Answering your questions on moving regular meeting times, scheduling vacations, and resisting change

Edited by Christopher S. Frings PhD, CSP

Changing regular meeting times

Q: We have a regular supervisors meeting that is scheduled for a set time each month (third Tuesday at 9 a.m.). Recently the person who coordinates the meeting has moved the date and time of the meeting with last minute notification. This causes the rest of us to either miss this important meeting or completely change our schedule. What can we do about this poor management situation?

A: Larry Crolla recommends, Bring up the issue at the meeting. Dont be afraid to speak about your concern. You can say that if the regular time is unacceptable to all, maybe a new regular time would be better so all those invited can be present. By doing so, you make this the issue of all concerned.

Terry Jo Gile adds, If you are a supervisor and your superior changes the date and time for the meeting, theres not a lot you can do. However, if this is a colleague or peer who continues to make changes at the last minute, talk to the individual and share your frustration. If more than one of you shares this same feeling, try to work out a solution.

According to Alton Sturtevant, This is a very difficult issue to deal with. In my role, I have scheduled weekly and monthly meetings called for by my managers at specific times and dates. I do all that I can within my power to be at those meetings myself, but if I cannot, I designate someone to hold the meeting on my behalf rather than rescheduling the meetings. I do this out of respect for others schedules. Likewise, as a manager reporting to a higher authority, I also have set meetings that I must participate in approximately three days per week. I plan my schedule so that I can participate at those times. If I am called out to meet with a client and cannot reschedule with the client, I excuse myself from the meeting. I always ensure that I get a summary report from one of the other attendees (verbally or by e-mail). These meetings do get rescheduled from time to time and disrupt my schedule. I attempt to comply with the changes, but at times cannot. My bosses understand, as their schedules obviously change as well. If you wish to make your scheduling concerns known, then I would suggest that you voice your feelings as strongly as you are comfortable with doing. You can ask colleagues for advice with dealing with the specific personalities involved.

According to Marti Bailey, Although everyone needs to tolerate some degree of rescheduling, when one particular meeting is being rescheduled more than occasionally, theres a problem. I think the best approach would be to try to work out this kink with the person who is causing it. You could band together and make your point as a solid front, but this may very well be interpreted as threatening and end up doing more damage than good. If you can, select a person closest to being a peer of the person who coordinates the meetings to speak with this person. Without placing blame, he or she should point out one or more problems personally experienced due to changing meeting schedules and then focus on ways to improve the situation. Suggestions might include the following:

  • Rescheduling this meeting to a new day or time that might be a better fit for the group.
  • Setting a specific deadline after which the scheduled meeting cannot be canceled.
  • Having one or more backup facilitators who can lead the meeting so that the meeting can go on even if the primary facilitator cant make it and providing written meeting minutes so that anyone who cant personally attend can still be kept in the loop.

Bottom line. Regular meetings that are worth having should be held whether or not the person who usually leads the meeting can attend or not. The job should be delegated on a meeting-by-meeting basis. It is very disruptive to change the date or time of regularly scheduled meetings. Make certain that the meeting is really necessary, however, by periodically asking the regular attendees, Is it really necessary that we have this meeting at this frequency?

Vacation scheduling

Q: Our vacation policy is based on a first asked, first granted basis. Some are complaining and want a seniority-based system. Both sides have good arguments. Any suggestions?

A: According to Larry
Crolla, Some labs do it by lottery. If done that way, there is no bias in the system. In the lottery system, people trade off among themselves for the time slot wanted if someone else has been the lucky one to obtain it. If you change to a seniority-based system, you need to do it with a years notice. In this way people will know it is coming, and there will probably be less resistance. The big issue with a seniority-based system is that it makes it harder to attract and retain new people because they will always feel short-changed.

Terry Jo Gile adds, I have always worked at places that used seniority for vacations; however, holidays were a set pattern and everyone worked one summer and one winter holiday, and those were handled on a rotation basis.

Alton Sturtevant advises, In my experience, the experienced manager takes requests and evaluates them to determine that vacation is available, that there is fairness to all employees (i.e. the times around major holidays are spread among all staff on a rotating basis), and reviews to ensure that all people take time off to meet the company policies.

He continues, Seasoned managers also maintain vacation calendars for many years for reference to determine fairness of the above listed points. When there are conflicts for a particular time, I check to make sure that fairness is met and then use seniority to determine who will be allowed the time off.

According to Marti Bailey, At first glance, using a first-come, first-served basis for vacation scheduling may be appealing. No detailed policy is required, and the system is easy to maintain. The downside is that there may be nothing to prevent a handful of employees from routinely pre-scheduling vacations well in advance, leaving the less assertive folks with slim pickings. This lack of control is the particular reason that I dont care for this approach to vacation scheduling. It strikes me as a default or failure to provide a formal policy.

