5 ways to stop organizational change from turning employees into pessimists

We all know the saying, “change is inevitable”; business is no exception.

As a corporation grows throughout time, it is expected that they will go through some sort of organizational change, whether it be in management, business model or something entirely different. Change in any capacity isn’t easy, and it can have a measurable impact on your employees in particular.

During times of change, people usually start off in good spirits; according to research by H&H, 58% of employees claim to see change mostly as an opportunity for progress. However, although 77% of people start out optimistic, it soon switches to pessimism. People’s responses to change are related less to the actual manifestation of new procedures or management, and more to the way they perceive and experience the oncoming or current change. This resistance is spurred on by 3 main emotions:

  • 20% demoralization
  • 24% frustration
  • 20% apprehension

So, if it is expected that attitudes toward any company will decline during times of change, why do companies opt to change in the first place?

While companies cannot always predict when change is necessary, there are a number of signs that can indicate the need for action. Are your company productivity quotas not being met? Is your organization keeping up with innovations in your industry? Does your company culture need an overhaul? The transition is rarely ever effortless in the instance of change, however, the merits that are gained by flexibility can ultimately prove to be a major asset.

If, or when, your organization chooses to move forward with change initiatives, there will be employees that welcome the shift and others who will reject it. To ensure success, you will need to win over those unfavorable parties – tenured employees, negative Nancy’s, and those individuals that wait until the last minute to get on board.

Pleasing everyone in your organization may be near to impossible, but here are five strategies that can help your staff stay positive during the transition.

1. Recognize and cater to individual reactions

No two people will have the same reaction, especially in the midst of overwhelming change. Depending on the type of change, and the possible effects, your employees may vacillate between two extremes – acceptance and resistance. As an organization, it is important to not only listen to your employees but to also understand them. This means that you are aware of how the oncoming changes can affect them, recognize any potential issues and prioritize their well-being.

organizational change barriers

(Source: Meliorate)

Doing this allows employees to feel safe, ultimately giving them a more positive outlook on the progression of change. By being proactive and going down the path of treating your staff well-being as a priority, organizations can prevent the 31% of people that embrace pessimism because they feel the change is more about the process than the people.

2. Give employees a sense of meaning

While many individuals are under the impression that money motivates employees, they are in fact mostly driven by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

When an organization is under reconstruction, there is a fear that things will change too much. Employees begin to wonder if their job functions will remain relevant, or whether the new culture will align with their goals. These questions create doubt, and this doubt creates a toxic environment that weakens employee morale and endangers the success of your change.

In situations such as this, prevention is key. Encourage employees to keep pace with change and provide them with the resources necessary to find meaning and achieve success in the new environment.

organizational change meaning from work

(Source: Fast Company, ‘Why finding meaning at work is more important than feeling happy’)

During any transition, an organization needs to make its staff continue to feel motivated. This may include reinventing the organization’s purpose and reassuring staff that their future is even brighter than their past. Microsoft did a great job of this during their restructuring in 2014. The large and rather successful company was beginning to struggle after the development and accomplishments of their Windows and Office products. The organization was facing discord amongst major business teams; separate units in the same company had begun to view each other as competitors rather than allies; a change was imminent. Satya Nadella, the newly named CEO, began a major restructuring with the hope of uniting employees and removing the internal strife. Two years later Satya took change even further with the merging of Microsoft Research Group with Bing, Cortana and Information Platform Group; the new goal being the innovation of artificial intelligence throughout Microsoft products.

Knowing that the first step to any successful change is transparency, the plan was shared with employees via email. A new mission was introduced:

“To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more”.

Prior to the reconstruction, employees had a low morale that stemmed from a lack of purpose. Satya mentions how they challenged themselves to rethink their core mission and asked themselves what kind of culture they wanted to foster. This change in mission had a positive effect on both the company and its staff as the newfound mission offered them a sense that their work had a new and enhanced meaning.

3. Top-down communication

Mistakes and confusion are a staple during a change. However, communication and transparency are the best methods to minimize both of these issues.

While positivity is the initial reaction to change, the pessimism that occurs is partially caused because 21% of employees feel they are kept in the dark while only 4% feel that they are trusted to make valuable contributions. Without communication, employees can feel purposely left out, leading to disorientation and suspicion as your organization embraces new procedures and lets go of old ones.

In order to foster comfort and stop your staff from panicking, it is important to take the reins while reassuring them that they are going in the right direction. Turn to your company intranet; it is the perfect medium to blog about oncoming changes and let employees what to expect next. Make sure your managers know how to handle employees effectively; training to properly coach understanding and how to answer questions can be a welcome factor.

Let’s rewind time a bit and take a look at the successful restructuring of British Airlines in 1984.

British Airlines is the largest airline of the UK. With over 50,000 employees, this airline was seen as dangerously oversized. After the oil crises of the 1970s, the airline suffered massive financial losses and a resulting bad reputation. In 1981, Lord King, a new chairperson, was brought into the fold; ultimately shedding light on the inefficient operation of the company and the tremendous need for change.

Unfortunately, it was inevitable that the change would come at the cost of a large number of employees. The workforce was set to be reduced from 59,000 down to 39,000. This is where communication became imperative – before King began announcing dismissals he prepared employees for the change, announcing his intent and reasoning in the beginning. This transparency shielded British Airline from any backlash and negativity that may have occurred if he did not choose to communicate freely and honestly throughout the course of the change.

4. Reinforce and remind

When it comes to a large change, it is natural for all parties involved to want to see immediate results. In fact, if a change is not noted immediately, there is a chance that people may decide the change is not working and withdraw support. While that craving for instant gratification is expected, individuals may need to admit to themselves that these processes take time. An adjustment period is necessary for both the company and its employees. Staff will need to transition psychologically, to adjust to new processes and let go of old methods.

organizational change management

The one thing to be careful of is getting mislead by early success. While initial progress is inspiring, what is actually necessary is for the change to hold up through time. For this to happen, employees need to stay committed to the new processes. In many instances, this means the values of the individual must change as well. A negative mindset does not inspire success: staff must see the need for change and truly commit to the process to become an asset to the organization.

5. Encourage employee feedback

Every employee wants a chance to be heard. One of the biggest causes for unengaged and pessimistic employees is the lack of an outlet for concerns. A channel for employees to offer feedback is crucial, even more so during an organizational change. During change, only 20% readily volunteer new ideas and thoughts. When employees have a place to share their concerns it becomes a positive way to express themselves, rather than gossiping, venting and complaining in secrecy. There are several ways to make sure your employees have a voice:

  • Employee surveys – question the way they feel about current and upcoming changes
  • Employee suggestion box or online suggestion/discussion forum on your intranet – hear their grievances and their suggestions for improvement
  • Town meetings – many people feel more confident expressing themselves in group settings
  • Open door policy – management should encourage their team to share their ideas without fear

A channel for feedback benefits both the company and staff – individuals will feel more valued and less helpless during the transition, and the organization is privy to honest accounts of the change initiative – enabling them to attack and solve small grievances before they become larger issues.

Embrace Optimism

The idea of an organizational change can be a daunting one, especially for the employees involved. The key is to focus on the end result. Positivity begins with the right mindset so it is important to make sure your employees stay informed, comfortable and onboard as the transition takes hold. Throughout this period, sharing your vision and putting employees first will be the first steps to a successful future for your organization.