Change Hinge: Recognizing Loss

Liz Selzer - Friday, March 31, 2017


"I currently work in a company that is going through a big change. The tension and the anxiety are almost palpable. What is a good first step in understanding why this situation is so stressful and what can I do about it?" 



The most common error in managing change is underestimating the affect it has on people. Many leaders think if they just tell their employees to change, they will. They do not realize how upsetting it is to give up familiar work patterns. Always remember the potential impact of disruption and allow time for adjustment.


First, recognize the losses that occur with a big change. Regardless of how positively the change is embraced, there is always a loss of something. This is the nature of change – one thing stops so another thing can begin. When a change is first put into place, people are likely uncertain what the effects of the change will be. Because of this, they may be cautious and possibly become stalled as they think about how these losses will affect them. There are several types of loss that are common in the work place.


  • Security-Employees no longer feel in control or know what the future holds. They have trouble seeing how their strengths and skills will be perceived after the change, or where they will stand in the organization.
  • Competence-In change, people often feel they no longer know what to do or how to manage their tasks in light of the change. They may even feel embarrassed when faced with new tasks if they are unsure of how to do them. This can make it difficult to ask for the help needed to learn the required new skills.
  • Relationships- The familiar contact with people like old clients, co-workers, or supervisors can change or possibly disappear. In this type of situation, there is potential for people to lose their sense of belonging to a team or an organization.
  • Sense of Direction-In some changes, people may lose an understanding of where they are going and why they are going there. Meaning and mission often become unclear.
  • Territory- At times, there is an uncertain feeling about the spaces that used to belong to individuals or teams. This can be work space, understanding of responsibilities, or what particular job assignments are still theirs. Territory losses include psychological space as well as physical space.


Each of the losses described has a cost. Any type of loss, even of a work space or familiar technology, can trigger an emotional response that resembles grief. As a leader, you will need to help your team members move past these losses and to accept and move forward in the new direction. People who do not display any feeling of loss often save it up and become overcome by a seemingly small transition. It is healthier to express and acknowledge loss when it occurs so those involved can move through the transition process more quickly.




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