Saturday, January 6, 2007


‘‘A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a person perfected without trials.’’ —CHINESE PROVERB 1 As the twenty-first century begins, breathtakingly rapid rates of change challenge us to find new ways of functioning—as individu- als, as members of society, and as employees. The way you handle these challenges goes a long way toward determining how success- ful you are in your life and your career. Times have certainly changed, especially in the workplace. In the years following World War II, the United States enjoyed a pe- riod of relative stability and superiority in which the products and services offered by its companies dominated local and foreign mar- kets. This led to larger, more secure American companies, expect- ing success and thriving on spirited yet relatively friendly competition, with their workforces assured of long-term employ- ment and retirement benefits. In addition, most employees could look forward to annual raises and career advancement.
The megatrends of change are everywhere today. We transitioned rapidly from an industrial to an information society. As time goes on, fewer and fewer jobs involve assembly lines and manufact- uring. Because of the ongoing expansion of the Internet and computer technology, our work increasingly emphasizes the ac- quisition and dissemination of information and knowledge. But, no sooner do we learn a computer program or procedure than it becomes obsolete and is replaced by something new and better that we have to master. To keep up with this fast-moving, glamor- ous technology, we have to act quickly and keep learning. For all of its benefits, our high-tech world can seem to be a bit over- whelming, especially for older workers. World trade and the communication it stimulates continue to spark an unprecedented globalization. Our work immerses us more deeply in a melting pot of lifestyles. The Internet connects us instantly to information from all corners of the world. We do more and more business with people we may never meet. Al- though this is quite stimulating, we increasingly encounter unfa- miliar cultures, races, and religions that we may not really get the opportunity to understand. Moreover, worldwide, large-scale orga- nizational changes redistribute wealth and increase economic competition and reactionary hatreds. Organizational changes also preoccupy and distract many companies from adequately addressing employee and customer needs and effectively tracking essential marketplace developments. Old, established business patterns seem less and less effective today. Competition has become more cutthroat across all indus- tries; companies unable to keep up fall by the wayside. To adjust and stay ahead of the pack, companies reorganize, upsize or downsize, centralize or decentralize, outsource, diversify or merge. Whether these changes decrease costs or bolster product lines and market presence to improve the bottom line, company reorganiza- tions open a Pandora’s box of employee problems. These include layoffs and the pervasive fear of layoffs, wage freezes or cuts, reduced hours, revised benefit plans, and hiring freezes. When there are no new hires, the employees who stay on must take on added work at no extra pay. To escape these realities, companies often make unwise business decisions to offset pressures on them. The ongoing business uncertainties affect employees everywhere; even the strongest companies have found themselves facing unexpected difficulties and been forced to change course. Adding even more stress to today’s workforce are the growing complexities of human resource issues. Although certainly justi- fied, efforts to end workplace discrimination have led to an ongo- ing reconsideration of the criteria for hiring, promotion, and job allocation, making today’s workplace a hotbed of social issues. Equal opportunity emphases impel employers and employees to make and implement unprejudiced workplace decisions and be- have in accordance with these principles. In the short run, these positive advancements toward equal and fair policies can often complicate job assignments and promotions. Change also can come in the form of new coworkers, some of whom may be less capable or perhaps less cooperative than others. Or you may suddenly find yourself with a new supervisor, a new department head, or even a new company president. Your current supervisor may start getting added pressure from above and, in turn, pass that down to you. Vendors and customers can cause new, unfa- miliar problems that must be dealt with immediately, no matter how many other more pressing matters are piled up on your plate. All of these changes, from the larger overall issues to the smaller day-to-day details, create stressful circumstances. It’s how you handle these stresses—your resilience in the face of change— that determines whether you will succeed or fail.
Some of us choose to see only the drawbacks and disadvantages of the current work environment. For example: Our job descriptions keep changing. No sooner do we learn some new technology than it becomes obsolete, and we must rush to learn something else. s The expanding digital divide alerts us to the peril that, though some of us will make it in the technological age, oth- ers will not. s Even if we have marketable capabilities, there is much less job security today than there was before. s Whether through merger or employment change, it is in- creasingly difficult to muster up loyalty toward employers who show little commitment to us. s We fear that family security and leisure are things of the past. Admittedly, it is hard today to rely on what worked before and to know what will work in the future. It is tempting to escape taxing workplace pressures by denying or avoiding them. Alterna- tively, you can sink more and more into depression, self-pity, and hopelessness by worrying and obsessing over these types of pres- sures.
What is the upside of all this change? If you embrace change and use it creatively, you can open up opportunities to develop better ways of working and living. The key steps presented in this book show you how to develop resilient attitudes and skills for manag- ing rapid workplace changes. By using them, you will turn stress- ful changes into golden opportunities. Why do we react to change as a threat, despite its advantages? Because it is difficult to estimate how much a change will frustrate our wishes, needs, obligations, goals, and responsibilities. Such frustrations may result in losses, failures, and humiliations that seem too painful for us to accept. To manage the perceived threat, you can deny stressful changes exist and thereby avoid them. But, you then risk losing valuable opportunities to utilize your brain’s resources to learn and grow. To be resilient, you need to hold your fears of change at bay and capitalize on the opportunities that come with change.
