Helping Employees Deal with Change in the Workplace

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Who Moved My Cheese" by Spencer Johnson. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Helping employees deal with change in the workplace can be a tough challenge. It’s a truism that no one likes change, and people tend to panic. How do you help employees cope with change?

An important role of managers is to lead employees who are uncertain about or fearful of change by painting a picture of success they can get excited about. (In other words, “Picture the new cheese,” from the parable Who Moved My Cheese.) We’ll cover the advice of the parable of change, Who Moved My Cheese, and look at how to more easily help employees deal with change in the workplace.

How to Help Employees Deal with Change in the Workplace

  • From a management standpoint, understanding which characters (Who Moved My Cheese) your employees emulate can help you to help them adapt, while benefiting the company as a whole. 
    • Sniffs can help a company innovate by sniffing out opportunity.
    • Action-oriented Scurrys can get things done.
    • Haws are hesitant but can adapt with encouragement.
    • Hems may choose not to adapt even when given the evidence. They might then stop being good fits for your organization.

If you stubbornly resist change at work, you could end up being fired or let go. The same can happen if you fail to notice change because your mindset is anchored in the past. Prepping employees for this outcome can aid in helping employees deal with change in the workplace.

Remind employees that change is necessary. For instance, a family retail business that doesn’t change its ways, or change fast enough, to compete with mega-stores could find itself out of business. In a case like this, it might have been better to initiate change than to react to it later.

A business that’s been successful in the past (for example, an encyclopedia-selling business) cannot rely on its business model working forever. (Cheese eventually runs out.) Reminding employees of this can be useful in helping employees deal with change in the workplace.

People are more afraid of and more resistant to change when it’s imposed on them from above, because they feel powerless. Peer pressure can also be a factor. Helping employees in understanding that change is natural and has advantages can help lessen resistance.

One suggested strategy is to ask your employees to read Who Moved My Cheese. People can then self-identify with the characters, and no one wants to be seen as a Hem! This is a great way to help employees deal with change in the workplace.

A Primer on Dealing with Change in the Workplace

Let’s put it all together. You can help employees deal with change in the workplace by having them prep for various potential changes in advance. Ask them to read through the steps of dealing with change in the workplace:

To start with, watch for change by paying attention to company statements, workload and structural changes, and industry trends. If you sniff out change, you can prepare for change by getting your personal finances in order, adding a part-time job, learning a new skill to develop your job in a different direction, or moving to a new company.

Don’t try to hold on to the past (don’t wait for the cheese to reappear) by ignoring warning signs, resisting new skill requirements, or by just working harder at what you know. Changing work can be scary, and it’s tempting to be in denial, but the longer you do this, the more you hurt yourself. 

To combat the fear, envision something better (picture new cheese) — this can be an opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t because the job tied you down. Now that you’re free of old constraints, imagine yourself succeeding in a new role. Focus on what you can gain through change rather than what you might lose. Possibilities include a chance to use latent creativity in a different job, having new experiences, or moving to a different part of the world. (This is a great reminder in helping employees deal with change in the workplace.)

Don’t let fear paralyze or hold you back from trying something new, whether it’s learning a new skill at the same company, or doing something different. Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone, because doing something offers a better chance of success than doing nothing. If you don’t move quickly to adapt you may lose your best chance. For instance, others will learn new skills and fill jobs that could have been yours.

Learn to enjoy change — it can offer rewards such as greater income, new relationships, or greater job satisfaction from using more of your talents. Finally, expect and prepare for continuous change by always growing and learning in your personal and professional life. Presenting change this way can help employees deal with change in the workplace.

Helping Employees Deal with Change in the Workplace

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Here's what you'll find in our full Who Moved My Cheese summary :

  • The absolute worst thing to do when change is coming
  • How to adapt to change, like the key characters
  • How to handle change in work and life

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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