A corporate takeover, merger or downsize can mean an abrupt and often unwelcome change in workplace circumstances. Employees can unexpectedly find themselves working under new management with different colleagues in an unfamiliar environment, bringing feelings of shock, loss and even 'survivor's guilt'.
Kris de Jong of Eclipse Life Coaching is a former team leader qualified in psychology and cognitive behavioural coaching. He says it's natural to experience these negative feelings, but there are ways to recover from them, accept the new situation and eventually embrace the changes.
After the initial shock of a corporate restructure, it's important not to waste time and emotional energy ruminating on the situation, de Jong advises.
"Some psychologists now equate stress with rumination, whether it's dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Thoughts such as 'this is so unfair' or 'I'm going to lose my job' are unhelpful. You may not have control over workplace changes, but you do have control over how you react to those changes. In the midst of upheaval, it's a good idea to focus on the practicalities of short term goals, such as moving offices or onboarding new people."
Often in a restructure, favourite workmates are lost to redundancy and this may elicit 'survivor's guilt' in those who are kept on. De Jong notes that work relationships can be very close, "and let's face it, you often spend more time with your office colleagues than your close friends, so having to leave an enjoyable environment for the unknown requires a period of adjustment".
To soften the blow, he suggests keeping in touch with ex-colleagues by meeting for a coffee or a drink outside of work, and making a conscious effort to build relationships with new workmates.
Particularly in a downsizing situation, people may suddenly find themselves doing the work of two or three people, with little or no increased remuneration and possibly without gratitude or support. Fear of being "next for the chopping block" may prevent employees speaking to management about their concerns.
"With any change, it's important to find gratitude in the positives," says de Jong. "Extra responsibilities can broaden your skill base, and a different boss or new team may widen business and social networks, bringing new opportunities."
But for genuine concerns likely to have a detrimental effect, he suggests scheduling a meeting and being well prepared for it.
"Write bullet points of the issues along with ideas and possible solutions so that management is encouraged to work with you to make things better. Be careful not to appear negative about everything by pointing out some things that are going well, for example: 'I'm really enjoying the challenge of my new role and I'm learning a lot, but to maximise the efficiency and productivity of the business I think it would be a good idea to delegate some tasks so I can focus on the important stuff.'"
The stress of restructuring can manifest in physical and emotional symptoms such as headaches, irritability and sleep disturbances, and people may skip meals and feel too busy to exercise. De Jong recommends resisting the temptation to increase alcohol and junk food, "as these are only temporary escape behaviours that ultimately make you feel worse".
He stresses the importance of maintaining energy levels to be productive in the workplace, and recommends consuming nutrient-dense foods and scheduling in regular exercise.
"Healthy living is vital - make it a priority."
For additional symptom relief, indulging in 'flow activities' which take you completely out of the work zone physically and mentally is a great way to reduce stress, says de Jong.
"Engaging with your kids, playing a musical instrument or even playing video games forces your brain to focus on the present moment by utilising all of your cognitive skills for the task at hand."
Once the upheaval of restructuring settles down, employees will often have a golden opportunity to embrace the changes and become a valuable part of the new regime. De Jong suggests asking yourself, 'how can I use the new situation to my advantage?', or 'what can I do to optimise harmony within my team?'.
"Thinking in these terms helps keep a lid on negative emotions of resentment or anger, and allows you to focus on what you want."
And in the future, "increasing innovation and fast-moving technology is going to mean more disruption and restructuring for many corporations, so your ability to accept and adapt to change is crucial in the modern workplace."