‘‘When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.’’ —HELEN KELLER
Most of us today can imagine a workplace undergoing disruptive changes. Perhaps you work in such a place right now. When a company is reorganizing to meet budget pressures or market op- portunities, when there are layoffs, mergers, and shifts in job defi- nition, employees often feel like there is nothing, and no one, they can count on anymore. Work changes may worry and preoccupy them so much that they have little interest or time to nurture satis- fying work relationships. In a rapidly changing workplace supervi- sors are often less and less accessible, and when they finally do have time, they may be less candid and supportive about goings- on. Employees may no longer recognize the company and cowork- ers they once knew. Unpredictable work environments and fewer self-development opportunities make it increasingly difficult to feel good about your work and yourself. Job insecurity, arising from a possible termination or a possible transfer, arising from new supervisors and shifting career paths, is today’s most frequently cited employee concern. 2 We all strive to gain mastery and predictability over our envi- ronment. We differ, however, in the ways we react to our fear of change. It’s difficult to completely eliminate the fear that comes with stressful changes, but you can learn to manage it and do what needs to be done anyway. By opening up to life’s changes through attitudes that marshal your coping resources, you can seize creative, satisfying, and inter- esting opportunities. The following three attitudes position you to embrace change resiliently.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE 3Cs
As the IBT study first revealed, hardy attitudes—attitudes of com- mitment, control, and challenge—give you the courage and moti- vation to turn stressful changes to your advantage. These three attitudes are the key to resilience and must be learned and mas- tered. Now let’s examine them more closely. Commitment ‘‘Life exacts a price for less-than-full participation in it. We lose touch with human values and qualities that arise naturally from a full engagement with work and life that expresses responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and cooperation.’’ —TARTHANG TULKU 3 The attitude of commitment helps you to engage fully in work tasks and life. You are committed to the importance of your job, your family, and all of your life’s pursuits. It is your involvement with the people and events going on around you that lends mean- ing and fulfillment to your life. You stay involved to the best of your ability and continue to do so no matter how stressful the circumstances. Your dedication to an activity arises from your belief system and influences how you cope with stressful changes in key ways. When you appraise the people and activities in your life as impor- tant to your personal satisfaction and system of meaning, and your interaction with them as worthwhile enough to pursue vigorously, you are more apt to commit and dedicate yourself to them both in will and action. This attitude also applies to situations and circumstances. Your attitude of commitment shapes your understanding of the events around you and is the basis for evaluating situational outcomes. You ask yourself, ‘‘Do I have the interest to solve this problem?’’ If so, you are more apt to dedicate yourself to it. In this circum- stance, your attitude of commitment is high. If the opposite is true, however, you are more apt to deny or avoid the problem to mini- mize its damage to you. The reactions Charlie and George had to their company’s reor- ganization shows the importance of commitment. In its decentral- ization effort, the company’s headquarters, where both men work, is downsizing considerably. Strong in commitment, Charlie wants to stay involved with the work and his coworkers, and keeps thinking through what is happening, asking others how they feel and how they’re doing. He keeps working on things and partici- pating as much as, if not more than, before the downsizing. He continues to care about the company and its members. In contrast, George sees the reorganization as just another disruption. With little commitment, he quickly concludes that the company deci- sion makers are incompetent and not worth his loyalty, and that his fellow employees are fools not to see this. He detaches himself from everything that is going on and does as little as possible during the workday, preferring to lose himself in daydreams of more enjoyable times. Control ‘‘Lack of willpower has caused more failure than lack of intelligence or ability.’’ —FLOWERS A. NEWHOUSE 4 The attitude of control enables you to take direct, hands-on action to transform changes and the problems they may cause. This atti- tude helps you believe that stressful changes are important and worthwhile enough to dedicate yourself to influencing them in an advantageous direction. You are likely to say, ‘‘Let me find, or de- velop, the resources to solve this problem.’’ Sufficient personal coping resources make it easier for you to influence the outcome of the problem. If you believe that you can influence the outcome of a stressful change (control attitude), you are more apt to push yourself to cope with it. Of course, how much and in which direc- tion you can influence changes varies from one situation to the next. The strength and direction of your coping efforts depend upon your estimation of the likelihood of bringing about positive change. An attitude of control heightens this estimation, which mobilizes and sustains your coping efforts in the face of adversity. The added benefit is that this coping effort in turn strengthens your commitment attitude as well. Through your unremitting ded- ication to solving the task, you do what you can to make things turn out well. If the opposite is true, you may question your ability to turn stressful changes around and stop trying. Remember, however, that though it helps to have an accommodating environment that supports your coping efforts, you should try to influence change positively even in less supportive circumstances. Keep in mind that there are some things in work and life that we simply cannot control. An important aspect of evaluating the features of a stressful change is assessing what is and is not possi- ble. Some circumstances only permit change within us. You then need greater ingenuity and effort to move change in positive direc- tions. The greatest personal change can happen in such circum- stances. If you are high in the attitude of control, you fully grasp the directions in which life’s changes push you, events, and others. The importance of an attitude of control can been seen in the experiences of Linda and Allison. Both women work for a com- pany that is being acquired by another, larger firm, and are experi- encing all the reorganizational turmoil this brings. Linda gulps twice and throws herself into thinking through the likely implica- tions of the changes for her, for those around her, and for the company itself. She also tries to anticipate what additional changes may be coming. Through all of this, she keeps in her mind the downside of the changes, and the upside as well, and what she can do to influence beneficial outcomes. This attitude helps her take action to cope and interact in relevant, effective ways. By contrast, Allison panics and has a sense of powerlessness as the changes mount. She does not believe it likely that she can do anything constructive, so she tries to decrease her pain by detaching herself from what is happening. She concludes that whatever is going to happen will happen, so it is better to think that it doesn’t matter to her anyway. Whenever she is unsuccessful in detaching herself, her increasing anxiety gives way to anger, as she sees herself as the victim of the powerful and wealthy people who don’t care at all about her. Challenge ‘‘Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.’’ —RALPH WALDO EMERSON 5 The attitude of challenge lets you embrace change as a normal life process. You take an unbiased stance toward change that develops your ‘‘taste’’ for what satisfies you on a long-term basis. Positive and negative experiences are simply grist for the learning mill. This does not mean that you jump for joy when stressful changes come your way. Instead, you approach change as a meaningful challenge by seeing opportunity in every difficulty, rather than by seeing it the other way around. If you are strong in the attitude of challenge, then you stay motivated despite stressful changes, are especially able to learn from your disappointments to do better the next time, and main- tain that whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. Change is a necessary stimulus for self-discovery and growth, and provides you opportunity to further develop purpose and meaning. People who are high in the challenge attitude are very different from those who are low. Take the example of Bernice and Oliver, managers in a high-tech company that was increasingly going into the red. Bernice regrets the decisions, some of which she had par- ticipated in, that led the company on its downward spiral. But, she feels the company can learn from these failures, and she keeps struggling to see alternatives that could improve the situation. In- stead of panicking, she tries to see how to do better, assuming that there is a lot to be learned. In contrast, Oliver sees the failures as an unchangeable sign of his and the company’s inadequacy. He is overwhelmed with the pain of what is happening, and fearfully wants to keep it from becoming public. This leads him to entertain ways of covering up the financial mess, even if that means lying about it and breaking rules.
