How to adapt to change at work – Career Counselling – picture of eye changing

How to adapt to change at work

A 5 minute read • Simon Q

Part of our career counselling series. Change is inevitable, change is constant, said former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Depending on your personality, that could be a good thing; or really tough.

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Often it seems that change is imposed on us when somebody else decides so, and the reason for the change may not be immediately apparent. That’s why we may feel powerless or reluctant to embrace change when it happens.

Yet, we rarely push for change ourselves, unless we have a personality and drive that makes us want to shake things up once in a while. I get the itch to do this sometimes but like many people I get some comfort and stability from routines and a level of predictability.

Many of us experience what can be the most stressful changes in our place of work. And that’s where change can be most difficult to adapt to. What should you do when there’s change afoot? How can you adapt and how do you make it work for you?

How to adapt to change in the workplace

I have experienced several periods of upheaval at work. I used to work for a company that reorganised its departments every few years and eventually merged with a similar company. In another role in which I managed a company’s external website, I felt that I had probably done the best I could with the role until social media came along and made me question everything I was doing. I will explore these two examples later.

You may have had similar experiences but for different reasons. Companies often reorganise to adapt to external pressures and changes.

A change in the market may require you to acquire new skills, move to a new team or department or, most drastically, be made redundant.

I can honestly say that almost every change that has been imposed on me in the workplace has had a positive outcome. The reason? I decided not be a victim of the change but to ‘ride the wave’. I always saw change as an opportunity to do something new, learn a new skill and work with different people.

It helps significantly if you don’t have a rigid career plan. A flexible vision of your career is helpful when change is so commonplace as it helps you to adapt. I know what I’m good (and bad) at and what I enjoy and dislike. Beyond that I have always sought to be good at what I do, to enjoy work and to help others be the best they can be. That is my career vision in a nutshell, and it has helped me to handle change.

How to survive mergers and acquisitions

I used to work in a pharmaceutical company that seemed to reorganise itself regularly. It was a lean, nimble company that reacted quickly to market changes and achieved a lot with little. It was a mid-sized player but a heavy hitter. It was called Zeneca. I was used to change and happy as an multimedia manager helping product teams to market to healthcare professionals through conferences, DVDs and websites.

One day over breakfast, the news broke that Zeneca was to merge with its Swedish equivalent, Astra, to form AstraZeneca. I can vividly remember thinking it was fantastic news as it was a great opportunity to work in a much larger company. Some colleagues were less positive, assuming that they would be out of a job. A few of them were right.

I spotted an opportunity to build a simple website to share merger information with employees.

I spotted an opportunity to build a simple website to share merger information with employees. Crucially, I understood how to put it together more quickly than the people in the IT team responsible for the company intranet, so I was quickly co-opted onto the merger communications team.

What I did not expect was that I had found myself at the heart of the decision-making process for the merger. As a result, I heard merger news more quickly that almost everyone else I used to work with. My network expanded rapidly and I got to know some senior managers. As soon as the announcement was made that an Internet strategy team was to be formed, I applied and was the first to be recruited into the new team.

So, what did I do right? I think it was really simple. I got involved proactively with the merger process, made sure that I was useful and learned the importance of networking. I knew the role I ultimately wanted and got it.

How to deal with changes brought about by technology

My second example involves the outside world changing around my job. I had managed the corporate website of the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKilne (GSK) for a handful of years, introducing a new editorial approach and a much needed design refresh. I was wondering what we should do next to improve our online communications.

Blogs had been around for a few years but I was uncertain this was the right way forward for GSK at the time. I had noticed that social media was becoming more popular with businesses and had started to use Facebook personally. I knew that other companies were using social media, including a small number in the more risk-averse pharmaceutical sector.

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It was apparent to me that GSK needed to use social media for the simple reason that this was where its customers were. The business case was really that straightforward. The complex part was building the skills and management framework needed to do this properly, something that was even more daunting for a very small team.

It took almost two years to get to the stage where I felt we were managing social media really well as a company.

So, how did I do it? I had to learn on the job, build a case for more people, work closely with legal and regulatory colleagues and convince my management that it was all worth the effort. I can sum up my approach in a few words: purpose, tenacity and open-mindedness. The world had changed and I knew that GSK’s communications had to change with it to stay relevant to customers.

I no longer work at GSK but the company has been recognised as a leader in social media in a sector that is so often conservative and risk averse.

Top tips for handling change and upheaval at work

Your job is probably quite different to the roles I have done, but I’m certain these tips will help you face and deal with upheaval at work:

  1. Acknowledge and accept that change is inevitable
  2. Understand your fears, challenge them and seek support if you struggle
  3. Find some positive aspects of the change that you can focus on
  4. Be flexible and open-minded – rigidity can be an enemy
  5. Find a way to be a part of the change and help to shape the future
  6. Look for the big picture and the longer game – the change may not seem necessary until you understand these
  7. Carry on doing a great job to show your resilience
  8. Take personal responsibility for your happiness and your career

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