Work teams in many Hunter businesses are currently experiencing change. Even employees in the public sector, who in the past may have felt more job security than their private sector peers, are nervous as their offices are relocated or even closed.
In some cases, staff members may know that change is coming, but not exactly when they’ll be affected. This uncertainty can create stress which impacts on staff and the organisation’s results.
People respond to organisational change in varying ways depending on their past experiences, beliefs, attitudes and values. Some jump at new opportunities for a fresh start; some resist change and fight to keep what’s familiar; and some remain in denial that they’ll be affected at all.
In particular, the way change is communicated can make or break team members’ trust, engagement, morale, performance, and their willingness to participate as the organisation evolves.
Leading life and business strategist Tony Robbins believes there are six needs which drive human behaviour. People under pressure can behave in unexpected and unproductive ways, and understanding their needs may help explain and deal with their actions.
The six human needs are:
1. Certainty: the knowledge that you can avoid pain and gain pleasure.
2. Variety: regular exposure to new input and experiences
3. Significance: feeling appreciated, valued, or needed.
4. Connection: being a part of someone or something, and having a purpose.
5. Growth: expanding capability and knowledge.
6. Contribution: being able to help, give to and support others.
Certainty – When your job or role is threatened, you are uncertain about your future. A common thought is that no change that’s forced upon you can be an improvement on your current reality. The expectation that any change will be worse can lead to anxiety.
Variety – In contrast with the need for certainty, people need varying levels of new stimuli to keep their lives interesting. The best variety is that we choose and plan, such as a holiday. A job change that is out of our control can seem more of a threat than a welcome diversion from the everyday.
Significance – The saying that ‘everyone is replaceable’ within an organisation does little to make team members feel important, valued and significant. Organisational changes are usually made due to corporate financial requirements, with attention to employee needs a secondary consideration. Organisational change can lead to a lowering of staff members’ self-worth, which impacts their performance and future work opportunities.
Connection – Many people feel a deep connection with the people they work with and the organisation they work for. Even if the workplace is not an entirely positive environment, work takes up a significant amount of time, energy and focus, and provides a sense of identity. The thought of that being taken away can leave people feeling disconnected to their purpose and sense of belonging.
Growth – People under pressure are more focused on their mental and physical survival than on growth. Stress stifles creativity, and organisations just ‘get by’ whilst organisational change occurs. Team members who retain their positions despite organisational change can continue to stagnate long after the changes are made.
Contribution – Those with an uncertain future at work may feel that their contribution is not needed or valued. This causes some people to stop making an effort in their role, and become ‘dead wood’ to the company. Others may seek a role outside the organisation where their talents, skills and contribution are recognised.
Apart from showing genuine care for your employees, anticipating and proactively managing people’s response to change mitigates the WHS risk to your business and is critical from a Human Resources compliance perspective.
Focusing on both corporate objectives and on managing the people side of organisational change can lead to a stronger team and a more productive and effective workforce.