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Moving On: Workers’ Journey from Not Doing Well to Doing Well . William A. Borgen, PhD University of British Columbia Lee Butterfield, PhD Adler School of Professional Psychology.

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Moving On: Workers’ Journey from Not Doing Well to Doing Well

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Moving on workers journey from not doing well to doing well

Moving On: Workers’ Journey from Not Doing Well to Doing Well

William A. Borgen, PhD

University of British Columbia

Lee Butterfield, PhD

Adler School of Professional Psychology

Moving on workers journey from not doing well to doing well

This study was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, granted to

William Borgen and Norm Amundson from the University of British Columbia, and Lee Butterfield from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, Vancouver, BC



We have conducted several research studies over the last 10 years investigating what helps people who do well with change affecting their work

The following table summarizes the consolidated results found to date

What workers are telling us

What Workers Are Telling Us

  • Participants in our studies over the past 10 years have told us that they are changing jobs and organizations throughout their careers

    • Career support is not just needed at the point of entry or because of layoff or downsizing

  • Organizations’ best workers are choosing to leave when interactions with managers/supervisors hinder their ability to do their best work

  • Many who have not left are planning to leave as a result of unsatisfactory interactions with managers/supervisors

  • Workers feel they want to “matter” to their managers and organizations

Moving on workers journey from not doing well to doing well

  • Motivated

  • Invigorated

  • Connected

  • Successful

  • Comfortable


  • Excited

  • Interested

  • Happy

  • Creative

  • Reinvent oneself







  • Dispirited

  • Devalued

  • Unimportant

  • Stuck

  • Frazzled

  • Struggling

  • Confused

  • Concerned

  • Frustrated

  • Annoyed

  • Angry

  • Mad

Burned Out


  • Anxious

  • Guilty

  • Exhausted

  • Falling apart

  • Stressed

  • Overwhelmed

  • Depressed

  • Doubting

  • Uncertain

  • Used

  • Disengaged

  • Failing

  • Worried

  • Tired

  • Pressured

  • Lonely

  • Lost

  • Isolated

  • Grieving

  • Alone

Outcomes for workers



Adapted from Carver (1998, p.246)




Current grounded theory study

Current Grounded Theory Study

  • The current study used grounded theory methodology to focus on the process of moving from not doing well to doing well with change affecting work

  • Interview Question:

    • “As you know, we are exploring and conceptualizing the process and costs of doing well with change for people in mid-career. I want to remind you of the purpose of today’s interview, which is to learn about your experiences of changes that affect your work. My understanding is that at some point youwere not doing as well with these changes as you are now, and I would like to find out more about how your ability to do well has evolved over time. So I will be asking you a few questions about this.”



Number of Participants: 16

Gender: 6 Men and 10 Women

Age: 50 to 70

Country of Birth: Canada

Education: Some College to Doctorate

Household Income: $2,000 to over $200,000

Martial Status: Single, Married, Widowed, and Divorced

Employment demographics

Employment Demographics

  • Occupation

    • Gardener

    • Manager

    • Job Coach

    • Counsellor

    • Research Coordinator

    • Public Servant

    • Fisherman

    • Data Analysis

    • Retired

    • Personnel Consultant

    • HR Coordinator

  • Length of Time in Occupation

    • 2 months to 18 years

  • Length of Time with Company

    • 2 years to 25 years

  • Length of Time in Current Job

    • Under 6 months to 8 years

Changes that affected their work

Changes that Affected Their Work

  • Personal

    • Death of partner/child

    • Deterioration of health (e.g., burnout, cancer, injury, etc.)

    • Decreased financial security

    • Moved to a new home

    • Children moved out

    • Started a personal relationship

  • Job

    • Returned to work

    • Career transition

    • Received a job advancement and/or new responsibilities

    • Returned to school

    • Termination of employment

    • Increased work hours

    • Change in work environment/arrangements (e.g., work with more peers or job sharing, work in a different location, hired someone new)

  • Company

    • Transformational changes in workplace structure, processes, and procedures

    • Decreased funding or change in financial distribution

    • Downsizing

    • Shut down

    • New mandate

    • Growth and development

    • Work associates left and/or became ill

    • Decrease in product demand

What does doing well mean

What Does “Doing Well” Mean?

“I think coping well means maintaining a sense of personal health throughout this, a sense of balance, a sense of meaning and, being aware of when things are becoming overwhelming at an early stage and being intervening on my own behalf to address those issues.”

