With economics constantly changing in today’s business world, organisations scramble to sustain, often leaving stressed employees in their wake. “Change is inevitable in organisations, and when it happens, leaders often underestimate the impact those changes have on employees.” said David Ballard, Head of American Psychological Association’s Center for Organisation Excellence. Any change in an organisation (such as a surge in business growth) or to an employee’s role, for example a manager is replaced or they are promoted, can cause stress. And the reaction of your employees to these changes might vary from excitement to fear, resentment or a mixture of emotions.
The fact is that organisations don’t just change because of new structure, operations and systems. They change because the employees within the organisation adapt and change too. Only when employees have made their own transitions can an organisation truly obtain the benefits of change. Knowing how to apply a mental health and safety lens to change management is a valuable investment any L&D Manager can provide to support their employees’ performance, loyalty and gain buy-in for the changes.
Understand how your employees react to change
People typically avoid situations that upset order, threaten their self-interests, increase stress or involve risk. When faced with changes to the status quo, people usually resist initially. The resistance continues and, in some cases increases, until they are able to recognise the benefits of change and perceive the gains to be worth more than the risk or threats to their self-interests. Your employees tend to go through the following stages and experience these emotions, but some do it more quickly than others:
1. Shock, numbness and denial 2. Fear, frustrate, anger and depress 3. Understand, accept and move on
In reality, some employees experience change that they never move on from, but this is relatively rare.
Strategies to support your employees through change
Raise it: If you are a manager, encourage your colleagues to raise their concerns and feelings, and discuss it. It helps to bring to the surface the issue of change.
Feel it: ‘It’s ok to feel as you feel.’ Listen carefully to your colleagues’ concerns about the change. Provide detailed responses to reassure them that you have heard their concerns – even if you are not able to address them completely. Listen with your eyes as well – it’s not just your ears you need to use when you’re listening, it’s your eyes as well – observe their body language and facial expressions. It’s the non-verbal aspects which are normally telling the truth. Put yourself into your colleagues’ shoes and consider what you would do or feel if you were in their position.
Talk about it: Encourage your colleagues to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Openly discuss potential pros and cons of the proposed changes. If possible, look for solutions with your colleagues who will be affected. Remember not to pretend the challenges do not exist or try to avoid talking about them. Reinforce what your colleagues currently do well and have previously accomplished. You can also link the change to previous, similar and positive changes. ‘We have done this before, and we have been successful.’ It can help reducing anxiety in times of change.
Let go: At the same time, don’t continue talking for too long. It is important to let the colleagues know when to ‘let go’.
Move on: Then move forward. Break the change up into small and incremental steps. Give time and resources for each step to be completed and adjust as necessary. You may find some colleagues are not quite with you, some are in ‘catch up’ but most will be ready.
For more information about this topic, have a look at our related courses