Change in the company.

Why we react to change with rejection, resistance or flight.

Anyone who has ever tried to implement a change in a company knows the phenomenon: as soon as it is announced that something is to change, a front of rejection forms among the staff. At first, it is almost irrelevant how comprehensive or good the planned changes are.


Research on how the brain works has shown that this immediate rejection of change is an evolutionary reflex of our brain to conserve energy. In fact, our brain, which accounts for only about two per cent of our body weight in adults, is responsible for almost 20 per cent of the body's energy consumption. That's about 1.5 times as much energy as our heart needs. And about half of this is already consumed in the resting state for the normal metabolism of the nerve cells. The more power the brain has to perform, the more its energy consumption increases - especially during stress.

Under normal conditions, our brain uses up to two-thirds of the blood glucose supplied with food. Under stress, this value rises to almost 90 percent. 

The brain on the back burner.

But because our brain already needs a lot of energy to maintain its basic functions, it saves where it can. And these are primarily the non-essential tasks and functions of the hippocampus, such as abstract thinking, arithmetic, reading, writing or similar concentration tasks. Activities in this area are energetically rationalised by the brain, especially if they are recurring processes. These are stored in the brain as quasi-automated patterns. The brain then does not have to start anew each time with the analysis of a situation, but simply calls up the tried and learned patterns, saving time and energy. This simplifying saving behaviour probably also takes place in other perceptual processes.

[Stangl, W. (2020). Division of labour of the brain: memories are everywhere. (2020-08-19)]

This strategy of saving energy has proven itself in evolution and is therefore rewarded by the brain through the release of the body's own opiates. That is why most people prefer tried and tested thought patterns, stereotypes and, above all, action routines in everyday life whose positive results have been tried and tested. No wonder we love all the practical little helpers that make our work easier. They reduce the complexity of everyday life, help us to lower the brain's energy requirements and thus create a sense of well-being. Organisational and structural changes, on the other hand, force us to engage in new and unfamiliar thinking and learning processes, thus requiring additional energy. Moreover, there are no empirical values for the outcome of the change. In addition, anything unknown triggers stress in us. This is because we have learned in the course of evolution that it makes sense to approach the unknown with the greatest caution and scepticism. That is why our brain instinctively assigns the greatest possible potential danger to the unknown.


Fear activates proven strategies.

This explains our widespread fear of the unknown and the stress directly associated with it. Fear, however, activates proven strategies such as defence, flight or defence. In extreme cases, our brain even reacts with reality suppression.

In this respect, the negative reaction of employees to the announcement of changes is initially a quite natural, healthy reaction. But the exciting question is precisely: How do we overcome these reaction patterns? How do we deal with stress in the 21st century? What can we do to convince our employees, our team, to embrace change or, better still, to enthusiastically go along with it? 

You will find an answer to this in our next Contribution on the topic of stress.

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