Managing Change in the Workplace


Managing Change in the Workplace

Workplace changes take place in every organization because of several reasons. Some of them are (i) administrative, (ii) upgradation of technologies, (iii) additions of new departments, units or branches because of expansion, and (iv) restructuring/reorganization within the organization etc. Whatever be the reason for the workplace changes, it throws certain challenges for the management. If the process of change is not managed properly, then it has adverse impact on the working of the organization.

There are two major categories of change initiatives which the management adopts for the workplace changes. These initiatives result into either strategic changes or operational changes.  Example of the strategic workplace changes are those changes which take place due to the succession planning by the management. Operational workplace changes take place to meet the demand crated by technological upgradation, the additions of new departments, units, or branches because of expansion, or if a need arises in some departments due to the leaving of the present employees.

During the strategic change initiative of the workplace change, the purpose of the initiative is changing the mind-set of the employee so that he can take higher responsibilities in future. In case of operational change initiative of the workplace usually management tries to pick up those employees who can pick up the processes of the new workplace quicker. However, the employees normally need some sort of introduction to the new processes and systems.

During the workplace changes employees are introduced to the systems and processes of the new workplace. They need to learn them and adopt them quickly and swiftly. Further they may get non co-operation from some of the present employees of the new workplace since these present employees feel threatened in achieving their personal goals.

Employees normally have a natural resistance to change. Even though there may be good organizational reasons for the workplace changes, employees often feel vulnerable with the process. Therefore, managing changes in the workplace is an important aspect of the management and these changes are required to be executed very carefully and thoughtfully.

Workplace change requires employees to do something new, and this often forces them to move outside their comfort zone. Employees during the workplace change experience discomfort to some degree, but if they are less dominant persons then the feeling of discomfort is much more.

Employees by nature have adaptable behaviour and can adjust to new workplaces whether they like them or not. However, without a well thought out change process, employees may not be as efficient and productive in the new workplaces as they were in their old workplaces. Effective change management process ensures that employees are productive and performing to their best capabilities in the new workplaces as well.

Workplace change management is a process for engaging with employees who are about to experience workplace change. Its goal is to help employees more quickly (and happily) adjust to new workplaces and new ways of working. Efficient workplace change management process makes employees get back to work faster and feel more satisfied with their change experience at the new workplace.

Employees need support before, during and after they move to a new workplace. Management of the organization is to see that the workplace change process is smooth and it helps in successful handling of the employees’ transitions. The workplace change management does not have only one way which is the right way. In fact, managing of workplace change takes time and focus. Different employees adjust at different rates. 100 % adjustment is not feasible in the beginning, but the issues must not be allowed to go unaddressed. Open communication goes a long way towards building credibility and acceptance and the communication has to go both ways. It is critical to ask employees for input, to address concerns as they arise, to identify the influencers within employee groups and to engage them in the management efforts for smooth transitions during the workplace changes.

The first thing management must appreciate before considering any workplace change initiative is how change will affect the employees. Management must evaluate how readily employees will accept the change and the emotional ‘pain’ that normally is associated with the change. By understanding the interplay of these psychological issues with the actual change, management can ensure that it concentrates on the objectives of the change (not the problems) and increases their ability to effectively implement the change.

Management of workplace change is not a simple process. Management is to understand the barriers that block workplace change and the emotions that are experienced during the any change process, such as how employees react to change, why employee resist change, what motivates employees to change and what employees need to know in order to embrace change. Workplace change process is important since action (change) is always preceded by dissatisfaction. Employees already settled in a workplace do not have any motivation, urgency or tolerance for change. So if employees, at any level, perceive that the results they are achieving today are ‘good or good enough’ then they resist the change, no matter how compelling its benefits may be to some.

For these reasons, management which tell rather than sell and which force change on the employees can irreparably damage morale and productivity. The management which knows how to sell workplace change however has much greater success.

Workplace change management process helps the management to prepare the organizational employees for their new workplace, engage the employees throughout the change, and drive positive outcomes. Employees often have a fight-or-flight response to change as shown in the ‘change curve’ at Fig 1.

Change curve for workplace change

Fig 1 Change curve

The change curve is a popular method to explain the employee’s attitude during the workplace change.  This curve exhibits the different stages of the employee’s reactions towards the workplace change. These stages are (i) denial, (ii) resistance, (iii) acceptance, and (iv) commitment. The change management process helps employees move through these stages swiftly and smoothly so as to shift their thinking and behaviour from resistance to commitment in their new work environment. It is a structured approach that coincides with the workplace strategy. The idea is to achieve a unified cultural transition for employees from their present workplace environment to their new workplace environment without any difficulties.

