Change is a process that occurs over time and involves themes of loss, uncertainty, and control. Adaptation to change comes in phases and reactions fluctuate greatly. One of the most difficult tasks managers deal with during times of major change is assisting employees with their reactions. By developing a resiliency strategy, managers can continue to motivate and engage their employees in their work.
Most people spend a great portion of their lives working, including commuting. People often look to the workplace to meet some of their needs for social contact and support. In addition, individuals’ identities in their professional life contribute to their sense of personal fulfillment. Work then plays a significant role in self-esteem, personal wellbeing, and social wellbeing. When the work environment changes, people can feel challenged or threatened, and will respond according to how vulnerable they feel.
It is important to consider that you as a manager have a strong impact on the morale of your employees. Consider the following when you are confronted with emotional reactions to change.
- Ask for questions and concerns: Validate legitimate concerns and negative effects of change that employees express. Employees need to know that they are being heard – even when you might not agree with their perspective. When possible it can help to use the employee’s own words for what they identify as a problem (e.g., “You’ve said you’re not sleeping lately...” or “I remember when you commented about how stressed you are feeling...”)
- Ask for feelings and opinions: There might be some employees who are silent and withdrawn. You can often draw them out by reassuring them that emotional reactions are common and that it is safe to express them. Discussing your own reactions is not only appropriate but will help employees feel safe to express their own. If emotions are not expressed directly, they sometimes come out in less constructive ways in the workplace.
- Resist becoming defensive: There might be mistrust between you or the organization and your employees that you will need to address. Rather than becoming defensive, make a concentrated effort to listen to employees instead of arguing with them. Encourage communication to enhance trust. An opportunity to express feelings will help diffuse employee resistance. Be careful to refrain from problem-solving at this point. Listening first will help you solve problems later.
- Be visible and involved: As a manager it will be important to be visible and accessible. Fear of the unknown can be alleviated through a present and transparent management style. Spend time with your employees. This is not the time to retreat to your office. Employees sometimes perceive your lack of availability as withholding information, which then can refuel the uncertainty. Employees will need to have you available on a daily basis. It might be worthwhile to have meetings more often, or to update employees via e-mail on a regular basis. This might be helpful, regardless of new information, to encourage employees to engage in group projects. By spending time with your employees and giving them frequent, regular, and predictable feedback, you can begin to reestablish trust and loyalty.
- Provide information: In each phase of the process, providing information will help in managing fear of uncertainty. Providing specific information might be difficult, but it is helpful to let employees know the current facts and the process you know, as well as any questions you are asking. Resistance comes from fear of the unknown and can be reduced by providing appropriate information.
- Be patient: Individual reactions can differ, so the loss response might not be as distinct or intense in every employee. Employees might not reach optimal productivity until they have completed this transition. It will take some judgment on your part as a manager to know when to assist with readjusting to a focus on the present and the future. Try not to rush the process; people can recoil from being pushed too fast too soon. Instead consider that during times of change people need information, clarity, and a steady and patient manager to help guide them through the uncertainty.
Your leadership during times of large-scale change can mean the difference between employees languishing in their grief for many months or reaching acceptance within a few weeks. More importantly, your leadership can help them reach a state of understanding and acceptance that re-engages them in the success of their team and the company. Without your positive influence and support, some employees may reach a form of acceptance in which they are no longer engaged. They may show up for work, do what they’re told, but are no longer willing to go the extra mile, obsess about the details, help their coworkers succeed, or contribute to the organization’s improvements.
Copyright 2012, QBS Inc.