The Problem of Change: Stages of Acceptance
For something that is so necessary, change is often despised.
People breed on familiarity. It makes them feel comfortable and secure. Every now and then, change comes along and tears apart that feeling of familiarity. Naturally, individuals lash out in their own ways. This isn’t to say that change is a bad thing, nor is change always met with dislike. Rather, more often than not, people react badly to it. As a leader, it would do you well to prepare.
What kind of changes?
Talking in a business context, change can include things such as restructuring of the company. In this case, a series of changes are made in a climate where fear and insecurity is rampant. Massive lay-offs sometimes result in resistance by the existence workforce due to the degree of change. Being under the management of a new leader is yet another kind of change to prepare for.
The Stages of Acceptance
One popular model of change is the Kübler-Ross model. In all honesty, this model is more focused towards grief and life-changing events, rather than changes in the workplace. Under this model there are 5 stages –Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Today, we’re going to examine the Kübler-Ross model in a workplace context.
Stage 1: Denial
Here, employees refuse to recognize that the change has occurred. This is a defense mechanism used by workers to retain a sense of control over the situation. Denial often occurs in the earlier stages of change and usually transitions to the next stage within a matter of days. However, there are rare cases where individuals only partially transition and only recognize a few components of the change.
In a nutshell: “I doubt our new boss will last a week.”
Stage 2: Anger
After realizing that the change is likely to persist, anger tends to spark. While anger may not directly show, and in certain cases employees will still cooperate, their mentality is still geared against the change at hand. Employees may rile up other employees against the change as well as attempt to subtly boycott it. This stage is characterized by discontent without any real action to revert things back to normal.
In a nutshell: “God, I have to work under that guy!”
Stage 3: Bargaining
Or rather, employees take action to counter the change. This can include attempting to negotiate agreements with management. As individuals, action is unlikely to have much impact. As a collective group of workers, however, employees have greater bargaining power. This stage is sometimes skipped if the change at hand doesn’t warrant much backlash.
In a nutshell: “Hmmm, I wonder if IT has space for an extra person.”
Stage 4: Depression (Or in a business context: Rationalization)
Modifying the original Kübler-Ross model, the next stage would be rationalization. This is where individuals start to realize that their initial reaction to change was exaggerated and disproportionate. They start to identify similarities between the changed situation and the original situation and realize that it isn’t actually that bad. Comfort with change also starts building.
In a nutshell: “Meh, I guess it isn’t that big a deal.”
Stage 5: Acceptance
The change is no longer a change, but the status quo. By now, familiarity has built up and the team would have overcome the initial pains of change.
In a nutshell: “Life goes on.”