How to Help Your Employees Cope with Change in the Workplace

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Help employees cope with change in the workplace

On March 9, 2020, WebMD author Stephanie Watson wrote an article titled Causes of Stress & Their Effects on Your Health.  If she only knew then that mere days from publishing the article, nearly every human on the planet would embark on the rollercoaster of the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.   Lockdown – mask mandates – vaccine uncertainty – and that doesn’t even factor in financial struggles and organizational changes. During the past two years, corporate stress has certainly been an enormous factor with staff reductions, restructurings, layoffs, and virtual work adaptations.  It boils down to a lot of change, and for most of us, change and uncertainty are linked to stress. 

Symptoms of Work-Related Stress

Signs of workplace stress

As defined by the Cleveland Clinic, “Stress is a normal reaction the body has when changes occur, resulting in physical, emotional, and intellectual responses.” Each individual uniquely experiences stress; some seem barely bothered, while others wear the signs of stress on their sleeves.   We know by now that stress can take both a physical and mental toll on people, and we spend billions of dollars as a nation trying to manage it.   

In her article, Watson cites that 40% of US employees experience stress in the work environment, and 1/4 say work is the biggest stress in their lives.  She further notes that causes of work-related stress include:  

  • Being unhappy in your job
  • Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
  • Working long hours
  • Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
  • Working under dangerous conditions
  • Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
  • Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
  • Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive

Throw a global pandemic in the mix, and we have a lot of folks teetering on the edge.  A study from the American Psychological Association found that organizational changes such as restructuring or new leadership can lead employees who are overly stressed to “have less trust in their employers and have a greater desire to find new jobs.”

See our previous blog on The Great Resignation

So, what can we do as leaders to provide reassurance to the workforce during unsettled times of change?  

Leading Through Change

Leading through change

“One of the things that separates a great company from the pack is the way its leaders at all levels respond to change.” Forbes goes on to outline four key points that can help employees deal with corporate change.

  1. Set the Narrative
  2. Reward Change
  3. Address Pain Points Quickly
  4. Overshare

Employees are watching carefully, and senior leaders absolutely set the tone for culture and change management. If leaders exude stress and secrecy, employees will become negative.  If management delivers positive news of “opportunity and readiness.” employees will absorb that message instead.

Most importantly, communicate – more often than you think. As senior managers, we are often deep in the crux of the workplace change. We are in meetings, making decisions, and often living the change 24/7. Lower-level employees and subordinates are not. They are in a vacuum, waiting, and have no idea how events are manifesting at the top. Remember this and remember it often.  Take time to meet regularly with staff. Answer questions.  BE HONEST, and deliver bad news outright to instill trust. Not doing so is merely prolonging the inevitable and creating pessimism, cynicism, and worse, the rumor mill. Without information, employees will spend incredible amounts of time speculating (aka gossiping). This is never good for morale or productivity.

Lead with Empathy, Kindness, and Compassion

Leading with empathy and compassion

Lastly, have compassion for your employees during uncertain times. It will pay you back in spades. While a few thrive on change, the vast majority are uncomfortable with it and need encouragement to help them power through. If your team seems doubtful, toss them a quote from an old fellow who did pretty well with changing times, Ben Franklin: “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” That should keep their heads up.  

EnformHR specializes in Human Resource Consulting.  If you find your organization embarking on change, we can help. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to support you and your employees to prepare for times of transition. 

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Cristina Amyot

Cristina Amyot, SPHR, the firm’s President, leads the HR Services Group. Ms. Amyot graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree and Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management from Rutgers University. She holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and a Life, Accident, and Health Insurance License from the State of New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.

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