11 April 2016

Turning challenges into opportunities

Unprecedented change and widespread cost-cutting measures are having an impact on those working in the public sector. But, behind the number shuffling and radical departmental overhauls, real people who have selflessly devoted their careers to doing good are faced with the threat of redundancy and restructure.

Employees who enter the public sector have made a choice to serve a purpose in society. These socially conscious individuals typically remain in their job roles much longer than their private sector counterparts. So when change comes knocking at the door, local government employees are at their most vulnerable. Confusion, anxiety, poor confidence and unhappiness can arise as a result of prolonged job insecurity because of ongoing budget cuts. The effects of this can last a lifetime if not managed properly.

Despite the prospect of change, organisations must not shirk away from their responsibility towards their employees in helping them maintain a professional career. Whilst some will view change as causing confusion, chaos even, employees and organisations should come to see it as a catalyst for cultivating new opportunities – creating something far better for the future.

A climate for SCARFs

As managing director of a business that specialises in supporting people through transition processes, I know that employees facing change need tailored support in order to reach a sustainable and successful outcome.

Today’s current climate is unstable and uncertain. When faced with redundancy or transition between jobs, employees can feel like they’ve had their breathing apparatus ripped off. In the workplace, this causes the human brain to jump from state to state, dealing with the immediate and losing sight of the bigger picture.

To better understand what drives this reaction, we can use David Rock’s neuroscientific ‘SCARF’ model. The model breaks down potential reactions to show how job loss impacts five key areas which are important to individuals. Understanding how job loss impacts people can help to minimise the threats associated with each area, which allows employees and organisations to better navigate the challenges brought about by transition.


A loss of status and feeling excluded, linked with survival and feeling important to others.


The inability to predict or control the future, which can leave people feeling like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.


The feeling of control and of having choice is gone. In the transition process, people can often feel that they have too many choices, which results in confusion.


Associated with trust, this is the feeling of being protected by others. When in transition there is a feeling of social exclusion – who am I? Where do I belong? A person’s entire identity can come into question.


The need to believe that a situation is fair is more powerful than the need people have for food or water. Managers should show equal treatment to all.

Weathering the storm

The individual must realise that he or she can overcome any challenge brought on by change. Managers too must recognise that they can take on a coaching role and support staff. Most importantly, both the organisation and the employee should understand that change can be a force for good.

Employees who use change as a time for reflection often re-evaluate their circumstances and are able to unlock the feeling of ‘doom and gloom’ induced by tunnel vision, getting on with their job search and pursuing new ambitions.

A key part of working through transition is also to re-establish belonging and purpose by working with others. Whether in workshops or amongst personal networks, working with others presents enormous benefits, helping individuals find motivation, forge new connections and receive encouragement to ‘just keep going’.

Alternatively, good career coaching can nurture self-belief, knowing that the individual has the answers to choices, preferences and life goals within. A good career coach can re-set internal thought processes or patterns to make the individual more resilient for the future - a master of managing change.

Public sector professionals in transition can also make use of numerous online tools and resources to gain practical support with job applications. At Penna, we launched Working Futures for those in the public sector seeking tailored guidance on topics including assessing current skills and how to develop these, how to market yourself and how to identify new job opportunities. Given that many of those affected have long service within a single organisation or sector, it's likely they will find the world of job-hunting considerably different than the one they knew previously. Working Futures addresses this fact and helps people with online vacancies and networking opportunities as well as how to deal with technology-based assessments, Skype interviews and aptitude tests.

Understanding how change impacts us is fundamental to helping individuals and organisations not only cope with challenges, but thrive off the back of them.

Bev White is managing director of Penna Career Services

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