Change is an ever-present driver in the workplace. Whether it is new faces, new goals, new organizational structure, or new customers, our professional lives are constantly shaped by shifting forces and directions. Legal workplaces are no exception to this phenomenon. From large firms to law schools, professionals in workplaces across the legal spectrum regularly confront change. Whether it be the physical restructuring of space, the reorganization of leadership, the implementation of new policies and practices, or simply the hiring of new personalities, change creates both challenges and opportunities in all facets of our work lives.
Unfortunately, change can also create increased uncertainty and stress. As humans, we are neurologically wired to be creatures of habit. Generally, we find comfort in routine and established protocol. It is not surprising, therefore, that the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey found that those employees who experienced recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress and more than four times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work compared with those whose jobs remained more or less the same.
Yet change is undeniably necessary, and new people, new ideas, and new structures can yield better results for the mission or goal of an organization. And so, one is left with the ultimate question of how to better handle such workplace changes in order to minimize the stress they cause and maximize the benefits realized.
While best practices vary depending on the individual and the situation at hand, there are several ways to more gracefully weather most times of change.
Allow Time for Reflection
Change of any magnitude can be tremendously scary. The first step in gracefully embracing times of change is allowing yourself the space to acknowledge your fear. Granting yourself space and time to reflect on your fears may not only lessen your anxiety about an impending change but also help you to discern what specifically is causing your anxiety. Journaling can be an excellent outlet to articulate your fears and anxieties about change in your workplace. Discussing your anxieties with friends or family can also provide a helpful space for reflection. By utilizing these options to reflect on your feelings about a change, you may help yourself define more specifically why the situation feels scary. Providing this definition can help the situation not feel so overwhelming and also may illuminate potential solutions or pathways forward.
Utilize Communication and Collaboration
Communication is always important in the workplace, but it is especially key during times of change. Effective communication throughout the implementation of change can help transitions run more smoothly in numerous ways. Articulating your concerns about change to those above you can help your workplace
leaders implement change in a more informed way. Relatedly, communicating with employees you supervise can help you to better implement change as a leader. Moreover, with change come opportunities to work together to shape the new directions in which an organization moves. In this sense, communicating during changes can help create a collaborative environment where resulting opportunities can be maximized for best results. Utilizing communication to maximize these moments of collaboration allows the entire group to move forward with a greater sense of ownership of the changes at hand.
Stay Positive and Proactive
In many ways, the lens through which you view a change can greatly affect how you experience it. As Maya Angelou once noted, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Staying positive about impending change may help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress over such situations. Moreover, remaining as positive as possible makes you more likely to identify the opportunities present in the situation. Opportunities including the ability to shape the change, to take on new responsibilities, and to implement new associated ideas can provide tremendous personal and professional growth.
Be Flexible and Embrace Mistakes
In times of change, there is often a period of transition during which routines are out of sorts, personalities are acclimating to each other, and procedures are still being developed. Prioritizing flexibility during this period of time promotes a smoother, more conflict-free change in the long run. This flexibility may include maintaining an open mind to new ways of doing things — or making peace with the idea that there might not be a preferred way of doing things for a time. Being flexible also includes embracing the mistakes that will inevitably be a part of an organizational change. Anticipating these mistakes and using them as opportunities for learning can maximize the benefits realized by such changes.
As previously noted, times of change are undeniably stressful and can often have physical effects on your body. It is important to allow yourself time and space to practice wellness to help counteract these physical and mental effects. Finding time for exercise can help improve your mental state of mind while also providing positive outlets for stress and anxiety. Eating a balanced diet can also improve your overall feeling of wellness. Finding time to practice mindfulness, meditate, or reflect is an excellent way to allow your mind to counterbalance any stressors weighing on it. Implementing any (or all) of these wellness practices into your weekly routine can help you weather stressful times of change more smoothly and with your health intact.
Stay Centered on Purpose/Meaning
Finally, during times of change, it can be easy to get lost in the stressful minituae of a transition and lose sight of the ultimate purpose and meaning of your work. Taking time during changes to remind yourself of the purpose or meaning of your work can help you regain perspective and remain centered on your purpose. By reminding yourself of your ultimate motivation for your work, you can reduce stress and help generate new ideas for productive ways to move forward.