Provincial Government sectors as well as self-employed. While there was a time where I changed jobs every three years over the early part of my working life, it didn’t seem to lessen the anxiety I was feeling at the time while in the moment.

You know if you were reading a book and found that you didn’t like where the Protagonist was at any given moment, you could skip forward 20 or 30 pages and see if things were going to get better for him or her. Why you could even read reviews ahead of time that sum up the conclusion and then gain some reassurance. Real life on the other hand – your life – doesn’t work the same way. Life has to be lived. It’s like turning the page only to find blank pages that have yet to be written, and they only get filled in once each day is over. That wouldn’t be so bad until you realize that whether the story turns good or bad, you are entirely responsible for what happens.

That whole thought process around, “What do I do now?” is an opportunity. While some people would prefer others just tell them what to do, most of us are both excited and uneasy about where to begin. Because we are all so very different, some folks leave a job and immediately start looking for something else. They put out feelers everywhere and in short order are working somewhere else. Not spending much time on career exploration, they find a job quick and their mental energy is spent learning the new job and the procedures at the new company.

Others however, well they take their time. Could be these folks do nothing career-wise for months while they just process this period of change in their own minds. They think long about who they are, what’s happened to them, and turn their energy to doing house chores they’ve put off or travel a little. Then they eventually turn to looking for work doing whatever they’ve settled on obtaining. Neither approach is right or wrong, just different processes.

When transitioning from one job to another, whatever you are feeling is normal. You may be angry, confused, anxious, exhilarated and motivated or feel betrayed and let down. And if you are fuzzy on the whole, “Now what?” thing, that too is a typical reaction. You may find it helpful to have a guide or support person in place to help you deal with your feelings of the present.

If you are an older person, find an Employment Advisor or Counsellor who specializes in working with people of your age group. But if you end up with someone younger don’t fret. You may need a younger person’s enthusiasm and energy in addition to their youthful outlook. It could awaken something in you that’s been missing.

A period of flux is in the middle of two periods of stability. How long does it last? Sorry but that page is still blank in your book of life. You’ll get through it however, and that’s important to remember.

How Fast Can You Shift Gears At Work?

One skill that I have picked up over the years is the ability to quickly perceive the need for change and then implement the necessary alteration in attitude to successfully alter direction in a short period of time. This ability, or lack thereof, is a desirable trait to raise in an interview if you choose. By way of example, let me cite my experience from yesterday.

On a typical morning, I arrive at work at about 7:30a.m. and one of the first things I do is check the staff schedule just to confirm what I’m responsible for that day, as my role as a Facilitator changes often. However, yesterday morning I didn’t bother. You see, our team was planning on holding an open house for visiting staff later this month, and I was under the impression that I and two others had been removed from the schedule to flesh out the details of a loose plan. However, as that open house has been delayed to later in the year, back on the schedule I was.

So there I sat at 9:15a.m. doing some recruiting for an upcoming workshop on job searching, when my Supervisor came in and asked if I would like her to see if she could arrange another team member to do the workshop on responsible alcohol service I was supposed to be doing in 15 minutes. What?! My immediate reaction in the next three seconds and no more, was to process that I was on the schedule I guessed to do it, I still had 15 minutes to get things together so I wasn’t late, and here was a possible out so I could continue recruiting clients.

As it turns out, I did end up facilitating the workshop as my co-worker wasn’t feeling prepared to lead that workshop. She herself ended up sitting in on it all day to reaquaint herself with the flow of the day and the content. While I wasn’t getting the time to do what I had originally wanted, and still need to do before Friday afternoon, it was fulfilling what I was expected to do. My responsibility in other words to do what I was on the schedule to do, and my own fault for not realizing it sooner. It still required a mental shift however from one planned activity to another in a short time frame.

As a Manager, I think that’s a trait you hope to find in those who you supervise. Finding staff who can with a positive attitude, roll with things and show adaptability and flexibility makes things run smoother when change occurs. Now on the other hand, staff that change but make sure everybody knows how inconvenienced they are and get all flustered may get the job done in the end, but there is a path behind them like a tornado maybe getting other staff out-of-sorts along the way.

And there are some who cannot cope with change at all of course; those that will put energy into resisting, looking for opportunities to get out of doing what they should be doing because they are not prepared, which ends up of course then impacting on others directly who have to change to achieve the desired result.

In every workplace, change occurs. Sometimes the change that comes about is fairly frequent to the point when change itself is the norm. That constant flux can either fuel a person’s energy or cause undue stress and anxiety. The bottom line in that setting is that you as the worker may not be able to control the external things around you that impact on you yourself, so the only thing you can control fully is your own reaction to change. If you don’t react well to change, your options may be limited to learning to adapt to change, quit or transfer out if that’s an option, or resist change and deal with the fallout.

Resisting change in a setting where change happens daily would appear to be a recipe for unhappiness, constant strain, and you may not be valued as a contributing employee who fits in with the requirement of your position. If a Team Leader, Supervisor or Manager cited that requirement as a desired or essential characteristic of the employees under them, how surprised should you be then if a decision is made that comes down to you not being the right fit for their needs?

But back to an interview. In an interview you’d be wise if you could determine ahead of time what the desired qualities of the applicants should be, and then ensure that your answers to questions demonstrated your ability to bring that quality out. And if you are working in a setting that requires skills and qualities you don’t posses, perhaps its time to acquire those skills or move on.