  • Focus on the positive/opportunities

  • Work-life balance

  • Coping and adapting to the different dynamics and demands without feeling bitter

  • Learning from the different experience

  • Managing stress/Sense of personal health

  • Maintaining personal contact with others in your environment

  • Sense of wholeness/Sense of meaning

  • Sense of hope and acceptance

  • “Generous exploration into the future”

  • Emotionally skilled with dealing with the change/ “not falling to pieces”

  • Remain optimistic/happy

  • Content with your situation/ Maintain peace of mind

  • Not feeling afraid

  • “Take on most challenges and be successful with them.”

  • “Changing the environment …in a positive way”

  • Receive positive performance feedback from others

  • “Not allowing the change to take over and control not just my life but our lives, my family’s life…”

  • How I feel/You know you are doing a good job at work

  • You feel in control

  • Sense of satisfaction and encouragement and persistence

  • Sense of humour/Stand upright and laugh

  • “rolling with the punches”

Unexpected findings

Unexpected Findings

  • Two overarching experiences of the change from not doing well to doing well

    • Major point of demarcation in moving from not doing well to doing well

      • 4 Participants

    • Ongoing cycles of challenges to doing well and regaining a sense of doing well

      • 12 Participants

Points of demarcation

Points of Demarcation

Core elements in moving toward doing well

Core Elements in Moving Toward Doing Well

Increased Self-Awareness

“I think it was when I started to get better. And I started to realize that nothing matters as much as your health and being here and that I want to live a long life and I’ll do whatever it takes to get there.”

Increased Understanding

  • Current emotional state

    “I had to be on the floor a few times before I learned how to land on my feet.”

  • Core strength

    “You are who you are.”

  • Skills

    “Learning those actual life skills - those problem solving skills really helped me out. Because I didn’t have those.”

Core elements in moving toward doing well1

Core Elements in Moving Toward Doing Well

  • Personal Agency/Action:

    “I think the turning point was when I went to the meeting…and told (them) that I would not be working with them anymore; that I would not be travelling anymore… I didn’t get any requests anymore because I was very clear about it.”

  • Acceptance of Issues Beyond One’s Control:

    “I had to learn how to look at things differently and accept that sometimes really awful things have happened to me and that it wasn’t my fault, it just happens. ”

    Moving from being externally directed to be internally guided

Ongoing cycles of challenges to d oing w ell and regaining a sense of doing w ell

Ongoing Cycles of Challenges toDoing Well and Regaining a Sense of Doing Well

Tilt a whirl losing and regaining equilibrium

Tilt-A-Whirl: Losing and Regaining Equilibrium

Ecit categories

ECIT Categories

Challenges to equilibrium

Challenges to Equilibrium

Hindering incident categories

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Personal – This category identified sub-categories about the participants and/or their reaction to the change that hindered them to do well with change.

Hindering incident categories1

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Uncomfortable Feelings & Concerns– Participants described uncomfortable feelings and concerns about the change or the impact of the change that did not enable them to do well with the change.

     “I didn’t have a voice and there wasn’t an avenue to be heard, had I just stayed with that feeling and done nothing, I think that would have been an impediment to moving forward. It would have kept me ruminating about how unjust this situation was.”

Hindering incident categories2

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Limitations and Adaptations– Participants discussed limitations and adaptations they made in order to deal with the change that inconvenienced their lifestyle.

    “My not travelling has meant that we kind of have to stop and renegotiate some of those things… I definitely have some different thoughts about it than my husband does and so that’s our child-rearing practices even though he’s 17 year-old and he’s not a child anymore but our child rearing practices and beliefs of how people connect and a family or how you treat each other and how you are accountable to each other are quite different. I think that’s shown up more as I’m home more.”

Hindering incident categories3

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Reductions in Stress Management Practices– Participants discussed a decrease in their lifestyle balance by focusing too much in one area of their life or a decrease in healthy eating or physical exercise.

    “…Because my weight is important for me in terms of my self-esteem, my ability to move comfortably – my freedom – and when I sit more, my weight goes up. So because I’m a post-menopausal woman, it’s harder to get the movement than it used to be. I used to get a lot more movement when my practice would sometimes take me to do a workshop, dragging suitcases and that kind of thing, right?”

Hindering incident categories4

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Aging or Deteriorating Health and Capabilities– Participants discussed health issues related to sickness and aging that restricted them from doing well with change.

