The Mindful Approach to Change Management

We’ve all been there – sleepless nights full of anxious thoughts, the faint thrum of unease that runs through your day, the crushing heaviness of looming uncertainty. In business, as in life, change is inevitable and entirely necessary. But how it’s navigated can make or break an organisation… and its people.

It’s time for companies to start taking a more mindful approach to change management, putting the mental wellbeing of employees at the core of their strategy. This is why.

The Impact of Change on Mental Health

‘Restructuring’. ‘Overhauling processes’. ‘Strategically pivoting’. However you label it, maintaining a laser focus on any kind of change without considering the profound emotional toll it will have on employees, is a recipe for disaster. Because stress, anxiety and instability will inevitably seep in, making it difficult for people to embrace that change – or make that change work.

The psychological effects of change are very real. Neuroscience confirms that it rocks our sense of stability and safety, triggering primal fears and literally hijacking our body. It sends us into fight-or-flight mode, flooding our body with stress hormones. And in a work environment, that mental and physical volatility makes it extremely difficult to adapt.

Renowned psychologist Dr. Amy Silver believes that the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that accompany a fear of change are why we often prefer to stick with the status quo. And that status quo is, according to Amy, “the silent destructive enemy disappointingly undermining all our efforts.”

As resilience expert Michael Licenblat explains, the paradox of embracing change is that the brain likes consistency and yet it is wired for malleability. This creates a mental tug of war between wanting to keep things the same whilst being adaptable to new ideas.

Even for those adept at navigating change, the experience can be psychologically taxing. Change management expert Ciara Lancaster believes that mentally preparing by developing self-awareness and self-regulation strategies to help process stressors in a healthy way is absolutely crucial. Because powering through change on an anxious, unstable mindset simply isn’t sustainable.

The Role of Leadership

Global leadership expert Margot Faraci believes the best approach to tackling a fear of change is for leaders to harness our most powerful human emotion – love. She believes that leaders who are courageous in their care of people, who lead their teams with love – bravely, fairly and clearly – create psychological safety. And that’s the single biggest driver of team performance – as Margot says, “When you lead with love, performance follows.”

Leadership coach Belinda Brosnan agrees, saying that the key to leading through change “is to create an environment that gives equal voice to everyone and allows people to speak up without the fear of being shut-down and ridiculed. This also requires leaders who are adept at asking questions and listening deeply — the ability to ask questions and build trust through courageous and caring conversations is key to an emotionally healthy workplace.”

Australia’s leading change and resilience expert, Ciara Lancaster, explains that prioritising emotional safety helps disarm those ‘freeze nerves’ that underpin our resistance to change, and activate the ‘ease nerves’, which allow for greater adaptation and responsiveness.

By putting mental wellbeing at the core of change management, business leaders can nurture a culture where people feel genuinely supported. In that kind of environment, change can be met with an open, growth mindset, embraced as an opportunity for growth rather than as a threat to be feared.

Building a Resilient Workforce

When you build a resilient workforce, you equip your team with the skills to effectively manage stress and maintain a positive outlook, even under immense pressure and uncertainty. Thankfully, resilience is a set of skills that can be learned. 

1. Accepting change

The first step to building resilience is recognising that some things are beyond our control. As Lao Tzu so eloquently put it, “Resisting change is like trying to hold your breath. Even if you’re successful, it won’t end well.”

According to leadership expert Darren Fleming, people waste valuable mental and physical energy ‘creating a story around change’, which results in a great deal of unnecessary mental turbulence. Simply accepting that change is happening – or ‘letting it be’ (a concept embraced by wellbeing guru Deepak Chopra) – is the best way to move forward.

It’s a sentiment shared by Ciara Lancaster, who believes that “The faster you come to terms with your reality, rather than resist, repress or ruminate over it, the faster you will rewire your brain and lay new neural paths.”

2. Building resilience

Michael Licenblat argues that while being able to ‘go with the flow’ is the key to successfully navigating change, our ability to remain engaged and motivated through that change is determined by how fast we bounce back from setbacks, challenges and pressures. And that’s why proactively equipping staff with personal resilience-building techniques and healthy coping mechanisms is crucial for managing change. These techniques include:

Reframing negative thought patterns

Bestselling author Brené Brown believes that “The core of mental toughness is actually self-compassion”, explaining that “People who are mentally tough stay mentally tough because they don’t slip easily into shame or self-criticism or self-loathing.”

Knowing that failure is a natural part of the learning process, an opportunity to learn, adapt and improve – not a reflection of your inherent worth – is a huge part of that. When we can make the mental shift to reframe failure as learning, failure simply doesn’t exist.

Prioritising self-care

Accredited mindfulness and meditation coach, Chelsea Pottenger, makes the distinction that “Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s self-preservation.” She suggests encouraging employees to incorporate self-care into their daily routine – things like:

– Prioritising sleep – it’s when all the magic happens.
– Making time for hobbies and activities that help you rest and recharge.
– Exercising – people are 3.5 times more likely to be resilient when they’re in good physical health.
– Setting clear boundaries, at work and at home – Ciara Lancaster reminds us that “Healthy boundaries means saying ‘no’ more than you say ‘yes’… for each ‘yes’, you are saying ‘no’ to something else.”

In the end, a more human-centric approach to change management is about protecting an organisation’s greatest asset – its people. As Chelsea Pottenger reminds us, “organisations are built by people. People who need motivation, care and compassion, and whose wellbeing should be as much of a business outcome as profits are.”

If you want your people and your business to thrive, it’s time to put the human experience at the heart of change. In the wise words of Richard Branson, “Take care of your employees, and they will take care of your business.” 

We have some of Australia’s leading change management and leadership experts, including Dr. Amy Silver, Ciara Lancaster, Margot Faraci, Darren Fleming, Michael Licenblat, Belinda Brosnan, Brené Brown and Chelsea Pottenger, ready to provide practical guidance and support for navigating change while prioritising mental wellbeing. If you’d like us to introduce you, simply get in touch with us for a chat!