Similar to the evolution of the computer, the remarkable human brain evolved and grew in its ability to manage complex living requirements. The brain needs to function along its evolutionary design, namely, as a processor of new information. If workplace disruption and unpredictability overwhelm you, you may prefer no change. Imagine your life without changes. Everything is predictable and nothing ever varies. This may sound great, but upon close inspection, a life with no change can be empty. Day after day, month after month, nothing changes, noth- ing new happens, everything is the same. Over time, the bliss of a predictable, unchanging routine gives way to boredom and empti- ness. And, before long, you may look toward self-destructive activ- ities, such as drug or alcohol abuse, just to shake up things. If this happens, you forgo many chances to advance your life in satisfy- ing, purposeful, and meaningful ways. Novel, changing stimuli make best use of the brain’s resources that otherwise lie dormant. You can sink into boredom, apathy, meaninglessness, depression, and incapability with insufficient sensory input. The saying ‘‘use it or lose it’’ applies here.
As stresses mount, many people become undermined in their per- formance, conduct, or health. They may fail to meet deadlines or reach goals. They may cut corners and disregard rules. They may have sleep problems, headaches, upset stomachs, or even worse symptoms as the time spent under stress increases. Experiencing the same stressful circumstances, however, some people will be resilient, and survive rather than be undermined. Their performance, conduct, and health will remain unaffected, as they find ways to shoulder all the different kinds of stress. Further, some of these resilient people will not only survive, but actually thrive. They will thrive by finding ways to turn stressful circum- stances into opportunities for personal growth. So, they will actu- ally be better off than they were before. For example, suppose that job insecurity is the source of an employee’s stress, as information mounts that the company will be downsizing. The resilient employees who survive will continue to work effectively, and stay within the rules, despite the anxious uncertainty. And, those among them who not only survive, but also thrive, will struggle to discover what they can do under the circumstances that will make them more valuable to the company, and take the necessary steps leading to that goal. In this process, they will likely feel vibrant rather than symptomatic. Lou Zamperini is a good example of resiliency. He not only survived great, even life-threatening stress, he managed to thrive in spite of it. 2 Through athletics, he learned to strive competitively to attain goals. His stellar high school and college performance as a sprinter eventually won him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 1936. Then, World War II broke out, and Lou began missions with the U.S. Air Force. While on a bombing run over enemy territory, his plane was shot down. Although he survived, he be- came a prisoner of war. Enemy forces tortured Lou to get him to reveal classified information. He withstood this assault and eventu- ally escaped. Upon returning to Allied forces, Lou restarted bombing mis- sions for the U.S. Air Force. For a second time, his plane went down in the Pacific Ocean, but this time it was due to mechanical malfunction. He and his crew faced life-threatening challenges. Lou stayed strong and helped crew members survive in severe weather conditions and without food while awaiting rescue. Fortunately, U.S. forces rescued them, and Lou returned to ac- tive war duty. When the war ended, he returned to the United States to start his business career. The same resilience that led him to survive and thrive in the challenges of war helped him to be- come a successful corporate executive. Although retired today, Lou Zamperini lives an active, vibrant life.
Lou Zamperini has a hardiness ingrained in his personality that helps him and others like him cope resiliently with stressful life changes. This hardiness enables them to courageously face poten- tially disruptive changes and turn adversity into advantageous op- portunity. As you will see throughout this book, hardiness is a particular pattern of attitudes and skills that helps you to be resilient by surviving and thriving under stress. The attitudes are the 3Cs of commitment, control, and challenge. If you are strong in the 3Cs, you believe that, as times get tough, it is best for you to stay in- volved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than to give up, and to try to discover how you and others can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate. These 3Cs amount to the courage and motivation to do the hard but important work of using stressful circumstances to your advantage. Success in the hard work just mentioned involves using the skills of coping to solve problems and interacting with others to deepen social support. In transformational coping, you first take the mental steps of broadening your perspective on and deepening your understanding of the stressful circumstance. Building on this, you then plan and carry out a decisive course of action to resolve the stress. In interacting with the people around you, you give and receive assistance and encouragement, deepening social support so conflicts can be resolved. It is the combination of hardy atti- tudes and skills that helps people survive and thrive under stress. Luckily, resilience is not just an ability one is born with, but some- thing anyone can learn and improve. With more than twenty years of hardiness research and practice, we have shown that, if you want to thrive in the twenty-first century, you need to have inter- nal hardiness resources to manage workplace stress.Now we want to pass on to you what we have learned—to help you develop resilience at work.

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