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Grief: The Underbelly of Change

A big raise, a colleague relocating to a different office, and training on a new client onboarding system... all three of these items have one thing in common: change. Initial reactions run the gamut. A big raise may mean you rally the troops for a celebratory happy hour, while losing an office mate may involve shedding a few tears as you imagine lunches without your work pal. Though the tone and type of change is different, all require leadership to prepare for employee reactions. A surprising fact? Changes at work result in a grieving process as employees leave behind the past and embrace a new normal. To better support employees, leadership can familiarize themselves with the grief cycle.

The word “grief” may carry a heavy meaning in your mind. It is natural to associate grief with a major catastrophe or death. Smaller changes, whether positive or negative, involve grieving as well. There is no doubt that a long sought-after promotion is exciting. You have imagined this day for quite a while and worked hard to reach this professional goal. Forbes author, Brian Gorman, points out “There are endings associated with every new beginning.” A new promotion will impact the relationships developed in your prior role. Your colleagues may become your direct reports. You are now the one who is responsible for the success, or failure, of your team at the end of the day. Things are changing and it is perfectly normal to grieve for the end of an era.

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. The model outlined five stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. The stages are not always linear; grievers may straddle multiple stages at one time or bounce around. Think back to the last time you were given a new directive by management at your job. How did you react? It is important to note that employees are not trying to be argumentative or avoidant as they approach acceptance; rather, they are relying on subconscious coping strategies to deal with new information that upsets the apple cart.

Leaders and managers are wise to be patient with employees who may need more time to warm up to a new idea. Try altering your communication plan to cater toward these individuals. For example, trying speaking to particularly “angsty” employees individually ahead of the formal announcement will help decrease their resistance. A little bit of preparation can go a long way in progressing to acceptance.


SOURCE: United Benefit Advisors (UBA)