    “I can’t remember or keep in my memory as much as I used to be able to do. I mean there was a time when I was in my 30's in my prime running hotels and I could remember names of people and guests and do courses in the evening and budgets and balancing and all that kind of stuff. And I’d remember everything for months and months and months and month. Now I do well to remember my name (laughter)…it drives you crazy, I’m reduced to making lists and reminders and that sort of thing and that’s strictly post menopausal…”

Hindering incident categories5

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Overlapping Life Events/Changes – Participants described overlapping events in their lives that can conflict and restrict them to do well with change.

    Participation Rate: 12%

    “…when things continued to unfold at work, this family crisis that was overlapping, this family crisis was starting; that I couldn’t support my friend any more the way I wanted directly because this thing was starting. So they didn’t start at the same time but there was some overlapping time. And I was just too exhausted to do it all.”

Hindering incident categories6

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Social Needs and Concerns– This category identified sub-categories about the participants’ needs for social support and their concerns about the impact of the change on others.

Hindering incident categories7

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Lack of Social Support– Participants discussed the absence of others, unmet needs to receive support from others, reconnecting with others, and/or restrictions to talk to others about the change.

    “There’s some of my colleagues that were very dear friends and I don’t get to see them and I don’t know necessarily whether I will get to see them anymore. So that’s been a grieving process that I’ve had to go through.”

Hindering incident categories8

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Negative Impact on Others– Participants expressed concern about the harm or discomfort experienced by others as a consequence of the change.

    “There’s people that I have taught for years at different international locations that were quite dismayed to hear that I wasn’t travelling anymore or that I wouldn’t be teaching anymore.”

Hindering incident categories9

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Workplace Conditions– This category identified sub-categories about workplace conditions that hindered them to do well with change.

Hindering incident categories10

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Ineffective Management or Leadership – Participants discussed challenges with their organization’s management and leadership style that did not enable them in doing well with the change.

    “You get taken for granted. You’re expected to just keep pushing it out and this is just what you’re paid to do, and that is not a good attitude.”

Hindering incident categories11

Hindering Incident Categories

  • Challenging Working Conditions– Participants indicated aspects of their work experience from corporate culture and co-workers to type of work and physical space that did not enable them to do well with change.

     “…you’ve got some people that…that are putting in their time and so nobody can do anything about it and so that means some of the rest of us have to work double time. You just do if you care about the job; pick up the slack.”

Regaining equilibrium

Regaining Equilibrium

Helpful incident categories

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Personal – This category identified sub-categories about the participants and/or what they controlled within their change experience that helped them do well with change.

Helpful incident categories1

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Mind Set– Participants discussed their helpful mindset during times of change and thoughts about change. They described a positive attitude about change and an openness to embrace the change into their lives without being concerned about making mistakes.

    “When I hit obstacles, it’s really easy for me to say “well, that’s not working let try something else,” and go on to a new decision to try a new solution. I don’t have energy invested in only one way to do something.”

Helpful incident categories2

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Attributes – Participants discussed attributes about themselves that helped them do well with change, such as their personality traits, physical characteristics, skills, experience, and preferences.

    “Actually if you knew me personally, you’d know me to be very aware of what’s going on with me… if you get a grasp on that right away [stress], you can do something about it. Otherwise it can deteriorate and really cause you problems.”

Helpful incident categories3

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Stress Management Practices– Participants described practices that managed their stress level and supported their wellbeing through the change.

    “…worry creeps in there. That’s usually a good sign for me to go do something. So I’ve gone for massages more. I’m more physically active than I even was before this stress hit.”

Helpful incident categories4

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Taking Action– Participants discussed actions they took to actively engage in the change and help control and/or accept the change.

    “I realized that I’m a whole person and that the temporary strategies aren’t going to cut it. I needed a long term plan. It would be like a runner, and you’re sprinting and you’re sprinting with all of your energy. But a long term runner slows their pace and uses their pace, pacing to breathe more evenly and to be able to sustain a longer term kind of run, and in some ways you get that second wind. Well, for me it was that insight that was like a second wind that said ‘wait a second here, I can’t sprint forever.’ [laughter] I really need to slow down in order to speed up. In order to sustain this ongoing and to be a fully functioning person, really getting the most value out of what I’m doing in my life every day at work.”

Helpful incident categories5

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Workplace Experience– This category identified sub-categories related to the participants’ place of work that helped them do well with change.

Helpful incident categories6

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Leaders – Participants shared that supportive and flexible leaders help them do well with change.