When workplace change is initially introduced, employees usually view it in the context of their current situation. This means they only consider what they must give up, not what they may gain. In order to balance this, management must position the workplace change as a vehicle that will help the employees grow and fulfill their own objectives.

Often employees feel as though change requires them to go through it alone, that they must be a pioneer and take a risk. But as humans, employees want to be part of a winning team or group. Therefore, management must ensure that the employees never feel as though they are working in isolation. Instead, the workplace change is to be positioned as a team effort which is fully supported by the management.

The important step in the process of managing the workplace change consists in creation of an environment which helps the employees to adopt and adjust the change. Change management helps employees get back to work quickly and effectively and in return reduce costs and minimize productivity loss.

A well planned workplace change management process reduces stress, improves employees’ engagement and well-being along with their overall satisfaction with the organization. Employees want to feel valued, respected and appreciated and effective workplace change management process helps them become more satisfied with their new workplace. The responsibility of the organizational management is to create a work environment where employees can be productive and embrace the new workplace from day one.

One of the attributes which all the employees need to have is being able to adapt to the workplace change. They have to accept that they are not to continue in one role throughout their working career and one of the challenges that come with that is to handle new situations that they have not experienced before. The following points help the employees in better handling of the change in the workplace.

  • Maintenance of a positive attitude is necessary during the workplace change. The employee always has to be optimistic and maintain a positive attitude regardless of the new workplace. He must come to terms with the new situation which may not be perfect but the situation in the earlier workplace probably was not either. He must think about how he can best leverage his skills, experiences and network to maximize his new role. If he adopts a negative attitude, then he will experience non co-operation with his co- employees. With a positive attitude he has to carry them with him.
  • Acceptance of the fact is essential that workplace change is part of the employment. Employees cannot expect to work at a single workplace throughout their careers. Sometimes they have change in workplace on their own initiatives while at other times it may be due to the management has planned workplace change for them. Whatever may be the reason several workplace changes can be experienced by the employees in their career lifetime whether they like it or not. Hence it is better that they accept this reality. The good thing about workplace change is that it prevents the employees from the monotony of the present routine job and they face new challenges of work at the new workplace.
  • Whenever an employee has a workplace change he must stay connected to co-employees at the previous workplace.He must not forget about the co- employees he already had the chance to work with. He must always remain in touch with them since they may become extremely beneficial to the employee down the road. The co-employees of previous workplace always provide you help if the same is needed by the employee in the new workplace.
  • Employees at the new workplace must communicate with others to learn their new role.After they have moved into their new role, they must quickly find all of the stakeholders that they rely on and connect with them. They must find who had already been in this role and get to them so that they can learn tricks of the trade from them. This helps the employees getting settled at the new workplace faster. The employees must use their skills at asking questions because the more they know, the better they will be equipped in their present role and the easier their life will be in the new workplace. If they wait too long to reach out to the stakeholders, it will affect their performance which immediately comes to the notice of everyone.
  • The employees must be optimistic in the new workplace even though they might not be initially happy.Regardless of whether they like the role at the new workplace or not, they need to make the best of it. Soon they will realize that this new role can really do a lot of good for them. Employees must continue to move in the new workplace after starting. They must face the new challenging tasks at the new workplace by using their strengths and in turn they can improve their performance.
  • After a certain period at the new workplace employees must carry out introspection which is to reflect what they are to do further to improve their performance in the new role.They must take some time to relax and think about what they have already accomplished and what their goals are for their new role. They are to think about what skills they need to acquire, who they need to meet and assess their entire situation. They can also speak to the management so that they realize what to look for and also to set expectations for the deliverables on which they have to be working on.
  • Workplace change helps the employees learn new skills.Employees are forced to learn new skills based on the type of work they are required to do for the new job. For this employees need to spend some time in developing and mastering these skills. Quick mastering of new skills helps the employees to become an expert and increase their value.
  • Communication is an important aspect for success in the new workplace. The employees must constantly be in touch with their new colleagues. The colleagues need to know your presence, existence, responsibilities, and involvement. Effective communication helps the employees at the new work place to work in a coordinated way with their new colleagues.
  • Employees at their new workplace must ask as many questions as possible.There are no bad questions unless something has already been asked or explained earlier. Asking questions help in further developing the employees in the new role.
  • Employees at their new workplace are to look for ways to help co-employees cope with the change.One of the best ways to deal with the new position is to help the new colleagues to get accustomed to you, while the employees themselves are trying to stabilize in the new workplace.  By doing this, the employees feel more comfortable since they realize that others are also going the process of adjustment. In addition, by helping others in this way, they are more inclined to get cooperation in return.