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Lindsey Symes

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Creating calm after the storm: employee engagement best practice following major organisational change


A disenfranchised workforce poses a significant problem to an organisation. In the HR industry it has been widely recognised that employees who are no longer engaged in an organisation are less likely to be flexible, work overtime or take on additional work or responsibilities. This can then have a knock-on effect on an organisation’s overall productivity, which in turn can affect its bottom line.

One of the main reasons why a workforce may cease to be engaged and lose motivation is as a result of poorly managed organisational change. A recent survey of 1000 people across the public and private sector, carried out on behalf of Capita, showed that those employees whose company had been through a restructuring programme felt uncertain about their future at work (50%), were less motivated to work (40%) and admitted to working strictly to their written contract (23%).

If an organisation chooses to make a major change, such as restructuring, then invariably its employees will be affected. However, the way in which employees perceive the change, and how motivated and engaged they are after the change has been implemented, will be almost entirely dependent on the actions of the employer. Organisations therefore, must work to engage with all employees through a restructuring programme and not only those directly affected.  Those employees who are retained after a period of restructuring need further attention to try to and quell feelings of discontent.

Include employees in the review process
When organisations make the decision to undertake major change, it is important to define what the goals and objectives are at the start of the process. Once the changes have been implemented, organisations should then measure the success of the change against these goals. When reviewing the success of the change programme, organisations should seek to include employees in the process wherever possible.

This gives employers the opportunity to outline why the changes were necessary and highlight to employees the long-term benefits of the change programme. This will help to foster understanding amongst employees who may previously have thought that the changes were unfair or unnecessary. It is equally important that organisations recognise where transformation has been less successful and to be open and honest in feeding back to the employees any lessons learnt.

This will help to develop trust between employee and employer, and demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to delivering change programmes that achieve their objectives. By being open with employees in this way a culture of continuous improvement can be established and change can be embraced rather than feared.

Ask employees for their opinion
Organisations may consider surveying employees to see how they feel about the changes. When conducting a staff survey of this nature it is important to be empathetic and encourage honesty. Employers should also give employees the opportunity to give opinions about the organisation and the changes anonymously.

Once employees have been given the opportunity to share their views in this way, it is vital that employers take their feedback on board. Inaction following a survey is worse than not conducting the survey in the first instance. Organisations should also bear in mind how valuable employees’ opinions can be.

As the workforce see the organisation at the operational level, they can often give good insight as to whether the changes will enable the organisation to achieve its objectives. To this end, holding focus groups about the changes before the details are finalised is often beneficial.  

Offer counselling
Some organisations offer forms of counselling to employees that have been through downsizing and are subsequently being made redundant in the form of outplacement services. However, it is less common to hear of such services being offered to those who have remained in an organisation after the restructure has taken place. Employees that have been on the periphery of a restructuring programme are still likely to be feeling insecure, in some instances angry and betrayed after the programme has finished and their ex-colleagues have left.

These negative feelings can then affect an employee’s behaviour and performance on an on-going basis. By offering a support programme that provides access to counselling or coaching, and one-to-ones with line managers, those employees can be made to feel supported and valued once more. While a counselling service may initially be an added cost, in the long term the associated expense of recruitment, training and reduced productivity caused by dissatisfied employees leaving the organisation could be far more.

In some instances, trying to engage with the workforce after a period of major upheaval may be a case of too little too late. Ideally organisations should be seeking to engage with employees throughout the period of transition in order to best secure a motivated workforce after the changes have taken place.

To this end, organisations should make employees aware of the planned change from the start, so that employees don’t hear about the changes via a rumour. Organisations should also seek to consult employees throughout the process, which should make them feel involved and help them to understand why the changes are taking place.

This will help foster trust between employer and employee during the course of transition, which should result in a workforce that is still happy, motivated and willing to work after the dust has settled.

As organisations deliberate how to drive down costs in this age of austerity, many organisations will restructure. Organisations must work hard to keep employees engaged in the organisation during and after the period of change. Otherwise, as our survey showed, they may be left with a workforce that lacks motivation, that is unwilling to work beyond their contract and may feel far less loyal to the organisation than before.

Lindsey Symes is an organisational psychologist and client relationship manager for Capita’s HR business.

2 Responses

  1. After the storm…

    Thanks for the posting Lindsey.


    There’s a famous saying attributed to Ghandi (and others) "be the change you want to see".

    The snior team have to role model the Brave New World throughout. That includes involvement, consultation, listening and an open door policy, stressing the benefits, being appreciative, being honest etc.

    Much of this happens long before the "storm" itself, is heightened during and continues long after………………

  2. And…?

    Thanks for this article. I’m a little confused. Why would an organisation which has just finished doing change to its people suddenly about turn and implement these common sense suggestions? The previous behaviour shows that the very common sense that was needed before is sadly lacking.

    These ideas (which seem to make sense to me) are not new after all – indeed I sometimes wonder if I live in a Truman Show style bubble where these things are replayed to me for someone else’s amusement. Does anyone else feel like that?

    I might add persistence to the mix. The chances are that when different ways of working are tried, they will fail. Often our biggest mistake can be to say "we tried that it didn’t work" and go slavishly back to the previous way of working. To allow change to flourish takes persistence and practice, things that are often sadly lacking in the workplace. It is those behaviours I seek to encourage, along with the acceptance that mistakes will arise as we learn different ways of working. Punish these mistakes and once again – you’ll get what you deserve. Keen to hear what others think.

    Cheers – Doug


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