    “…She knows how to put back positive feedback. She’s supportive as best as she can, I mean this is....she’s probably got a half a dozen or more other people and departments under her as well but in spite of that she is accessible and if she senses that that I am stressed or that I have an issue that needs addressing, she’ll hop on it with both feet and I get her support and encouragement and that’s a big plus…”

Helpful incident categories7

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Workplace People– Participants discussed the skills of the people in the workplace and their supportive work relationships.

    “We’re all in this together’ is a common effect. We help each other along; when I’m down, they’re up; when they’re down, I’m up. The up person helps the down person.”

Helpful incident categories8

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Job and Workplace Environment– Participants discussed their work, its structure, and where their work helped them do well with change.

    “I recognize that I’ve been fortunate to work in the organization at a particular sort of classification level that usually allows more control than if you’re working at a low level…autonomy and control and responsibility that’s one thing, but perception is also part of it as well.”

Helpful incident categories9

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Communication– Participants discussed interacting with others and communicating in the workplace was helpful to do well with change, including talking to one another and receiving feedback.

     “…what was happening and say “You know, I can’t just be quiet about this. I need to talk and I need to know that something’s going to be done.” So the fact that I could talk, that I could feel empowered enough that I could talk, the fact that they would listen, the fact that other colleagues were fearing something similar then validate what I was feeling.”

Helpful incident categories10

Helpful Incident Categories

  • Non-Work Related Support– Participants discussed supportive relationships outside of the workplace and flexibility and support in other areas of their lifestyle and environment that helped them do well with change.

    Participation Rate: 62%

    “ …Just talking through it and actually being validated by that person maybe them sharing or reminding you of things that happened…the people I draw on are people who have known me for years and they remind me of you know oh remember when and we felt like that too when we had that old boss [laughter] or whatever…people who could remind me that I’ve always had it and that it’s there inside me.”

    “It was an absolutely gorgeous day when I drove to work this morning, it was spectacular and it’s fabulously beautiful, I mean it’s a mood.... (the) sky…reflecting off.... of freshly fallen snow overnight. It is spectacular what can I say? What’s not to be in a good mood driving to work, you know?”

What would have helped regain equilibrium

What Would Have Helped Regain Equilibrium

Wish list categories

Wish List Categories

  • Workplace Management– This category identified sub-categories the participants wished they had in the workplace to do well with change.

Wish list categories1

Wish List Categories

  • Strategic Planning and Communication– Participants discussed wishes for their organizations to communicate more about and during the change and to implement strategic plans to create a satisfying/motivating work experience.

    “I think it’s a very important part of having direction, having everybody on the same page so you’re communicating, you’re working, you’re not duplicating work, you’re supporting each other as a team. Everybody can see where other people are, what direction they’re working in so it’s that communication between individuals and between the company, where are we going, what do we have to do, how do we have to get there, how do we break it down.”

Wish list categories2

Wish List Categories

  • Compensation – Participants discussed an interest in receiving time off or more money for the work they complete.

    “I do so many things that are totally off the cuff, so I do think that I should get a little higher [pay] than what I am.”

Wish list categories3

Wish List Categories

  • Space and Time– Participants discussed a need for regular work hours or more time and space to complete their job responsibilities during times of change.

    “I think just time doing the job so that…we get into a routine of how it’s going to work. I think that would be reassuring and supportive.”

    “Privacy, quiet from interruptions, noises in the background…”

Wish list categories4

Wish List Categories

  • Teamwork, Support, and Connections– Participants discussed ways they wished they maintained their connection with other people or received support or assistance in their personal and/or work life.

    Participation Rate: 50%

    “Maybe a better network of people doing the same thing that I’m doing. I’m quite in isolation. I just joined a round table group and I’m (hoping) that that will fill that gap for me.”

Wish list categories5

Wish List Categories

  • Self Initiatives and Learning– Participants indicated various ways they could have enhanced their knowledge and/or helped themselves to cope and adjust to the change.

    Participation Rate: 19%

    “So to understand why I am in this situation and that there is something, other things that I haven’t learned yet and I would like to learn those things.”

Wish list categories6

Wish List Categories

  • Financial Security– Participants discussed a desire to feel free from financial concerns.

    Participation Rate: 19%

    “Well I would not have any more financial concerns, so my life would be…not be scrambling just trying to get money. So that’s freedom.”

Doing well with change processes

Doing Well With Change - Processes

Point of demarcation

Ongoing need to regain equilibrium

Connection between the definitions of doing well and the helpful categories and wish list categories

Implications for counselling

Implications for Counselling

How might this information inform our counselling?

Moving on workers journey from not doing well to doing well


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