Helping staff cope with organisational change

Nov 12, 2015

Change within an organisation can be unsettling and distracting. Disruptions to company structure and staffing levels or individual roles can be especially daunting for employees, so it's important to make the process as smooth and transparent as possible.

If not managed appropriately, organisational change can lead to feelings of exclusion and isolation among employees, and ultimately contribute to the development of mental health conditions.

At any given time about one in five people in Australia experiences a mental health condition – most commonly anxiety and depression – and these can affect a person’s ability to work.

Comedian Billy Crystal nailed it when he said: “Change is such hard work.” By establishing a strong communication framework you'll help to ensure your staff are well informed and comfortable about future changes to the business and their role within it.

Open the lines of communication

The first and most crucial step is consultation. Whether the changes are about an organisation’s structure, practices or definitions of roles, consulting with all staff or with staff representatives will ensure workers can express their views, propose solutions to perceived issues, and feel connected to the process.

Consultation also means employees can contribute to policies and procedures around issues such as workplace bullying or workload stress.

Such consultation could be in the form of open meetings with all staff, management meetings with employee representatives on behalf of staff or individual meetings with HR. Think about ways employees can provide anonymous or confidential feedback - this will ensure the answers you get are honest and accurate. 

Ideally these meetings would take place well in advance of any proposed changes so that staff suggestions can be considered and incorporated into the process.

Keep the conversation going

Employers have a duty of care to ensure they provide information, training, instruction and supervision so workers can deal with the changes and can safely perform their work activities.

Think about ways to communicate with employees, ensuring everyone stays informed. Depending on this size of your organisation, this might include regular staff meetings to explain the company’s decisions, updates in your staff newsletter or intranet, or posters and other communications around the workplace. 

Creating an environment of open communication means that when concerns arise, employees feel comfortable discussing it with leaders.

Consistently monitor the effects of change

As new changes are rolled out through the business, it is imperative that leaders monitor the effects on employees.

Leaders need to ensure employees aren't exposed to unreasonable work demands – physical, emotional or mental – and that their roles fit with their skills and experience. 

Install a system where unrealistic deadlines or excessive workloads are identified and modified – if unchecked these can lead to high levels of stress, with people working long hours, constant overtime or not taking breaks in an effort to complete tasks. Encourage consistent feedback from employees through staff meetings, consultation with staff representatives or even anonymous surveys.

For more tips and guidance, download Heads Up's Managing change fact sheet.

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