Ms. Bailey adds, Seniority-based systems still seem to be the traditional approach used for vacation scheduling, and Im sure that most people recognize that this system has its drawbacks as well. Particularly when there is little staff turnover, the same long-term people get first dibs, while the same newer folks get the leftovers. Its not so great for the staffers in the middle either, because they may very well be stuck with mediocre choices for a long time. A number of years ago we devised a rotating seniority system designed to address these drawbacks. We divided the staff into three levels according to their tenure less than five years, five to 10 years, and greater than 10 years. The greater than 10 years group always got to choose vacation time first, the five to 10 year group next, and the less than five year group last, but the staff within each group rotated so that it wasnt always the same person getting first choice of time off. This certainly isnt a cure-all, but it did provide more equal opportunities to choose time off for folks who had been with us about the same amount of time while still recognizing big differences in longevity.

She continues, No matter how you decide to handle vacation scheduling, its important to have some policies in place that address how much in advance vacation time off can be submitted and will be approved and what will happen when more people request the same days off than can be approved. Ive learned that its better to be proactive about vacation scheduling. Decide with your staff the deadline for submitting summer vacation requests along with what constitutes the summer vacation period (for example, June-August, May-Sept., etc.). Based on your scheduling needs, decide how much time off each person may request. Although not everyone will get exactly what they want, policies such as these help the process to move forward in an orderly way and with some sense of fairness.

Bottom line. Its important to have policies in place that address how much in advance vacation time off can be submitted and will be approved, and what will happen when more people request the same days off than can be approved. Maintain vacation calendars for many years for reference so that the same person doesnt always get vacation around the same holidays. Be fair and consistent when approving vacations.

Resisting change

Q: A large reference laboratory chain purchased our clinical laboratory 15 months ago. Some of our team is still in denial, ignoring new policies and trying to do things the way we used to. How long should this behavior be tolerated?

A: Three things catalyze all change in this country: 1) cost, 2) technology, and 3) politics (or legislative issues). In my opinion, the forces currently driving healthcare are cost and legislative issues. In the future, technology will hopefully play a larger role in healthcare changes than it has in recent years. 

In the situation we are in today, corporate America cannot guarantee our job future, and government cannot deliver on what the politicians have promised. Welfare is being drastically reformed. We are in the paradigm shift from entitlement to earning and from rights to responsibilities. Globally we are seeing a greater equality of opportunity. Businesses have changed the way they want to do business. In response, workers are changing the way they work. Workers are substituting more flexibility by flexible scheduling and telecommuting for the 8 to 5 grind of working in the same place for the same boss.

Employers have finally recognized that a leaner, more efficient staff leads to a better bottom line. It has been predicted that by the year 2020, 85 percent of the people will be employed by small businesses, and 50 percent of workers will be in nontraditional work arrangements. These arrangements will include temporary employment. Temps have become one of the fastest growing segments in the work force. Outsourcing using temporary employees will be a major trend. 

Start figuring out now how your job and profession are changing and how tomorrows tools and methods will alter the way you work. Dont try to defend old methods and ways of doing things. Resisting change is a no-win battle for us. The new tools that we will use will cause further change. The corporate ladder is almost gone with todays leaner, team-based organizations. It is critical that we reinvest our own money and time in personal skill development for the future. The new source of power in the Information Age is knowledge. The biggest challenge today is not getting an education, its keeping one. In three years, at least 50 percent of our skills will be outdated. The good news is that information has never been more available, and knowledge has never been so easy to acquire. Technology gets more user-friendly every day. While the Industrial Age was about powerful organizations, the Information Age is more about powerful individuals, with knowledge as their power. 

The days of job security by just doing your job, keeping your nose clean, and holding down the fort are over for the most part. We are responsible for our own success. We must make the company work and succeed. Part of our new job is to make our own services and products obsolete before our competitor does. We must be innovators in the Information Age. 

To cope with resistance to change, it is important to understand the five reasons why such resistance occurs.

  • Self interest. People often fear that they will lose something that they once had. For example, when the new senior vice president decided to create a new manager position, the existing supervisors resisted because they feared losing their right to approve decisions that affected the company.
  • Lack of trust and misunderstanding. If people dont trust the person who has the new idea, they will suspect that he/she has a hidden agenda and/or harmful motives for proposing the change. For example, the staff opposed the proposal of flexible scheduling because they did not trust the personnel manager who suggested it.
  • Differing viewpoints. Different people will view the change differently. 
  • Fear of failure. People sometimes resist change because they fear they will be unable to handle the new conditions competently. They may also resist breaking up comfortable social and work relationships with co-workers.
  • Fear of uncertainty. Some people resist change just because of change. They fear change because they know it will alter their routine.

The following are different ways people resist change.

  • The negative view: It wont work.! We already tried that.
  • Apathy and indifference: I just work here.
  • Pet project attitude: Are you criticizing my plan?
  • Unconscious dissension: Whatever the boss says (but it wont work).
  • Free translation: Well implement my variation its better anyway.
  • Authoritarian approach: You are not to reason why

We all go through the following four stages in responding to change whether a major or a minor change.

