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The Stress Doc shows why a strategic change management game plan is essential for both preventing individual burnout and generating new learning curves and organizational vitality. The keys: 1) Group Grieving, 2) Fireproofing Against Burnout, 3) Enhancing Risk-Taking, 4) Building Team Spirit and 5) Sharpening the Career/Existential Dilemma.

Five Keys for Managing Change and Reducing Burnout

One sure source of short-term distress and a potential source of burnout in the long run is denying, minimizing, avoiding and/or resisting the realities of a changing organizational climate. A capacity for modifying mindsets and operational policies and procedures is essential. A defensive or dysfunctionally self-protective posture winds up draining valuable mental and emotional energy, constricts risk-taking and creative problem solving and often enhances the likelihood of burnout. At minimum, boredom and passivity is correlated with a lack of new learning curves. While change may create anxiety, it can also sharpens focus and purpose.

One benefit of change and change management - workshops, team building interventions - in an uncertain, rapidly transitioning economic, industry and workplace climate is helping folks recover from and reduce the likelihood of individual and team burnout. The other is the opportunity for generating new flexibility and adaptability in the face of confronting new challenges. Here are key conceptual and strategic connections between managing change and reducing burnout and enhanving vitality:

1. Group Grieving. Allowing employees to constructively express anxiety and anger in a management sanctioned forum means that energy will less likely be channeled into passive-aggressive inertia, destructive interpersonal conflict, sabotage, lateness, illness, etc. It also gives a strong signal that management is concerned about the employee's and the team's needs, desires, concerns, problem-solving ideas, etc. Group venting and sharing, with professional orchestration, both challenges and facilitates individuals and systems to grapple with "The Four 'F's of Loss and Change": a) letting go productively of or, at least, loosening one's inflexibly traditional or romanticized grip on the familiar past, b) confronting one's feelings about, while exploring the danger and opportunities of, an uncertain future, c) dealing with any blows to self-esteem, to a sense of importance or validation of one's existing job or mission, that is, a loss of face, and d) redesigning a new, more adaptive and innovative focus for new environmental and operational realities.

2. Fireproofing Against Burnout. While change may be scary, it provides opportunities for new learning curves with enhanced competence and confidence for problem-solvers. New roles emerge which may be a lifeline for folks grappling with "The Bjorn Bored Syndrome": When Mastery times Monotony provides an index of Misery! Also, individuals who have some predisposition for "people skills" and "interpersonal" interaction" will discover new leadership opportunities - formal and informal - for mentoring, facilitating and supporting others through the transition.

3. Enhancing Risk-Taking. As the great 20th c. artist Pablo Picasso observed: "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." So change breaks the connection - to some degree - with traditional patterns of operation. There's an operational window when things are in flux. Of course, there will be errors. Yet, if the organizational climate can mostly see errors as chances for generating self-awareness, contemplating surprising relationships amongst problem elements and motivation for innovation then the learning pain will invariably result in substantial gain.

Often, the scariest part of risk-taking is not objective external criticism but having to confront "The Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure" - the critical, judgmental, apprehensive voices (past and present) in our head. Also, staying in a comfortable box, with our safe routines and habits, while having advantages also may cultivate and culminate in stagnation: when one's niche of success, over time, has one stuck in the ditch of excess. Beware being bogged down at the critical crossroad of change!

4. Building Team Spirit. New or modified roles and responsibilities inherent in a change process makes effective group communication and interpersonal coordination essential. Changing times challenge teams. A new urgency may bring new vitality in a team that has been more token than stokin'. At the same time, more than ever, the organization needs individuals to break out of a solitary, "I just do my own task and don't bother (or bother with) anyone" mode. Productive and efficient sharing of information and ideas is critical. Another vital ingredient is having people - both managers and peer team leaders - with interpersonal and change agent skills who, as mentioned earlier, can bring colleagues on board during this challenging transition.

5. Sharpening the Career/Existential Dilemma. Finally, change often provides a dose of reality for people who have been cruising or for folks not really motivated or capable of adapting to the new operational requirements. It doesn't mean these people are not capable; more likely there is a problematic fit between how they want to use their skills and experience and the new operational requisites and challenges. In the long run, helping these individuals grieve, affirm past contribution to the company, let go and move on to new arenas is a win/win adaptation for the impacted individual, team and organization.

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Check out his USA Today Online "Hot Site" website - www.stressdoc.com  and his page on AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc

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