For job seekers or anyone in any form of career transition, I thought it would be helpful to look the ways in which loss is hard wired into our human nature.
Researchers have found that the motivation to avoid loss is far greater than the motivation to pursue gain.
Pain and Loss: It’s how we are programmed
Our brains are wired specifically to look for loss, pain, and danger.
The tendency to avoid loss, served our hunter-gatherer ancestors very well. For example, if there was movement in a nearby bush, there was not enough time to investigate whether the noise came from something you wanted to eat or whether the noise was from something deciding whether you were further down the food chain to it.
The same with approaching a tribe. As nomads, was it safe to do so; or would it be necessary to immediately arm and fight or to flee?
Our ancestors had to be on their guard. Those who were not, probably didn’t live long enough to pass on their gene pool.
So what’s this got to do with the modern office environment?
Loss in the workforce:
Sometimes change involves actual loss, for example when redundancies, retrenchments, performance appraisals, and layoffs occur.
A restructure might mean a person could be demoted and therefore might lose their social standing. It might also mean that their pay and benefits might be reduced. A relocation of an office might mean that an employee might be faced new travel expenses or spend less time with their family.
If you are the manager of staff who lose something from an imposed change, then an understanding of the motivation to avoid loss can help you to acknowledge and manage the loss for that person.
Tips around managing loss:
1. Acknowledge loss.
Acknowledging the loss is far more beneficial than concealing it or trying to lessen it. Sometimes leaders try to ‘spin’ the explanation of a change. When they do so, then it’s very frustrating to staff and detrimental to the trust they have in you as their leader. It’s far better when the leader acknowledges that loss and also empathetically understands its impact.
2. Aim to preserve trust and goodwill.
A leader can lose the trust and goodwill of the people if they overplay good news or downplay bad news.
People have very good BS detectors. These detectors warn them to proceed carefully. To avoid being caught in the BS detector, a leader should not cloak the bad news of a loss as anything other than what it is – a loss. If done so, then the leader will more likely to retain the trust of his/her people.
Whilst most people can process and accommodate loss, it’s often the attempted concealing of the loss that annoys people most.
3. Fourteen positive pieces of news to one piece of bad news.
Bad news and loss is such a powerful motivator that Duke’s Dan Ariely estimates that it takes as much as fourteen good pieces of news to outweigh one piece of bad news!
Giving bad news is inevitable. But knowing how important it is to avoid loss, we should be aware that when we give bad news, like redundancies, lay offs and retrenchments, it’s best to be direct and then explain the reasons.
With thanks to the inspiration and good work of author Andrew O’Keeffe.
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