The Missing Ingredient in Change Management Strategies

April 24, 2019

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

​Information courtesy of Marianne Farag, Inner-Peace Specialist Sublimity: Pathways to Peace
In the absence of knowing where to turn for emotional support when change happens in the workplace, employees typically engage in sharing their distress, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty at the watercooler, or behind closed doors, or with family and friends. Without specific strategies aimed at helping employees to cope psychologically with change, sometimes, their experience of the upheaval can manifest in disruptive behaviours such as: sabotaging, demonstrating a poor attitude, slacking off, testing boundaries, sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness, and illness.

How might things be different in terms of smooth transitions if employers built into their change management plans assistance for employees to help them with the psychological aspects of change? Imagine what a benefit that would be to employers and employees.

While change management to support movement from one set of thinking, practices, and organizational
structure to another is an essential ingredient of good leadership, nevertheless, it must be acknowledged
that it is not designed to address the emotional needs of those individuals who are required to travel the
journey of shifting gears. Employees are expected to make the necessary attitudinal shifts as a result of
being exposed to change management. It is assumed that change management will work like clockwork,
putting a halt to resistance, fear, resentment, and anger by employees because, so the argument goes,
the new direction/goals have been shared early on in the process; the benefits of the change have been
explained; there is on-going communication through various mediums; new policies/manuals have been
widely distributed; new techniques have been tested; training is provided; and so forth.

All well and good, but has anybody actually gathered data on the extent to which the emotional reaction to change has been tempered as result of change management?

All the advance warning in the world does not necessarily prepare you for change when it
happens. Take for instance becoming a parent. You can read the latest baby books, get advice from
your doctor and friends who already have children, but every parent will tell you, nothing is like the
actual experience of having the baby. Have you ever noticed how a new parent talks like they are the first to experience parenthood?!

Another example, you can know that someone you care deeply about
is terminally ill, yet nothing really prepares you for when the person dies. Reading about death and the
grief process, talking to those who’ve lost a loved one, or whatever preparatory steps you take to ‘ready’
yourself, certainly have a benefit, yet, they cannot prepare you for the emotions you will experience
when the death occurs.

Likewise, knowing that organizational change is coming, does not make the actual event easier to
accept. What of loyalties to former respected colleagues and bosses? What of guilt-feelings about those
who were laid off while you still have a job? What of the end of procedures/software you may have
developed that in your opinion (regardless of whether accurate or not) were working well? What of the
colleague who is now your boss? Does change management help you with those aspects of a
change? Or, does it tend to drive emotions concerning the change underground because expressing
them, you may be labelled as not being a team-player? Is the shadow side of change management
suppression of feelings or “acting-out” with their concomitant ramifications?

We need to equip employees to be able to manage the psychological aspects of adapting to new
circumstances in the workplace. And, here’s the best part: it would be easy enough to implement, while
saving a whole lot of human-capital costs by transforming fear, disgruntlement, and resistance into effective
productivity! Virtually all organizations either have in-house or contract services for HR. As well, many offer Employee Assistance programs (such as counselling services) either in-house or contracted out. All that would have to happen is for HR and/or Employee Assistance to develop a game plan for helping employees cope with their emotions/reactions, as part of an organization’s change management strategies.

Quite simply, the approach would be to hold sessions at a branch/divisional level to brief employees on the psychological aspects of change, for instance: how change affects people differently; how, when change comes, it is a time of transition; how there can be a grieving process as one adjusts to the new order of things; and so forth. Offer to those who want to attend, counsellor-lead group sessions and/or individual sessions where employees can share their emotions/reactions to the change and receive guidance on approaches that help them to cope and to build their resilience. As well, HR/Employee Assistance can point employees to resources that can support them whether these be certain books, videos, websites, life coaches, and so on. The objective is to facilitate and expedite healthy adapting to new circumstances.

Thus, incorporating into change management a game plan to assist employees with the psychological
impacts of change in the workplace can only add to the mental health and wellness of employees which
in turn benefits organizations’ effective productivity.

Marianne Farag is an Inner-Peace Specialist based in Winnipeg who runs Sublimity: Pathways To Peace, which is focused on helping people take charge of their contentment and inner-wellbeing. Prior to her current work, Marianne had a 28-year career in the public sector specializing in policy development, change management and performance auditing.