5 tips for managing change at work

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Change is the only constant in the workplace. In recent years, workers at all levels have felt the impact of change — from massive job layoffs to budget cuts to new management. For those who remain employed, managing change at work has become part of everyone’s job description.

Yet a recent survey conducted by Right Management, a career management consulting firm, shows that 31 percent of employees are not able to adapt to changes at work.

Failing to adapt can leave employees more vulnerable to layoffs than ever.

Below, experts address common worker concerns about how to manage change at work.

“I’m paranoid that I’ll get a pink slip. How do I avoid sabotaging my own career?”

Watching your former co-workers walk out the door can leave you feeling paranoid about your own job security. Fear can lead to low productivity and reduced enthusiasm for your job. Since you ultimately don’t have complete control over your job, don’t let the fear of downsizing stop you from doing the best job you can, says Caitlin Friedman, co-author of “The Girl’s Guide to the Big Bold Moves For Career Success: How to Build Confidence, Conquer Fear, Manage Up, Navigate Change and Much, Much More.”

“Maintain a high level of work at your current job, and grow and nurture a vibrant network outside of it,” she says. “If you make these activities a priority, then you are protecting your reputation and you are massaging relationships that might come in handy should you get laid off down the road.”

“My new boss’ management style isn’t a good fit with my work style. How do I adapt?”

A new boss can certainly bring a lot of cultural changes to your workplace, as well as a new set of responsibilities for your job in particular. Cheryl Palmer, career coach at Call to Career, advises workers to allow some exploratory time with a new manager.

“Take the time to get to know your new boss to develop a good working relationship with him or her. Clearly defining expectations is the first step in developing that relationship. If you know what your boss expects of you, you can be happier and more productive at work,” says Palmer.

“How can I stay competitive in this tough job market?”

“In the past 18 months, employees received a loud and clear answer to a nagging question: Yes, Virginia, you are expendable,” says Barbara Poole, founder and CEO of Employaid, an online community for workers and employers.

Stay abreast of the latest skills that employers are seeking in candidates for your field by periodically checking job ads, even when you’re not in need of a job. “I advise clients to look for two key words on vacancy announcements: required and preferred. Whether a skill is required or preferred, employees need to acquire that skill to stay employable. If a skill is preferred today, it will be required tomorrow, so it pays to stay ahead of the curve,” says Palmer.

“My company has frozen salaries. How can I get a raise or negotiate my benefits package?”

While salary freezes are beginning to thaw, many companies are waiting until mid-year 2010 to re-evaluate, says Poole. Proactive employees can still approach their managers for a raise or promotion.

“When times are tough and it’s easier for employers to say ‘no,’ workers need to lay the groundwork for any request, whether it’s a raise, time off or a promotion, well in advance,” says Friedman. “Start keeping track of your successes and accomplishments. Evaluate your growth and performance from your boss’ point of view and make improvements where you think you may be falling short.”

For instance, you can contribute more to the meetings you attend, join outside professional associations and take on high-profile projects. “Then,” says Friedman, “be ready to make your case.”

On the benefits side, think creatively and determine what you need, whether it’s a four-day work week or a telecommuting situation or a job share. “It is a time when workers who do remain are able to accomplish creative, value-added benefits and pay. However, it requires the employee to articulate what it is they want, develop a case for it, and fearlessly present it to management,” says Poole.

“My workload has doubled because of layoffs. Should I complain, or just be thankful I still have a job?”

In short, be thankful you have a job. “There are likely 500-plus people in line for your job the moment it’s posted online,” says Poole.

But also look at the positive side to a heavier work load. “It’s an opportunity to learn new skills, broaden networks and take on management responsibilities,” says Friedman. “Complaining is useless because obviously your new responsibilities were considered before they were assigned, and you likely don’t have a lot of leverage.”

If your workload becomes unbearable, speak with your manager. But come to the meeting armed with possible solutions. If that doesn’t work, take your new skills to the marketplace and look for a new job.