  • Denial. It doesnt sink in right away that the change is occurring and that it will affect me. A typical response might be, They cant be merging our laboratory with that reference clinical laboratory across town. We tend to focus on the past. When in the denial stage, we are in withdrawal and focus on the past.
  • Resistance. Here, strong feelings about the change emerge such as anger, blame, depression, anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, and self-doubt. 
  • Acceptance. During the acceptance phase, we draw upon internal resources and creativity to figure out new responsibilities and to visualize our future. This can be an exciting time if we take on change as a new adventure and a new opportunity. In this stage we have concern about details, confusion, new ideas, and lack of focus.
  • Commitment to change. At this point we are able to set new goals and make plans to reach our new goals. Here we are cooperative, focused, and anticipate our next challenge.

The longer we stay in the denial and resistance stages, the harder and more painful the change will be. Try to get through the denial and resistance stages quickly and go on to acceptance and a commitment to change. Exchanging the familiar for the new, even if its better, means the death of something familiar. We need to make certain that we allow for mourning and recovery.

Alton Sturtevant recommends, The time for grieving for the good old days is past and it is time to move on to become a part of the solution rather that a part of the problem. Having gone through a merger and several acquisitions, I have personally seen symptoms among like those mentioned above. When I detected those feelings, I have addressed the concerns expressed. I then took care to discuss the subject from the beneficial aspects of the merger/acquisition in an attempt to reason with the persons involved. In the end, it is a fact of life that must be dealt with in a positive manner. He continues, If there are issues brought out during these discussions, I ask the supervisors and managers to address the issue(s) to eliminate the concern as much as is possible with their team. Unfortunately, any changes that take place with the employees or clients usually result in a feeling that the new company has caused the change. Changes related to an acquisition really do require constant vigilance to ensure that permanent damage is not done. In the end, changes of all types, both business and personal, are facts of life, and one should learn how to deal with them for themselves and those around them.

Marti Bailey advises, A change is already long overdue. Youd be doing yourself and your staff a favor by putting them all on notice that if they wish to continue with their present employment, they need to make a rapid adjustment in attitude and behavior. In order to lead your staff in this adjustment, you need to firmly believe yourself that the best course is to conform to the policies and procedures of your new employer and to be 100 percent supportive of the organization you work for. You cant fake this because theyll know. Help your team to recognize that what happened to them is not unique and could very well happen again. Change has become the natural state of business. When a major change such as this happens, each person is personally responsible for the course that he or she chooses. On the one hand, you can allow yourself to be a victim of change by continuing to resist the change, be in denial, and/or grieve for your old job. Resistance is nearly always a dead-end street. 

She adds, Resisting change, being angry and/or grieving waste energy, can do physical and psychological harm, provide no value, and never improve things. On the other hand, you can view the change both as a challenge and an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. It lends itself well to doing some personal introspection regarding how you want to live your life and whats important to you. When you view change as a challenge, you cease to become its victim. The new attitudes and behaviors you need to accommodate changes in the workplace can benefit you in your personal life as well.

Ms. Bailey recommends the following plan of action.

  • Start with yourself. You need to be a positive role model in order to lead your staff in the change. Study the subject if necessary. Be an example every day of someone who chooses to deal with change positively, rather than resisting it.
  • Help your staff to modify their current attitudes toward change by sharing your thoughts, learning experiences, and knowledge with them.
  • Recognize those staff members who have developed new attitudes. Let them know how much you appreciate their ability to be flexible and positive. Be sure that promotions go only to people who are dealing with change positively.
  • Develop standards of performance that clearly define your expectations regarding compliance with policies and procedures and with attitudes and behaviors that affect the organization positively rather than negatively.
  • Put teeth into your expectations by evaluating staff using performance appraisals based on your established standards of performance. If you can, reward those who meet or exceed standards. Those who do not meet standards should be coached and given the opportunity to improve performance, but if they cant or wont, take disciplinary action.

Bottom line. We have to allow time for major changes to occur. Fifteen months is more than enough time. The time is up for the phase-in period. People have to get on board or leave if they are not happy. A meeting should be held to explain that things are never going to be the way they were under the old owners and that the new owners require a different set of operating parameters and policies. At the meeting, people should be told that the new policies are going to be enforced and that they will be held accountable. Then hold them accountable. Put them all on notice that if they wish to continue with their present employment, they need to make a rapid adjustment in attitude and behavior. 

Suggested reading

1. Frings, C.S., The Hitchhikers Guide to Self-Management and Leadership Strategies for Success: Seven Steps for Overachieving in Business and Life. Washington, DC: AACC Press, 1998. 

2. Pritchett, P., Mindshift: The Employee Handbook for Understanding the Changing World of Work. Dallas, TX: Pritchett & Associates, 1996.

Christopher S. Frings is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.

© 2002 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.