HOW ATTITUDES INFLUENCE RESILIENCE
What is a person like when all three hardy attitudes are high or low at the same time? If they are all high, the person is courageous and motivated to take advantage of changes, however stressful they may be. This is the pathway to resilience. In contrast, if the attitudes are all low, the person is fearful and vulnerable, without any strength or motivation to confront stressful circumstances. The examples that follow show this difference. The Courage and Motivation for Resilience You may be familiar with the television sitcom Cheers, with its appealing and quirky characters played by an outstanding, diverse cast of actors and actresses. John Ratzenberger’s background was of particular interest to us, especially with regard to hardiness. Prior to playing Cliff on Cheers, he was a starving, unemployed actor residing in England. Thirty-something and down-and-out, John’s uneventful career had been sprinkled with minor acting jobs. John was literally a step away from homelessness when, in 1982, he came upon the Cheers script and read for the part of Norm Peterson. John saw himself in the role of Norm, the good- natured accountant who found a place to call home on a bar stool in a Boston tavern. The casting directors felt differently, however, as they chose George Wendt to play Norm Peterson. Faced with this defining moment, Ratzenberger, quite the op- posite of the man-child Cliff, who affected a blustery, boastful atti- tude in trying to hide his deep-seated insecurities from his friends, showed that he had a reservoir of resilient attitudes. He resisted succumbing to it’s-all-over-but-the-shouting and asked the direc- tors if the Cheers cast included a know-it-all bar character. To con- vince the directors of the value of such a character, John launched into a ten-minute, off-the-cuff monologue of useless information in the infamous style of Cliff Clavin. By fully engaging in a process he deemed as important and worthwhile to his life course, he con- vinced Cheers executives to give birth to the character of Cliff Clavin. No one gave John his good fortune; he created it on his own. He evaluated the features of the challenging stressful circum- stance and seized his professional moment. The end result of his failed audition was the role of his career. He is a fine example of how being strong in all three hardy attitudes provides the courage and motivation to thrive resiliently under stress. Denial and Avoidance Rather Than Resilience When change mounts, people who are low in the hardy attitudes feel isolated rather than committed, powerless rather than in con- trol, and threatened rather than challenged. The resulting emo- tional pain leads to either of two nonresilient behavior patterns. They engage in denial and avoidance, or they panic in the face of perceived ‘‘catastrophe’’ and strike out. These people deny and avoid by endorsing a rigid set of roles, rules, rituals, and relationships as the way of dealing with stressful problems. Rather than learn and grow from change, they try to fit into what others and circumstances seem to want of them. In other words, they want powerful figures to make the rules, set the pace, and tell them what to do. And, they look to long established norms, traditions, and credos to help them reject what seem like disruptive changes. All this may reduce fears and give short-term comfort and security, but it does little to open people up to new, growth-promoting situations and experiences. Individuals who cope through denial and avoidance believe that if they stop thinking about stressful changes, the unpleasant- ness will go away. They believe that, when the going gets rough, it is best to withdraw or isolate to stay below radar. They resist peo- ple and circumstances that could potentially bring them pain. And, to regain peace, they detach from the stresses at hand. They won’t let things upset them, trying to maintain the status quo at all costs. These individuals view change as an irregularity, an aberration, a needless imposition. They often dwell on things that they have little influence over and avoid changes in which the outcomes are unclear. Even at home, they tend to avoid talking about work in order to preserve their sense of calm. They can lose themselves in distracting activities, such as endlessly watching TV, shopping at the mall, drinking heavily, or extrarelational flirtations, all in an effort to escape life’s difficulties. You can find them saying things like, ‘‘Why try to change things? You can do very little about it anyway. I’m just doing time. Why should I care about what goes on here?’’ As employees, these people often think of themselves as ‘‘com- pany visitors,’’ and reluctant ones at that. They do what they have to because of others’ expectations, requests, and demands. Because they deny and avoid stressful changes, they engage only superfi- cially in work tasks and don’t believe that they can change or grow because of their participation. They are just doing time. As you would imagine, these individuals are low in resiliency. They sink into feelings of powerlessness, which leave them incapa- ble and weak. If they pull up stakes, they give up any sense of positively influencing their lives. They cherish stability and tradi- tion, and see anything else as undermining them. Their fears of change inhibit their personal evolution and growth, as well as op- portunities to enhance meaning by turning stressful changes into opportunities. Take Vivian’s story as a case in point. She was in her late thir- ties when the company for which she was an administrative assis- tant began to reorganize its product line in order to improve its market share. Soon, there