Tomorrow, Saturday 10th October is World Mental Health day and only someone hiding under a rock would be unaware of the impact mental health challenges are having on business today. One of those challenges is that we have never operated in a more uncertain environment than in today’s complex and volatile working world and we are not proactively addressing the impact.
The need for certainty is a huge contributor to our mental wellbeing and is top of the list for the majority of people when it comes to their core needs and values (sources About my Brain Institute, Neuroleadership Institute, Anthony Robbins).
When our core needs are not met we go into aversive or negative stress, when we go into stress we cannot think clearly, make rational decisions, deal well with setbacks, let alone thrive. Our mental health and that of those closest to us, suffers.
We are Programmed to Need Certainty
Our brain craves certainty, predictability and consistency, that is how we have survived as a species. If we didn’t know where the enemy tribe was lurking or where the lion had its den, we wouldn’t last long. When we are in stress we revert to fight, flight or freeze mode and the rational centre of our brain shuts down, leaving the emotional centre firing and producing huge amounts of cortisol and adrenaline, good for a short burst but damaging to our physical and mental health if left unaddressed.
This need for certainty has not diminished yet to what extent are we taking this knowledge into account when it comes to managing change, to dealing with disengagement and to helping our people thrive in their uncertain business environment?
The Predictable Dynamics of Change
We know that, given an uncertain working environment or an impending change, our behaviours change and they change in exactly the way we don’t need to make change work:
- There is a sense of confusion, loss and ambiguity
- Rumours abound as people try to make sense of patchy information feeds
- Productivity dives as people lose motivation
- There is a loss of trust which takes a significant amount of time and energy to rebuild
So how do we build Certainty in Chaos and Change?
- Acknowledge that change is hard – let your people know that what they are experiencing is a natural reaction to change
- Hypercommunicate – this term was coined by former CEO of Avon Products Andrea Jung. When Avon was going through a major change she got on a plane and delivered the news face to face around the world. When it comes to dealing with change, we cannot NOT communicate enough, even if it’s to say “no news today”
- Don’t castigate the naysayers – traditional change management models advocate finding positive change agents, putting them in a team together and having them evangelise to the ‘rebels’! We need insights from those who are resisting change as, managed respectfully and ethically, they will help the optimists see hurdles and barriers that, if ignored, could jeopardise a successful change initiative
- Talk about the NOT change – as mentioned previously, when we are in stress we can’t think clearly, we tend to exaggerate, catastrophise and ruminate on the negatives. You can help your people to gain perspective through highlighting what’s still the same. As you do this you will see them visibly relax and calm down
- Invest in the Human side of Change – my experience over the years has often left me somewhat baffled that so much money, time and energy is invested in change initiatives from a technology and business process standpoint, yet the most precious assets that can be found on our balance sheet are left to muddle through, and often with dismal consequences.
Show your people that you care about their mental health and wellbeing, give them the tools to deal effectively with change and build the skills of resilience and you can be sure that a business benefit will still be found in reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism, increased engagement and profitability.