Changing perspective on stress from reorganizations


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In 1999 I started giving weekly leadership training to employees and managers from different organizations. If, in a group of 12 participants, one or two participants were working for a company in reorganization it would have been quite remarkable. Nowadays it is the other way around.

Organizations not in reorganization are the exception. Our company now confirms this rule. For the first time since the founding of Van Harte & Lingsma  we have to say farewell to a number of highly respected colleagues.

Healthy reorganization

What is a healthy way of dealing with such a reorganization? I notice that it often produces extra levels of stress. The first question arising is whether you are allowed to stay. Soon after you find out you’ve survived another question arises, “How do we proceed?” Fewer people are left, but often with the same amount or even more work. You have to do more with fewer people. It is a familiar theme, perhaps you recognize it in your own organization?

Coping with increased stress

How do you deal with such the new situation after reorganization? Are you stressed because of the extra work and increased uncertainty? It is common sense that too much stress is unhealthy but how much can we take? The psychologist Kelly McGonical has done some work on the subject. Maybe we’re you are ready for another perspective on stress?

Research by McGonical shows: stress is not unhealthy in itself. Even when stress gets very intense, you are able to minimize its negative impact. What is important is how we deal with stress. According to her three things can help with to cope better and more healthily with stress.

Create meaning. During reorganizations actions are taken that often seem nonsensical and strengthen a sense of futility. By focusing too much on what you cannot influence, your attention only enhances these feelings of futility. Try to create meaning (once more) in your work, wherever possible. Why did you start to do this work in the first place? What were your motivations? See if you can strengthen a sense of meaning in your work.

Increase your sense of influence. The feeling of powerlessness is, according to McGonical, the sickening part of stress. Her research shows that vasoconstriction occurs only with people who feel stress is bad for them. People who do not have such an idea, aren’t bothered by the physical effects. Try to find whatever helps you to have a sense of influence on your own stress. For one person, this means doing yoga, another might be a strong believer in breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness or exercising regularly in the gym.

So try to let go of the idea that stress is inherently bad for you. It appears to be, that this specific belief is the main cause for harmful effects.

 Concern for others

It might sound strange, because you already have enough on your plate during a reorganization. However, caring for others in stressful situations proves, specifically for the ones that do care, to have a strong protective effect. Research shows that in major stressful situations – such as financial problems or a family crisis – the risk of dying goes up by 30 percent. The striking thing about McGonical’s research, is that the negative effect of stress is completely absent for people who actively provide care to others.


One of the best ways to be healthier in dealing with stress from reorganizations is to help others. In that way, you’re doing something useful. You only need to shift your beliefs for a moment and forget that stress is bad for you. Perhaps this story helped? Have a look at the inspiring TED story shared by Kelly McGonical herself. And enjoy it!

How did this story help you? Or do you have other ideas on how to deal with stress during reorganizations? Feel free to share your ideas below.

This article was originally published in Dutch on on 20 sep 2013

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