Downsizing. Reinventing. Reorganizing. Merging. Acquiring. Joint venturing. Relocating. Restructuring.
Many of these have become euphemisms for removing significant numbers of employees from a company’s payroll. Whether you are among those laid off or those who remain employed, it’s a time of high stress and shifting, often volatile emotions.
Morton C. Orman, M.D., a Baltimore, Md.-based physician and founder and director of The Health Resource Network, has developed a list of 18 ways to cope with these increasingly common organizational changes. Described in greater detail on the Stress Cure Web site, his recommendations include:
- Be prepared for change. Orman points out that in today’s economy, organizational changes can happen at any time. Get ready for it by imagining how to handle the situation if you were laid off, or if others were laid off and you remained. Then, if it happens, you’re ready.
- Express feelings about the future. When people get laid off or fired, everyone hurts, Orman says. Don’t pretend everything is “fine.” Denying feelings or trying to suppress their expression will only make things worse.
- Watch out for unrealistic expectations. Neither employees nor employers are likely to have their expectations met if they aren’t explicitly voiced and systematically addressed during times of organizational change.
- Don’t tolerate abuse. When others have been fired or laid off, it’s natural for those who remain to worry they might be next. This fear makes them vulnerable to being exploited by the company and afraid to speak out. Although there is risk involved in questioning company policies, it’s also risky to remain silent and suffer emotional or financial abuse just to keep your job.
- Acknowledge increased pressures, demands or workloads. Even if a company does not recognize the increased stresses experienced by those who remain in the workforce, workers should acknowledge these pressures to themselves, their family members and their co-workers.
- Protect leisure time. When companies undergo change, the extra work tends to erode the remaining employees’ off time, taking up lunches, weekends, evenings and holidays. Orman says this is a dangerous practice. “Just because everyone else starts acting insane, you don’t have to go along,” he pointed out.
- Don’t ignore family. Although work should always be a priority, family should be an equal priority. If an employee in a changing organization puts too much emphasis on either area, they will eventually find themselves in trouble, Orman counsels.
- Avoid rapid and easy means of handling stress through alcohol, drugs, food or other maladaptive coping behaviors. Employees who are laid off or who remain employed are going to experience headaches, muscle pain, nervousness, irritability and sleep disturbances. It compounds stress to resort to quick and easy fixes that only seem to make problems go away. Instead, exercise more, communicate more and set aside time each day to relax, Orman suggests. If these don’t work, contact a physician or another trusted health professional for advice.
- Remain upbeat and positive. This doesn’t mean individuals who are fired or who remain at work after others have been fired must pretend to be upbeat when they are actually depressed, but it does mean if they look at the complete picture, they’ll probably find some positive aspects to focus on. “They can then use their powers as a creative human being to focus on just the positives because they know from past experience this is a wise thing to do,” Orman said.
- Rise to the challenge. Reframe your situation; view it as an exciting challenge rather than as an insurmountable obstacle. Although change is inevitable, being stressed by change is not. It all depends on how it’s perceived and responded to. Perception and response are aspects that individuals can control.