Managing stress from change
By Matt Johns
If there is something synonymous with business these days, it is the idea that change is now the “new normal”. While this may well be true, the impact this continuous change has on employees is dramatic. Deliberate thought must be given to how employers manage this impact.
Almost any type of business change can be associated with higher stress levels for employees. Whether this be in the form of uncertainty, confusion, anxiety or plain resentment – each form of stress is a reality that should be considered.
Keep in mind that almost 60% of Kiwis already report being stressed at least once a week, with half reporting feeling stress several times a week. 1 This is a significant issue that requires more focus and planning from businesses.
Here are some ideas for effectively managing change in a mutually beneficial way – in the interests of both the business and the mental health of employees.
- Consider the unvoiced questions. What could they be and how best could you provide useful answers. During every change process employees will develop a set of assumptions and questions. Some they might share but many they will not. This is often due to a sense of vulnerability i.e. not wanting to be seen as a challenge to the process, but can also come from the difficulty of putting their thoughts into words. For many personality types, the perceived safest option is just to remain silent for fear of appearing adversarial or hostile.
Common questions employees are likely to be thinking are:
Provide ample time to discuss. Every change exercise follows a consultation process allowing for feedback from employees. You can never invest too much time talking and discussing the proposed change with your people. New questions form every day and a single conversation, while it may tick the box, is not enough if you wish to do the best thing for your people.
- Why has this come about, and are there any alternatives?
- Will this have a direct impact on my role?
- Are there any guarantees about the future?
- Is this just a knee jerk reaction?
Show the benefits that will be achieved. Employees will often default to a sense of us vs. them. This doesn’t need to be the case. Taking the time to consider how this will be a mutually beneficial process for both the business and employees is important. Of course, if an individual is losing their job, then this becomes more challenging, however, there is still merit in discussing the rationale in detail with these individuals. Share the big picture and how this change will help to achieve this. And while the individual may not like what is happening, they will be more likely to understand it and therefore help them to accept it which is critical in resolving stress.
Consider who will deliver the message. Hearing potential bad news from an individual that is not seen as relevant to the team member can be frustrating. Employees want to hear directly from someone they trust to tell them the full story, be it their manager or the CEO. Managers are able to provide the detail employees will want to hear and the CEO will be able to share exactly why the decision has been made.
Consider the timing. Sometimes when a decision is made that will result in change, it is tempting to not procrastinate and get the ball rolling straight away. In some cases this makes sense, but often this can be a real mistake, particularly if employees are already dealing with a current or recent stressful situation. Be deliberate with the timing of the process with the interests of your people firmly in mind.
Keep the door open. Even after the change process has been completed, it is important to allow your people the time to continue asking questions. Let them know that the door is always open to discuss niggling concerns or to ask lingering questions.
Consider the whole person. Think about how else can you support that person to reduce stress. This could include having third party support, e.g. EAP services, actively available for those who might need additional help.
Take the time. Don’t expect employees to get over it quickly and function as normal. Acknowledge that it is challenging and give them the space and support they need to work through the implications.
The manner in which you go about engaging and involving your people through the change process will have a dramatic impact on their mental health and general wellbeing and ultimately your business.
1 TNS and Southern Cross survey, June 2016, https://www.southerncross.co.nz/group/media-releases/2016/what-makes-us-stressed
Matt Johns - Having worked in experience design and strategy for the past decade, Matt brings a unique perspective on what he calls, Employee Experience. Matt has worked with organisations across the world connecting business strategy with deliberately designed customer and employee experience strategy. He uses his diverse background to push leaders beyond the obvious to make clear, commercially astute, strategic choices.