were both new hires and layoffs, along with ongoing job redefinitions. All this seemed overwhelming to her, as she had always felt as if she had no influence and was vulnerable. She kept trying not to think about what was happening or listen to her coworkers’ relevant discussions of the changes. She just kept doing what she regarded as her job, even though the official sense of her tasks was changing. She had nostalgic memo- ries about previous stability, and saw the current decision makers as upstarts. Curtailing her work hours as much as possible, she spent more and more time at home watching television while drinking wine. Before long, she was terminated, as the decision makers saw her as recalcitrant and ineffective in their company’s changing times. Then, she spent even more of her time watching TV and drinking, and could not bring herself to any concerted, organized effort to find another job. She became increasingly dependent fi- nancially and emotionally on her aging parents, who were worried about her and mystified as to how to help her get back on her feet. Catastrophic Reactions and Striking Out, Rather Than Being Resilient Most of us want our coworkers and employers to recognize and value our contributions to the workplace. We have a core need for others to think well of us. Organizations often establish proce- dures and policies for recognizing their employees so they will stay involved, productive, and satisfied. In rapidly changing times of high workplace stress, however, these types of employee reinforce- ments are used less and less. It is therefore easier today to fade into the workplace woodwork, which can make employees feel insecure, powerless, and expendable. With strong attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge, you feel secure even in unsupportive work conditions. You know how to make use of work procedures and policies to guide your work tasks and behavior. This helps you to stay motivated, despite less frequent reinforcements, and to be resilient in finding new ways to renew job interest and value. In contrast, individuals low in the hardy attitudes are less resil- ient, needing more concrete guidance through well-defined work procedures and policies. There is nothing inherently bad in this, and in fact, many of these individuals make excellent supervisors and supervisees because of their appreciation of workplace proce- dures and policies. High stress and poorly delineated, changing circumstances, however, can leave them feeling alienated. To func- tion effectively, they depend upon smoothly run, well-defined work environments and clearly defined work tasks and procedures for getting recognized and valued. What is the downside to this nonresilient approach? These people overreact to changes that decrease their sense of support. Anything that disrupts routine and order is seen as a catastrophe, a sign that they are not valued and are being pushed around. Com- pany reorganizations, shifts in management and supervisors, and ever-changing work tasks and policies make it increasingly diffi- cult for these nonresilient individuals to pinpoint opportunities for coworkers, supervisors, and their employers to recognize and value them. They begin to classify events as nurturing or depriv- ing, which undermines them physically, mentally, and behavior- ally. By overpersonalizing workplace changes, they undermine workplace relationships. Their coworkers often avoid them in order to secure their own peace and equilibrium. What do these more vulnerable employees really fear? They feel weak and powerless through their inability to manage change effectively. To regain mastery and control, these hardworking, self- sacrificing employees become rigid and may begin to use the mea- suring stick that they use on themselves to evaluate coworkers, supervisors, and employers. At such times, others may see them as critical and competitive. There can be an extreme expression of this nonresilient coping position. Certain workplace conditions can make these individuals feel misused, injured, and wounded. Once on the defensive, they begin to view coworkers, management, and the company as adver- saries. Although there may be some reality to their complaints, they channel their anxieties, fears, and floundering self-esteem through a victim mentality. Odd as it seems, this is a way for them to protect themselves when other paths close. They adopt the ap- proach that the best defense is an offense. They recover the veneer of equilibrium and momentum by behaving contrarily. These employees make others responsible for their stress and unhappiness. Friends, family, and coworkers avoid them, when nothing they say or do can help. These vulnerable employees are low in resilient attitudes. They have difficulty thinking about new, more adaptive ways to bolster their self-esteem, and thus they fear change. By externalizing blame, they attempt to save face. And, in the most extreme, they may cope with difficult circumstances through increased work absenteeism, poor work performance, workplace theft or vandalism, and unwarranted threats to carry out legal action against their employers. The Importance of Attitudes in Resilience The two ineffective coping strategies just covered demonstrate why hardy attitudes help you face stressful problems with courage, and be resilient rather than vulnerable. To be courageous, you have to see the stressor clearly and avoid shrinking back, despite your fear of it. In addition, these attitudes motivate you, and lead you to figure out ways to turn change into opportunities and to take the necessary steps to bring about that advantage. Let’s take a look at a few common situations: s Suppose you have