Backing off the brink… Four steps for a people-first change management strategy
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
Mary Shelley wrote those words in Frankenstein in 1818 and they still ring true today. Change in the workplace is constant, and micro and macro changes alike can have a significant impact on a person’s wellbeing. Organizational upheaval, new leadership, increasing project responsibilities, returning to the office post-COVID-19, and more can all impact a person’s health and wellbeing, and affect employee performance and morale. On top of this, it’s important to remember that employees are people who have lives outside of work. And with that comes family and personal stressors that can’t be easily dismissed during the workday. So, when companies implement significant changes, some employees may be at their breaking point.
To be successful, company leaders must recognize all of this and strive to make significant workplace changes as painless as possible by implementing a people-first change management strategy that prioritizes the wellbeing of its employees. Stress and burnout are continuing to rise, with 79% of U.S. employees surveyed experiencing work-related stress in the month prior to the survey. The survey also found that nearly half (48%) of employees surveyed say lack of participation in decision-making contributes to stress. Leaders who embrace a people-first change management approach will reap the benefits and see better outcomes in their employees, the health of their companies, and themselves.
Here are four factors to developing a people-first change management strategy:
Listen to & amplify employee voices
There will undoubtedly be some organizational changes that have a stronger impact on employees than others. A more minor structural or departmental change might not have the same impact, but it could still make some employees feel concerned about the state of the company and their future with it.
One of the most effective change management techniques for building trust and enacting change is listening to employees and giving them a voice in the process. Leaders need to expand their leadership lens and look to understand and amplify the vantage points of individuals across multiple roles and departments. This often requires a deep understanding of how bias might show up in their own management style, which can be hard to identify and come to terms with.
Build organizational resiliency
Gartner defines organizational resilience “as the ability of an organization to resist, absorb, recover and adapt to business disruption in an ever changing and increasingly complex environment to enable it to deliver its objectives, and rebound and prosper.” The research firm notes that resilient organizations rebound and may even prosper after a business disruption or significant change. “Resilience must be implemented across five layers within every organization — leadership, culture, people, process and infrastructure — which includes physical, IT and supplier infrastructure.”
Make wellbeing a priority
Periods of high turnover and larger workload can lead employees to experience increased levels of stress and burnout, worry about their job security, and ultimately deprioritize their own health and wellbeing. Even small changes can be unsettling, so organizations need to keep employee wellbeing at the forefront of any change management strategy. Gartner Research also emphases the importance of resiliency at the people level: “The capability of an individual to maintain emotional, mental or physical stability, or return to stability despite adverse stressors such as illness; depression; loss of job, life or property; or the like.”
Organizations must ensure their people have – and are aware of – access to health and wellbeing tools that can help them process and build resilience for change. On-demand mental health resources, one-on-one coaching sessions or access to specialized healthcare providers, nutrition and exercise programs, are examples of wellbeing resources that may help employees navigate these adjustments and manage any difficult feelings of stress or anxiety that may come along with them.
Wellbeing practices can go a long way in ensuring employees are prepared to cope with unexpected workforce changes, either positive or negative, and make them feel confident knowing their employer has their back.
Be as transparent as possible
While it may not feel necessary to share certain company changes with everyone, the word is likely going to spread. Chances are, the original message will be skewed or inaccurate, which can lead to a lack of understanding, false narratives, and negative feelings about any changes being made. This creates a toxic environment that can be damaging to employee wellbeing and morale, causing unnecessary anxiety and fear that’s hard to recover from.
Transparency is critical when it comes to change management. Employees want to feel part of the conversation and considered when it comes to changes that could impact them. By being transparent, mindful, and inclusive about these decisions, companies can help cultivate an atmosphere that makes everyone, including the individuals who need to make those difficult changes, feel more comfortable and resilient throughout the process. Ensuring frontline managers are well equipped to support their teams, hosting regular town hall or open forum meetings, and delivering clear, consistent communication about changes are all ways to proactively support organizational change.
At Virgin Pulse, supporting health and wellbeing is at the heart of our mission. With almost two decades of experience in the space, we have seen firsthand how periods of change can negatively affect companies that do not have a change management strategy in place. Our wellbeing solutions can help companies prepare for and navigate change management challenges even before they happen, improving the health and wellbeing of everyone involved. We are here to support organizations through periods of change and transition.
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