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Your Playbook for Surviving Change at Work

Your Playbook for Surviving Change at Work

Change at work is inevitable. Bosses leave, roles change, and teams are restructured.

Even if you know it's coming, you can still feel unprepared. That's because you are hardwired to prefer the world as you know it.

I still remember the day I walked into work and many of my responsibilities had changed. Suddenly, I felt uncertain of what was expected of me and how I would add value to the organization.

It was one of my hardest professional experiences, but I got through it. I hope the lessons I learned along the way will be helpful to anyone in a similar situation.

The language you use matters.

Saying “change is hard” makes change hard. The messages you send yourself affect how you think and feel.

Instead, try: “How can I best approach this now?”

[Related: 10 Things I Learned from Sheryl Sandberg's New Class About Resiliency]

Focus on what you can control.

You can’t change what happened or how others handle themselves, so focus on yourself. Remember that it's okay to feel nervous or fearful when faced with change. Pretending you aren't upset or anxious is much more disconcerting than owning your feelings.

After you understand your reaction, you can control how you respond to it. Choose to channel frustration into renewed drive and energy for the tasks ahead.

Be the expert in your abilities.

You were hired for a reason. Remind yourself of the strengths you have by taking stock of the contributions you have made to the organization. Continue doing those things well. This is also a great time to review your “attagirl” folder, a catalogue of the accolades you have received and the accomplishments you have had to date. It will reassure you of your ability to be successful at work.

[Related: How to Find Happiness Through Your Strengths]

Practice gratitude.

I picked up The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan to help guide me through the practice of cultivating gratitude. The book offers insights and research into how writing a list of three things each night can change your outlook on life. When my work life turned upside down, the last thing I was feeling was grateful. Starting the daily list reminded me of all the beautiful, wonderful things in my life—and that reminder makes it that much easier to adjust your mindset and, in turn, how you experience each day.

Choose to be there.

To make it easier to go to work, think “I choose this job,” instead of, “I have to work at this job.” There is something powerful about making choices for yourself. Choose to be where you are.

Again, this connects back to cultivating gratitude, because it will help you find some positive motivation, even on the tough days. Are you grateful for the friendships you have built with colleagues? Will this job be a stepping stone to something greater? Are you looking forward to completing a project that has been particularly meaningful for you? Find a genuine reason why you want to walk through the door each day.

Even if you’re planning your next move, it will make the intermediary time much more manageable—and productive.

[Related: Rock How You Recognize Colleagues in Your Workplace]

Advocate for yourself.

Whenever your workload is rearranged, you have an opportunity to reimagine your role for yourself. Develop a plan for the new projects you want to take on and present it to the appropriate people in your office. Tell your supervisor where you see yourself in the future and ask for what you need in order to get there. Play an active role throughout your work's change and contribute ideas for how you can be a part of the new vision your boss has for the organization.

You can either let change happen to you or choose to be a part of it. It took me a while to pick myself up again, but I did. In time, I was able to be an active part of rebuilding my organization and creating new opportunities for myself and others.

As you can see from the advice above, the work started within. The way I spoke to myself and the parts of my day that I chose to focus on drove my success through this challenging experience. Remind yourself why you choose to do the work you do, and you’ll find motivation to persevere through an uncertain time.

[Related: Five Tips to Reduce Female Attrition in the Workplace]


Shanna Hocking is the Associate Vice President of Development at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She believes in the power of gratitude and the importance of using your voice, especially as a woman.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.