For most of us change provokes anxiety. How often as employees in organisations do we hear about proposed ‘restructuring ’and feel enthused by the prospect? Whilst often presented as innocuous amendments to company organograms, experience tells us that ‘restructuring’ can often mean dividing and/ or combining business functions, and this often means moving people into new teams and/ or departments.
However rational and logical such re-structuring seems to its architect, what we’re really changing is the nature of our professional relationships; how people work, who they report to and how they are accountable for the work they do. If such change is to be successful there needs to be a high level of trust and understanding, and real compassion for the turbulence that individuals are experiencing.
Simple and familiar models of motivation such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs highlight why changes in working environments, work relationships and job security are so emotionally charged. Once our physiological needs have been met, concerns soon progress to feelings of security and belonging, and for many of us, work forms an extremely important part of our identity. Whatever changes are happening at work, whether it’s restructuring, new processes or ways of doing things, our working establish a ‘new normal’, however transient it may prove to be.
Part of that new normal is forming new relationships. A straightforward restructuring might mean a new line manager and new colleagues to build relationships with, as well as new lines of communication. In organisations, individuals try to find their own ways of exercising influence, of understanding what’s going on, and developing their own informal networks and channels of communication. These exist within, and are framed and informed by, the formal channels and reporting lines, so when those are changed in a radical way people often feel vulnerable.
A lot of change often leads to feelings of a lack of control, and flexible working can go a long way to give employees not just a feeling of control, but actual control of how they manage their workload. It has been demonstrated that flexible working makes business sense in terms of cost savings, in lengthening the working day and providing better levels of customer service, and it has also become a benefit that many people will sacrifice a higher salary for.
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Change 101 emphasises the need to articulate the benefits of any change but not enough consideration is given to who benefits. Frequently the catalyst for change in organisations is for the needs of the business, and whilst this can be of direct benefit to employees, this often isn’t the primary consideration. That this is the case does not mean organisations cannot or should not ensure that rewarding their employees is a focus; and that its rationale is well communicated.
For at first glance perhaps employees have got it right; disruption and uncertainly often appear to have little to recommend them; so rather than labelling exhibitions of concern, anxiety, distress, or resistance to change as deviant, we must recognise that it is simply what is to be expected from people – whom in this instance happen to be our employees. Change in organisations may be inevitable but management that recognises the impact of these changes at an individual level should be constant. It is equally imperative that leaders and managers apply this compassion to themselves to enable its extension to those that work with and for them.