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Change resilience: avoiding burnout through change

October 31, 2019
February 27, 2020

Coping with organisational change is one of the most common challenges my coaching clients encounter. Restructuring, outsourcing, ‘doing more with less’ and other workplace changes leave many people feeling anxious, afraid and powerless.

If you’re not someone who thrives in the excitement of unpredictability, you might experience difficulty focusing, tension headaches, sleeplessness or a general gloom. This is completely normal.

In fact, a study by the American Psychology Association in 2017 showed that workers who experienced workplace change were more than twice as likely to report chronic stress, and over four times as likely to report physical symptoms, than those who reported no change.

It’s easy to blame our frustrations on the bosses who are ‘inflicting’ change on us. And yes, good leadership can go a long way in creating a supportive environment during disruption. But isn’t it empowering to think that there are things we can do ourselves to manage our internal response to change?

Let’s look at what we can do to build personal resilience in the face of uncertainty.

Why does change stress us out so much?

According to David Rock’s SCARF model, there are five core drivers of human social behaviour: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. When something changes at work, it’s highly likely that we feel compromised in one of these domains.

Our natural response to change is heavily loaded towards the anticipation of threats, loss and risks. When you perceive a threat, your amygdala sends you into survival mode, flooding your blood supply with stress hormones and rushing blood to your muscles instead of your brain. Great if you need to run away from an angry bear, not so helpful in a board meeting!

So even though workplace change isn’t a life or death situation, our evolved instincts trigger a similar ‘fight or flight’ response in the face of perceived danger. 

What can you do to build resilience to change?

Happily, there are steps you can take to manage your response to change. Fiona and I use a mindful coaching tool called the Adversity Triangle to help our clients regain a sense of control during times of change.

In this approach, the first step is to practice acceptance. There’s no point burning energy worrying about things you can’t do anything about. Once you identify what’s outside your control, you can accept those things and start to focus on moving forwards.

Next, you must take proper care of yourself. Pay attention to what you need to feel better in the situation, so you’re better prepared to manage the physical and emotional effects of change.

Lastly, we encourage clients to practice gratitude. This might seem tricky when it feels like the carpet is being pulled from under you, but we’ve noticed that the people who actively seek opportunities in organisational change are the ones who are most resilient. So, what if you reframed the change before you? Can you see any opportunities to use your skills and networks in a different way? Could this change take you in a new and exciting direction?

This is all part of developing a positive, growth mindset, to help you feel confident and more optimistic about what’s coming next.

How to be resilient in the moment: the STOMP method

Developing a resilient mindset can take some practice, so it’s useful to have some tactics in your back pocket for times when it’s getting a bit too much.   We advocate the five steps of ‘STOMP’ as a healthy way to respond when you feel overwhelmed:

  • Stop. Go for a quick walk or leave your desk for a few minutes to reset. This will help to bring oxygen back to your brain, enabling a return to clear thinking.
  • Take stock. Notice, without judgement, how you’re feeling at this moment. Are you angry? Resigned? What do you need? 
  • Organise your workload. Clear your head of clutter and take control by writing a to-do list. Prioritise your tasks by importance rather than urgency, and block out calendar time to do them.
  • Manage your work. Delegate and negotiate, rather than just blindly doing the work. I notice that people marked as top talent across industries are those who are most discerning about when they say yes and no.
  • Praise yourself. Remind yourself of your strengths and what you have achieved. We’re often better at praising others, but positive self-talk is critically important, especially during moments of pressure when the inner critic is most powerful.

If you’d like support to build your resilience during periods of organisational change, take a look at our individual coaching and team workshops or contact me on to set up a conversation.

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