“Offer employees orientation and perspective”

The world of work and the economic environment are changing and are associated with high volatility and instability. Mental and business coach Robert Unger talks about change – and how we can deal with it.

Today, people are confronted with a multitude of crises and changes in parallel: The world of work and the economic environment are changing and are associated with high volatility and instability. The climate crisis arouses fears about their future, especially among young people, and stresses them to the point of depression. The future seems uncertain and is associated with fears.

Mental and business coach Robert Unger talks about change – and how we can deal with it.

Business-Coach Robert Unger (Credits: Alexander Müller)

SBC: We live in a time when change and instability have become the norm. The pressure and requirements are increasing, and we are being asked to adapt to changing conditions and to develop further. What does that do to us?

Robert Unger: We either initiate changes ourselves or there are external events that we do not choose to happen. Very similar processes take place in our brain in these two situations: We evaluate the events and look at whether we bring the resources to cope with these changes and challenges – or not. In this case, changes trigger stress.

In addition, we are basically equipped with a negativity bias. Studies have shown that people think up to 60,000 thoughts a day. Most of them happen unconsciously, 72% of these thoughts are neutral. This includes even the smallest decisions, such as whether I want sugar and milk in my coffee. A quarter of these thoughts are negative, and only 3% are positive. This negative approach ensured the survival of our ancestors as they analyzed situations for danger. Negative images and emotions are therefore easier to store than positive ones.

Politics, especially the opposition, also plays with this: it paints negative pictures and thus triggers fear. Fear can be used to direct people. They want to survive, that’s a basic instinct. They vote for the party they believe will best protect them from danger. The ÖVP’s current claim “Believe in Austria” is an attempt to turn into positive: We are not as bad as everyone says.

SBC: Changes in the working world are often met with rejection. Why is that?

Robert Unger: We often know what is better for us, but still remain in old, familiar patterns. It is simply easier for our brain and more energy-saving, to work according to already known strategies. This regulation of our energy balance is also a protective function from a time when we still went hunting.

On top of that, we operate very much with law and order methods: If you don’t do this, there are consequences. It is worked with the whip, and not with the carrot – thus with a positive motivation. Pressure has rarely worked so far, because wherever pressure is created, counterpressure is created.

SBC: What does that mean for change processes?

Robert Unger: If top management has decided to establish a change, then you should expect that, due to this negativity bias, a part of the workforce will have a negative attitude towards the changes. And you should prepare all management levels who deal with employees on a everyday basis to be aware: Obstacles and doubts are human and part of change management.

And also do not forget: Managers are people, too. If they believe they can cope with these changes and change management, they deal with these situations differently. They have to stand for the change day by day, communicate its purpose: In other words, give meaning to the change. This is exactly where companies should start and support the management levels.

SBC: This means: As a manager, providing perspective and orientation is essential in these times of change.

Robert Unger: The vision is the goal, the strategy is the way to get there. Humans need a “why”, a goal in mind. One very important thing to remember is that it should be a positive go-to goal, not a get-away-from goal. Since we store in images and emotions, this goal should be vividly imaginable and backed with images and visions.

If the vision is comprehensible, employees ask themselves in the next step: How can I achieve this goal? Which skills do I bring along? And what other skills might I need to reach these goals? This requires a strategy.

Implementing change requires your own strengths and abilities – and confidence in them. This is valid for managers as well as for employees.

SBC: What challenges do you face in practice?

Robert Unger: Managing change is not so easy for Managers because our everyday lives are already very complex, dynamic and short-lived. Small and medium-sized companies in particular often have the issue that executives, right up to top management, are also very heavily involved in operational business. They maintain what is already there. When you are so strongly rooted in the operating side, it is often difficult to look at the levels above: What are my goals, and what is my strategy for achieving them? And where do I end up if I continue as I have been doing?

If this orientation is missing, there are consequences. Generation Z (Note: Born between 1995 and 2010), for example, is now slowly coming to an age where they could become leaders. Research shows that they do not seek traditional career paths and do not want to take on responsibility, because they often do not know where their employer is heading. As a result, they can’t help to shape the path.

SBC: What advice do you have for people who need to change or develop in their careers? When the change is forced by external circumstances, for example, because the way how work is done is changing sustainably in the market?

Robert Unger: Don’t take the necessary changes personally. The current changes triggered by digitization and technological advancements affect us all – including the Management. Try to see the positive in the developments: Think about why these changes make sense. The question is always: Do I want to decide for myself, or do I want to let others make this decision? The world is changing – and if I don’t change proactively, I will be changed.

As unpleasant as the situation is: Accept the challenge, help and motivate each other in teams to master this situation. Self-doubt is normal, but always keep in mind that many other people have also mastered these challenges.

The management levels are also required to provide support. Communicate explicit expectations to give orientation – but also support in this change. Many employees are simply overwhelmed with the situation, changes are often very difficult for them. If the pressure becomes too great, our reptilian brain reacts with three states: Fighting, fleeing or playing dead. And then changes become very difficult to implement.

Zu Robert Unger: Born in Lower Austria, he is working as a certified mental coach and systemic-potential-oriented business coach. Before that, he worked for more than 20 years as a project manager and manager in the IT sector. Since 2022, the experienced endurance athlete has also been active as an external consultant and coach for top-level sports. For more details please see https://smartconsulting73.com

Anja Herberth
Author: Anja Herberth

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