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Change is loss

Loss is associated with change, regardless of the type of change. Even changes we want, and lead, involve a loss. And loss involves a grieving period.

IN FACT -- Dr. Lucy Hone, a Christchurch-based resilience expert, highlights that we don't have multiple grief stations in our brain, so job-loss is processed in the same way we process losing a loved one.

Grief is what you feel when your hopes and dreams and the reality you're faced with shift; the difference between where you are and where you thought you'd be. So, yes, losing a job or a business can hurt like hell—just as much, in fact, as losing someone you love. We grieve because we are 'hard wired for connection but live in a world of impermanence' to quote Bob Neimeyer, one of the world's most respected bereavement researchers. Whose contribution to helping people handle loss is so much more helpful than EKR's (now discredited 5 Stages of Grief model).

Add to this: We're loss averse

And that’s a problem. Why? Because we naturally avoid losses, and change is loss!

So our brains are almost wired against change.

The potential for loss weighs on us much more than the potential for gain. That's why we naturally think: What could go wrong? instead of what could go right.

We put a disproportionately high value on the loss, even when there is more to gain! It’s part of the reason we have a status quo bias.

What people might ask themselves during change

  • Will I still get to work with people I have a connection with?

  • Will I still be able to work on [the piece of work that I value]?

  • Will I still work in familiar environments and with familiar processes?

  • Will my job still look the same?

  • Will I be able to do what’s expected of me?

  • Will I still matter if my role changes?

  • Will I still be listened to?

  • What can I expect in the future?

  • Why are we doing this? Will this new way even work?

  • Why can’t I have a say in where we’re going?

  • Will I get a say in the decision?

  • Will this change actually make a difference?

  • How much effort will it take for me to get to proficient (in the future state). Is it worth it to me?

What these questions are about

  • Loss of attachment: Need to feel connected, secure, or a sense of belonging to your team / organisation

  • Loss of territory: Need to feel a sense of belonging or grounding to a place.

  • Loss of structure: Need to have certainty and clarity.

  • Loss of identity / status: Need to know who I am as an individual, what I stand for, my values and strengths. Need to know what I can offer and what I can do.

  • Loss of future / certainty: Need to know the direction, have hope and positive expectations.

  • Loss of meaning: Need to find purpose and make sense of all situations.

  • Loss of comfort: Remember, we’re wired to be lazy. Having to learn new things and change takes effort and triggers a threat response.

  • Loss of control: Need to feel in control of situation and have some autonomy.

What this means for leaders during change

  1. We have to make the benefits of the change seem twice as good as the losses. What is the positive and benefit of the change? What could go right?

  2. Spend time focusing on what is not changing and is staying the same. Often we spend all our time ‘selling the change’ by envisioning all the changes and discussing them at length. While this is necessary, too much of it might make people feel overwhelmed by the scale of the change. You can help provide stability and certainty by reminding people what isn’t changing. Specifically reinforce the interpersonal connections that aren't changing.

  3. Leaders can highlight the losses of not changing. Reframe the status quo as a loss. Highlight the problems of sticking with the status quo. Then, sell your change idea. After all, it's a solution to the problem you've all just agreed on. 


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