less job security today. Do you detach from coworkers and the company by giving a lackluster perform- ance, by cutting corners, or by being disloyal? If you have strong hardy attitudes, you sidestep these unproductive be- haviors. Instead, you cope constructively with job insecurities and accept them as today’s business norm. You throw your- self into work, perform to your highest capacity, continue to learn from your experience, and treat your coworkers and employer as you like them to treat you. That’s what it means to be strong in commitment, control, and challenge. After all, even if you lose your job, your ongoing diligence, conscien- tiousness, and professional development will make you all the more attractive as a prospective employee to other com- panies. And, maybe you can make your new job even better than the one you lost. s Suppose your industry or company is such that jobs, driven by technological advance, competition, or market needs, fre- quently change in definition. Do you hang on rigidly to current ways of functioning and grow more troubled and wary over less traditional changes? If your hardy attitudes are strong, you sidestep these unproductive behaviors. You in- stead see such changes as opportunities to continue your de- velopment and throw yourself instead into learning and training that make sure this happens. You increase your value and marketability to your current company or another com- pany by continuing to develop your knowledge. s Suppose work tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines increas- ingly inundate you as your company downsizes. Do you sink into resentment, detachment, and hostility? If your hardy at- titudes are strong, you sidestep these unproductive behav- iors. You strive instead to regroup and improve your functioning to meet the expanded requirements. If you need help in doing this, you ask constructively for assistance from your company. Before long, the company will rely on you more, and use you as a model for others. In the process, you will feel more competent and capable. s Suppose that with all the ongoing changes, your relationships with supervisors or subordinates in the company deteriorate through misunderstandings, arguments, and retaliations. Do you detach from others and devalue them? If your hardy atti- tudes are strong, you sidestep these unproductive behaviors. You try instead to understand relationship difficulties as a byproduct of stress. By encouraging and assisting others, you try to resolve workplace conflicts, rather than perpetuate them with impulsive, thoughtless actions. By valuing and helping others, and trying to improve your interactions with them, they in turn trust and value you.
WHERE DO YOU FIT IN?
When you examine your own responses to workplace changes, what do you find? How does your particular way of understanding circumstances drive your response? In which ways do you try to preserve your self-esteem during stressful circumstances? Does your pattern of response express the attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge? Take a few minutes to think through the following questions to get a sense of how you handle stressful work changes now and in the past.
Commitment, Control, and Challenge
1. Do you wake up in the morning excited by the thought of going to work?
2. Despite cherishing the past, do you look forward to a chang- ing future?
3. Do you feel that your input at work makes a difference in how things turn out?
4. Do you rely on yourself to figure out how to solve problems that arise at work?
5. Do you anticipate changes at work as bound to happen and normal?
6. Do you see both your company and yourself trying to grow and do better?
Denial and Avoidance
1. Do you feel most comfortable with clearly defined work tasks?
2. Do you feel most comfortable with little change in work task or environment?
3. To stay calm and happy, do you put work problems out of your mind?
4. Do you escape from work problems by distracting yourself with daydreams and other fun activities?
5. Does work stress you? If so, are you unsure as to why?
6. Do you work to pay your bills and nothing more?
Catastrophic Reactions and Striking Out
1. At times, have you tried to undermine coworkers by devalu- ing their work tasks or personal characteristics in front of supervisors or management?
2. When you are part of a work team, do others’ ideas and con- tributions threaten you?
3. Have you ever passed off as your own a coworker’s ideas or work products?
4. Do you overpersonalize workplace changes?
5. Do you feel unappreciated and hurt when a supervisor high- lights an area of work in which you need more growth?
6. Do you use problems outside of work to maneuver cowork- ers and supervisors into relieving you of work tasks?
To score your answers, give yourself one point for each time you answered ‘‘True’’ to a question. In order to see your attitudinal approach to stressful changes and conflicts, total your scores for each set of six questions. Which set gave you the highest score? Do you respond through hardiness, denial and avoidance, or cata- strophic reactions? Then, add your total scores on denial and avoidance, and catastrophic reactions, and divide this grand total by two. Compare this number with your total score on the hardi- ness items, and you will see whether you respond to stressful changes with hardiness.
Do you see why hardy attitudes amount to the courage and moti- vation to thrive in the midst of stressful changes? Now, of course, you need to supplement courage and motivation with the specific skills that will help you transform these stressful changes into op- portunities. But, first, you need to deepen your resilient or hardy attitudes.