Never Underestimate the Emotional Impact of Change

During any transition programme, there should always be a recognition of the emotional impact change can have on any employee. There can be a real sense of loss - letting go of the old and having to embrace the new. But what if the new world is not a place where people feel motivated? What if the new way of doing things appears to be unobtainable for employees? How do you manage this as a Leader or someone having to drive change?

Some common mistakes that Leaders make before, during and post transition are;

  • Not selling the WHY to their team, the reasoning behind the change

  • Not being aware of what the change means in terms of loss and gain to each team member

  • Not understanding where each member of the team is in terms of the transition process. Are they still in denial? Have they moved swiftly into new ways of working? Are they defiant in their stance against any change?

  • Not being aware of what motivates individuals, therefore unable to align their motivators in the new world in a different way to the old world

Change and transition are a constant in today’s fast paced business arena, therefore, as a Leader, the ability to manage change at an operational level is important, but at an emotional level, it's VITAL!

People are all very different too and whilst one person will adapt to change very easily, others are genuinely fearful of change and how it might affect them in a negative way.

So, what exactly is transition? Well, you can think of it in three phases

  1. ENDING – This is where people learn to let go of the past, a bit like going through a grieving process and then coming to terms with their perceived losses.

  2. NEUTRAL ZONE – This is a kind of “no man’s land” where life can feel very uncomfortable, the pain of loss is still felt and is exacerbated by the confusion of learning a new way of doing things. It’s where people can feel confused and even frightened. At the same time, it can be potentially exciting, chaotic and innovative.

  3. NEW BEGINNING – This is where all energies are directed at delivering the new vision, where effort, previously lost in anxiety and disorientation, has been harnessed in a positive and productive way.

The difficulty is that change can focus on the situational aspects, discounting the crucial role that transition plays in implementing change successfully. People are rushed through transition, leaving important issues unresolved and adversely affecting morale. Typically, change is directed at outcomes; "Let's not dwell on the past", is the rallying cry, whilst those not fully on-side with the new reality are branded dinosaurs.

Some Leaders are at their New Beginning whilst others are still coming to terms with the Neutral Zone, and some are yet to conclude their Endings. It is little wonder that communication becomes a major issue, relationships are strained, and trust breaks down.

The Lewin’s Change Management Model uses the analogy of an ice cube to explain the change process. The ice cube in its original shape represents the current state of the organisation. In order to change, the ice cube must be unfrozen, moulded to its new shape, and then, refrozen. Similarly, the business, in order to change positively, must melt any forces which resist change and create a climate of acceptance and trust that will reinforce or refreeze the new state of the organisation.

Unfreeze – Change - Refreeze


This stage involves preparing the business to accept change is necessary.

It’s easier when you can point to declining sales, poor financial results, poor customer satisfaction surveys, or suchlike. These show that things have to change in a way that everyone can understand.

You need to challenge beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours, unfreezing some too.

Unfreezing can be difficult and stressful, it puts everyone off balance as you’re altering the “way things are done” It may evoke strong reactions in people which appear as resistance.

Creating a compelling need for change and supporting people’s response, helps create the motivation and buy-in for the change phase.


The change stage is where people begin to resolve their uncertainty from unfreezing and start to think, believe and act in ways that support the new direction.

It doesn’t happen overnight, and people experience the emotions of the Change Curve and their personal transition. They need time to understand the changes, the impact, benefits and the transition they need to make.


The refreeze stage helps people and the business internalise or institutionalise the changes. This means making the changes part of the way we do things and are incorporated into everyday business. With a new sense of stability, employees feel confident and comfortable with the new ways of working.

Even though change is a constant in business, this refreezing stage is still important. In the absence of a new frozen state, change will be perceived as change for change’s sake, and the motivation required to implement it simply won’t be there.

As part of the Refreezing process, make sure that you celebrate the success of the change – this helps people to find closure.

Be prepared for resistance from change once it has been announced and understand how to deal with it quickly. Each person will need you to have different conversations with them about how to support them through this period. However, there are some ways in which you can tackle resistance and negativity.

According to Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn, 2005, there are 6 broad solutions for dealing with resistance to change:

  1. Education and communication: Educate people about a change before it is implemented; help them understand the logic behind the change.

  2. Participation and involvement: Allow people to help design and implement the changes (e.g. ideas, task forces, committees).

  3. Facilitation and support: Provide help (emotional and material resources) for people having trouble adjusting to the change.

  4. Negotiation and agreement: Offer incentives to those who resist change.

  5. Manipulation and co-operation: Attempts to influence others.

  6. Explicit and implicit coercion: Use of authority to get people to accept change.

It’s worth understanding what lifestyle choices people are keeping but also losing. Are their working hours changing? Does the commute into work now take longer? Will they be working with different people in their team? All of these things can inflict a sense of loss, so as Leaders, it’s about focusing on what is to be gained.

Have the conversation today with your people - support them through transition in a different way! And if you need help with this transition, why not get in touch with us.

Find out more about our Leadership and management training

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All