By Claire Genkai Breeze
Managing Wellbeing Through Change
Just because something is true, doesn’t mean it is obvious. The title of this blog implies that there is a relationship between change and our wellbeing; it also suggests that the conditions associated with change can have an impact on our wellbeing. After years of working on change projects in companies I can also see that our wellbeing, in the most holistic sense, can directly affect the success of change experiences inside organisations. It is just possible that each of these domains depend upon each other more than we realise.
There are signs that individuals and companies have not realised how critical these relationships are:
- Mistaking resilience for endurance in complex change processes. Delaying a focus on energy management at the expense of the task all of the time, until it becomes habitual. Wellbeing becomes overly identified with being strong and toughening up.
- Increased levels of anxiety either suppressed/not discussed or displaced onto the change itself or those most associated with bringing the change about.
In the former these anxiety states can somatise into physical sensations of stress. In the latter there can be increased levels of drama without much progress. The talk is more about what is missing or not working in the change strategy, and by implication that it could have been done better by others.
- Placing too much emphasis on a small number of key individuals to ‘manage’ the change process creates the ‘doers’ and the ‘done to’. The ‘doers’ can become exhausted and the ‘done to’ can become incapacitated by the tide of change they are adjusting to.
- and finally inaction around necessary changes can be just as detrimental to wellbeing (both individually and corporately) as being overwhelmed by it.
An absence of healthy stimulus, challenge and freshness can stagnate us.
Reframing Change – Reframing Wellbeing
The phrase “change is a constant” has been with us for a while now. I prefer to think of it from another perspective; namely that impermanence is built into everything. Nothing lasts; nothing stays the same. We gain fitness; we lose it. We have periods when we feel on top of our game and then we don’t. We make mistakes; we perform brilliantly. Everything shiny and new will eventually show signs of wear and tear. Impermanence.
When people talk about managing wellbeing through change, they are really trying to sustain enough energy or perspective or optimism to get them through. It is totally understandable and it illustrates a perennial problem in the way we think about these issues. The moment we believe there is a state to be achieved and then maintained we become anxious about losing it. When we are anxious about losing it our problem solving attitudes and strategies become tight, defensive or flavoured with a taste of anxiety until we are back on top again.
An understanding of impermanence does several things for us. It widens our sense of perspective and it helps us to relax. Conversely it also fosters more ability to notice as things subtly start to change (customer behaviour, our own health, relationships, colleagues’ expectations etc). In this way we can make smaller corrections both individually and as companies and lessen the impact of lurching as a result of long periods of inactivity. Resilience and wellbeing are, at their heart, learning processes just as much as cultural or organisational change. Adaptation is the name of the game.
Staying in the Learning Zone
Returning to where we started, the diagram below attempts to illustrate the relationship between a sense of wellbeing and change.
The comfort zone is a place in organisations that believes it already has the answers and just needs to maintain the status quo. Change is not really on the agenda. As an individual, the comfort zone can represent habits and patterns you have become accustomed to. I am not saying these are either good or bad, just that they represent a state of low learning and therefore low awareness. Wellbeing, like performance, seems to be enhanced by some stimulation and stretch.
The Oh hell zone, however, at the outer boundary, is just as challenging for the opposite reasons. Fundamental and sudden changes in our working or personal lives can leave us feeling completely out of our comfort zone and pitchforked into places where we find it difficult to navigate or find our feet. We can feel that our inner resources simply do not match what the world is expecting of us. Sustained periods in the Oh hell zone can lead to vital depletion. Corporately it can lead to unsustainable performance and chaotic working practices. No one wins here.
The Learning zone is the place of continuous adaptation, experimentation, awareness and feedback. We can do this with ourselves and our own capacity and energy. We can do this with business processes and new service offerings. The learning zone is the Awake Space where we really notice what needs to change and take actions to see what impact they have on us and on others. It is the place where we collaborate and adapt.
With practice, over time we acquire both personally and corporately a wider, deeper learning zone that increases our resilience or ‘bouncebackability’.
Without this we are forced back into mindsets where the question of how to manage our wellbeing in times of change is still necessary. Moving out of our comfort zone pitches us into our Oh Hell zone until we have adjusted. The cost of this to our organisations and to us personally is very high and unsustainable.
Organisations and people need to collaborate together on accepting that impermanence is paradoxically here to stay! The wellbeing of customers, employees and the organisation are all intimately connected and cannot be viewed in isolation.
I once asked a famous endocrinologist what advice he would give people to reduce their stress. Amongst all of the obvious things he said there was one gem that stood out. “We all need regular experiences of flow. It reduces our inflammatory response and prolongs our life”. The learning zone is flow.
You can hear more about how to help improve the wellbeing and resilience of your workforce at the Health @ Work conference on the 12th June. Further details about the conference can be found here.
Claire Genkai Breeze is co founder of Relume Ltd,co author of ‘The Challenger Spirit – organisations that disturb the Status Quo’(2011) and was recently voted as one of the top ten Most Influential Thinkers inHR Most Influential Awards 2013conducted by HR Magazine.
Claire presents the following one-day course with Symposium Training:
3 July 2014 – London