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The 7 Emotional Phases Employees Go Through During Change

When people within an organization are required to change, they still value and emotionally identify with the current state.

The idea of change triggers a strong, legitimate response in them: a feeling of deep personal loss. Once these reactions start to appear among targets, how can you take steps to make people feel better equipped to face the change ahead?

Understanding the stages that employees move through during change can make you a more effective change agent. Recognizing the great work of  Dr. Kubler-Ross, here is our interpretation of the 7 most common phases that may occur:

  1. Immobilization:  This is the mental paralysis that some targets show when they’re first confronted with change.  Information about the change doesn’t sink in for them. Keep repeating the key facts of the change and the underlying reasons for it.
  2. Denial:  Employees in denial think things like, “They won’t do it,”  “They don’t have the nerve,” or “They’re just trying to scare us.”  You can help them move through denial by quickly breaking down the change into a series of steps. Helping employees understand what’s happening and why makes it more likely that they’ll cooperate with the change.
  3. Anger:  Employees who feel angry about the change need the opportunity to speak openly. Hold one-on-one meetings that allow them to do so. Acknowledge the anger and defuse it by giving employees the chance to express their true feelings.
  4. Negotiation:  When employees don’t accept the roles prescribed for them in the desired state, they’ll try to negotiate. Remind them that to move towards a successful future, this aspect of change can’t be negotiated.
  5. Depression:  Depression may set in when an employee realizes that the organization will listen to all of his or her demands but will not agree to concede them all.  Encourage employees to talk things through with their colleagues, managers, sponsors and you.
  6. Exploration:  Employees will eventually explore the realities of change and begin to think about what the future will look like. When they do so, acknowledge how valuable their cooperation is.  Emphasize or bring forward the plus points of the change, and initiate training programs well in advance of the actual requirements.
  7. Acceptance:  Employees accept change when they have confidence in the desired state. Build their confidence by praising the appropriate steps they take forward.  As confidence grows, they will reach a moment of acceptance when they decide to give the change a chance.

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