Change without Fear!


Once again, the executive management will invite all employees to an employee informational event. For weeks already now, there have been whispers that a reorganization is looming. Naturally, this is not the first time that this has occurred and certainly this will also not be the last time, either. However, whether this realization helps the employees will remain to be seen – particularly if they think back on similar experiences from the past. Indeed, this time, the event will begin just like last time. The CEO will be reminded of the successes from the past while conversely the employees will be reminded that their environment will be changing again, that the management must respond to these changes, etc. ... and all will wait only until the figures are announced regarding how many employees will have to leave the company.


It is precisely this expectation which has already generated stress among all stakeholders for weeks. Even if the reorganization triggers no personnel layoffs, the management will have the anxiety of not being able to correctly communicate the “story line” to the employees. Will the employees understand the necessity? Will they then also embrace the measures? To some extent, the management's expectations for the employees are far removed from the reality. The employees experience stress because they cannot predict the future. In many change processes, their autonomy is greatly restricted and they often find measures to be unfair. In addition, the risk exists for many that their organizational status will be threatened (and it is not perceived as also being an opportunity for continued development).


Stress has a lot to do with anxiety. From neurology, we know that anxiety can lead to increased cortisol levels. Based upon the frequency and the intensity of the reaction, the cortisol levels can also increase. Thus, the more often we undergo change processes, the higher is also the intensity which we feel during this process. But that is initially nothing bad, but rather can be even beneficial. Due to the release of glucose and the increased heart activity, cortisol can promote higher productivity and spur us on. We need cortisol in order to attain optimal performance. We experience this repeatedly in sports so why shouldn’t this also be helpful to us in our professional lives?


On the other hand, however, as the cortisol levels continue to increase, its stimulating influence declines and cortisol becomes a stress hormone. It then even has a negative influence on the hippocampus. Nerve cells die off and stress also results in the compromising of the cognitive functions, concentration and memory. Thus, it is important to correctly use our (neurological) abilities. We must therefore “stimulate” our employees during the change process, make them enthusiastic about new things and not ruin their willingness to embrace unknown things through threatening gestures. How often have I experienced that changes are often justified by stating that “we otherwise would not be able to survive”. Indeed, then the employees find out that only portions of a transformation are being implemented and nonetheless they suffer no detrimental effects (even if this should occur or one cannot utilize the business potential).


Not only current situations, but rather also thoughts can lead to an increase in the stress levels. This is not surprising because the brain can only with great difficulty differentiate between real and perceived situations. Thus, if we worry about our professional future or are afraid of losing our job, then this already triggers a stress reaction – quite regardless of how realistic the perception may also be. Therefore, the employee must only think about this situation and he becomes anxious and afraid – and nobody can win based upon a position of fear and anxiety.



Thus, there is no reason to “motivate” a change with fears and anxieties. Rather, we should focus on promoting good ideas. This will then not just positively influence the on-going change process, but rather also the framework for a future change process. This will increase the autonomy for each individual because he will be able to “move” more freely and be more open-minded towards the future scenario. Therefore, it is naturally not guaranteed that the future will offer more opportunities for each individual employee and that all expectations will be able to be fulfilled, but the stakeholders will perceive the change as being fairer and above all to be much less stressful – or, as I have repeatedly referred to it, as being “brain-friendlier”. I am thus convinced: There is always a path towards change without creating fear!

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