Back to Basics: Assisting Employees in Coping with Change | EAPA-SA

If there is one constant in life, and the business world, it is change. As the pace of change increases in today’s world, the ability to adapt and embrace change have become two of life’s essential skills –   and these skills are of particular importance in the workplace.

Change is bound to take place within an organisation, no matter how big or small. Some change, such as expansion, is positive. Other change can have negative connotations that may give rise to feelings of great fear and resentment in employees.  Yet, all change is disruptive. It is highly beneficial to have a change management strategy in place before any change is initiated in the workplace.  EA Practitioners are well equipped to assist in helping employees better understand the need for change and how to adapt to change in the workplace. 

Four common reactions to workplace change are:

1.     Doubt

Doubting change is common and many employees will distrust organisational change of any nature.  They may become uncertain of their job security and question why the change is being implemented and whether it is necessary or worth it.

2.     Resistance

Resistance to change is a common reaction and management should be prepared for significant levels of resistance when they first communicate the changes that are about to take place.  Some employees may react positively while others may not be comfortable with the interruption of familiar routines – or because they are going to have to go through re-training or learn new systems or technology.  Counselling employees and involving them in the mechanics of change will help to smooth the transition.

3.     Anger

Older, long-serving employees may experience a sense of anger, especially if the organisation is introducing technical changes.  They may find it tough to adapting to using new software or devices and feel threatened.  In this case it may be beneficial to train these employees separately.  Once the employees are trained and given adequate time to adjust to the change, it will help in achieving the goal of a smooth transition.

4.     Uncertainty

Uncertainty from staff when change is first announced stems from employees not knowing what to expect.  Counselling and open discussion will assist in addressing uncertainty and the employee’s role in the change process.   1


Strategies to support employees during change

Set the stage upfront for ongoing change with all employees.  Let employees know at their induction, and as a part of regular communication between management and employees, that continual improvement to the work environment, technology, equipment, processes, or their own skills and abilities should be expected.

Recognise the good work that was done under the previous system. This step is often missed in change management initiatives in an effort to promote the benefits of the change.  Employers may see fit to dismiss or minimize any successes of the past.  This could leave long-standing employees feeling unappreciated and demoralised.  Commending employees’ accomplishments under the previous system is more likely to leave them open to engaging in change.

Be specific about why and how the change will be implemented. Share as many details as possible about the reason for the change, the intended timeline and action steps of the change.  Be open about any known challenges and concerns before employees encounter these problems.  This will illustrate that management understands the practicalities and are working to make the change as seamless as possible.

Openly discuss potential pros and cons of the proposed changes. Do not pretend that challenges do not exist or try to minimize them. When leaders understand the fears or concerns expressed by employees and take steps to address them or make resources available, employees are much more likely to feel heard and part of the change process.

For every change, create an honest, positive and compelling vision of the intended outcome. Help employees see the vision and big picture of what the workplace will look like when the change is completed. Tapping into the part of the brain that uses images with can serve increase understanding and acceptance, as well as decrease the apprehension that comes from uncertainty.

Break the change up into small, incremental steps. If possible, give time for each step to be completed and adjusted to as necessary. Building employees’ confidence and supplying positive reinforcement can help reduce anxiety in times of change. 2


EAP counselling to engender employee engagement

All in all, it is important for a change management plan to focus on maintaining, or even growing, employee engagement across all levels in the organisation. When change take place it is common for reporting structures and teams to shift.  Newer employees may be put in charge of colleagues who are older than them.  Senior executives may find themselves in a more hands-on role – and in territory that they are unfamiliar with.  Counselling employees through the change will help them see it in a positive light. The more team members who are on board and have a positive attitude about the change, the smoother the transition and the more likely the change is to achieve the desired goal. 3