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How Bosses Can Help Employees Deal with Change in the Workplace

Organizational change has been linked to employee stress, distrust, and intent to quit; here’s what you can do to help your employees cope through your company’s transitions

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BY Cristina Morales - 28 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Being an entrepreneur means that you have to get used to change, especially when you’re the founder of a start-up. However, the inevitability of change doesn’t necessarily make your employees ready for it. According to research from the American Psychological Association, adults affected by change at work are more likely to report chronic work stress, distrust towards their employer, and intent to quit.

Employees of start-ups may be more equipped to handle change, as mergers, acquisitions, and buyouts are part and parcel of a start-up’s life cycle, but that doesn’t mean that they’re immune to change-related stress. As Eric Morgan writes in this Inc. article, it’s only natural for people to want to stay in their comfort zones and resist change.

Here are some things that managers can do to help their team deal with change.

1. Understand where your employees are coming from 

In this article from the journal OD Practitioner, Cynthia Wittig writes that efforts to transform an organization can fail because managers fail to take into account the emotions and cognitions that come hand-in-hand with the process of change. Some of your employees may be more adaptable to change than others, but it’s totally normal for them to feel some job insecurity when faced with change in the workplace.

Employees could also jump to wrong conclusions when left to their own devices. To prevent your employees from making false assumptions, managers should make an effort to communicate effectively throughout the change process.

2. Communicate and educate

Morgan says that the first step to helping your employees embrace change is creating a culture that fosters that mindset. Aside from that, communicating honestly and respectfully lets your employees feel more secure about where your company is going.

“Respect everyone’s right to have their own reactions,” he writes. “Communicate the news with authenticity and empathy, and give everyone time to work through the change at an individual pace.”

3. Try to make transitions as smooth as possible

When Thai e-commerce site Moxy merged with Indonesia’s Bilna, some employees were (understandably) worried about their job security. But as Moxy co-founder Shannon Kalayanamitr explains in this Inc. Southeast Asia article, they made measures to make the transition as smooth as possible for their employees.

“To help the transition, we put in place a practical ‘buddy system’ where employees form each former company occupying the same or similar position had a buddy from the other side to understand and optimize their team process,” she explains.

4. Make your employees feel their value

Employees often react to change negatively because they feel insecure about their place in the company. Often, this stems from a lack of communication—maybe the news of this change wasn’t communicated to them until the very last minute, for instance.

As entrepreneur Danielle Harrison advises in her answer to this Quora question, managers should treat everyone who will be affected by the change as key stakeholders—that includes your employees. You can do this by letting your employees have a say in your decision making process; Wittig writes that employee participation in decision making strongly impacts employees’ reactions to change. The more involved your employees feel, the more likely they will perceive the changes as fair, a result that “is vital for acceptance of change and commitment to organizational goals.”