Change can create dynamic and exciting outcomes; however, it’s not always guaranteed to be easy when the change is happening within the workplace. Whether your organisation is restructuring, relocating, using new software and tools, following new processes or seeking new behaviours, there is a risk that employees can be inadvertently harmed by the change itself as well as the process of the change. Harm that is associated to change can be anxiety, worry, stress or depression which is created from the uncertainty that change creates which is compounded by little or no organisational support to help people move through these emotions.
These emotions are a very normal response to ambiguity and we subconsciously conduct an assessment to determine the severity of the threat – could this threat result in loss of income or change of status? Our responsibility, as employers, is to ensure that the negative emotions that are associated with change are not unnecessarily sustained for employees and that they are able to learn, understand and make decisions based on sufficient information about the new ways in which they will need to work. Sometimes it’s about discussing the things that aren’t changing to help employees understand the new requirements.
As it can bring enormous opportunities for growth, expansion and profitability through efficiencies, change does come at a price. Most commonly, disruption. Within this disruption resides a range of employee experiences that are positive and negative and we often overlook the impacts of those experiences on our people, creating potentially harmful and inadvertent change vacuums where people can feel worry, anxiety or stress about the change itself.
Sustained exposure to these risks can lead to work-related psychological or physical injuries. For example, work-related stress may lead to depression and anxiety in the long term1.
When we are asking employees to change the way they work, we’re asking them to trust that the process of change will be careful, considered and respectful. This isn’t to say that employees will be intolerant of mistakes, they are much more likely to withstand challenges when trust is present as they will acknowledge that the organisation has designed the change around their needs and interests during each phase of the change.
Hazards have the potential to cause harm and there are a number of hazards that we see regularly occurring with an organisation. Interestingly hazards are rarely hidden, the hazards in this list are usually very visible but are considered an acceptable risk to the organisation, or possibly not considered at all.
Do these sound familiar to your workplace?
- People stopped talking about the change
- In the past, change has not been done well
- It was never in the budget
- My boss was told to ‘just get it done’
- There weren’t enough resources available
- My boss said it wasn’t a good idea
- The project team were stressed
- There are a number of changes happening
- The change wasn’t part of the strategy
- No one really seemed to be accountable
When we see these types of hazards, we know that there will be unnecessary challenges that the initiative will have to face in order for it to be successful. It will be harder to counter elements that should be present from the beginning and the risk of people being exposed to unintentional stress increases. This often plays out in the following ways:
- people are working longer hours for prolonged periods of time;
- quality of the work can be compromised;
- deadlines are often missed;
- people are taking work home after working long days;
- people become withdrawn from situations when they would normally participate;
- people are actively seeking reassurance within their roles;
- people take time away work as sick leave;
- people continue to come to work in a different state than normal;
- people ultimately resign from the organisation.
These impacts are within the control of the organisation to change but they require focus and commitment which can be difficult to sustain over a prolonged period of time. We know this is difficult, resources are finite and some initiatives can take years to implement, taking a toll on the bandwidth of your implementation teams and your employees. Large change programs often cycle through several project teams due to extended durations. Leadership can change during the cycles of change, which can often shift or stall the progress of change, resulting in lack of clarity and understanding. Every initiative deserves the opportunity to flourish.
The importance of having strong leadership, well defined and developed solutions and dedicated resources to monitor the change is vital to the success of any program. Projects that commence without this arrangement in place will create an environment for confusion and misalignment. The barriers reside in the hazards which can be easy to identify, and they are echoed throughout the change, impacting people in unplanned ways.
The best way to keep people safe is by designing work, systems and workplaces to eliminate or minimise risks to psychological health, monitoring the health of workers and workplace conditions; and consulting with workers1.
By implementing intentionally, initiatives have a much greater chance of reducing injury to your people and helping you to achieve your organisations goals for growth. Find out more about how we intentionally implement here
At Riskcom, we take a deeper look at hazards that appear from change, using our experience with health, safety and wellbeing practices to identify and manage organisational expectations around the best way to move a change from an idea into a reality, focusing on reducing harm to the employees that will be impacted by the change. Regardless of where you are on your change journey, we can help. Contact us today.