Organisational change, by its very nature, can be a source of concern and anxiety for employees. Handled poorly, and change processes can result in reduced morale and productivity, failed change adoption and employee attrition.
As part of any planning for organisational change, employers should take proactive steps to manage and optimise the impact of changes in the workplace that support the change objectives and deliver organisational value.
The importance of employee engagement
Employee engagement is the combination of an employee’s emotional response towards their job and their employer with their resulting behaviour at work.
A highly engaged employee will be supportive of the organisation and their mindset will be in line with their employer’s values and objectives. They will be an enthusiastic and devoted worker and actively seek career progression within the organisation. Such a worker is, therefore, a benefit to the employer as they work in a productive and efficient manner.
By comparison, an employee who is not engaged, that is, they are disengaged, will feel dissatisfied with their job and employer, and be more likely to take sick time, perform badly at work, or seek employment elsewhere.
Forms of organisational change
Organisational change can generally be broken down into three formats:
Organisational restructuring often results in the loss of jobs. Examples include removing middle management roles and splitting their responsibilities between remaining employees above and below them; moving administrative and secretarial roles from a number of teams and placing them under the leadership of a new management role; or outsourcing a function of the organisation, for instance, the call centre element, and making resulting redundancies.
Merger or acquisition
A merger, where two organisations join, or acquisition, where one company buys (acquires) another will generally create a period of organisational change.
For instance, a large confectionery company buys a small business that manufactures cookies, or two competing technology organisations merge to share their slice of the market.
Strategy transformation generally results in adopting new ways of doing business, be that in process, objectives, or vision. For instance, a retail business decides to move its business wholly online because its target audience are already tech-savvy and sales made via its retail units are very low in comparison to online sales. The costs of running these retail units are also increasing as rents and other operating costs go up.
Employer considerations when managing change
During a period of organisational change, the importance of managing employee engagement may not be given the time and consideration it deserves.
Where employees are not made aware of what changes will happen and the direction the employer wishes to take, many will arrive at their own conclusions – rightly or wrongly – and discuss these with their colleagues. Rumours may begin to spread around the workforce, leading to dissatisfaction and a ‘jump before you’re pushed’ attitude.
Whether jobs will be lost or not, an employer should not make the assumption that employees who are unaffected by the changes, perhaps because their jobs are safe, should not be kept informed about the situation. Some employees may wish to take the opportunity of the changes at work to ask for alternative employment, for instance, moving to a job share or a newly-created role. Leaving ‘safe’ employees out of the discussions can de-motivate those workers and cause them to feel that they are not valued.
Where changes have meant the loss or re-arrangement of departments or teams, it may be that the involved employees are unhappy or uncomfortable with the new dynamics of their group. Old working relationships may have come to an end. Employees may now be working with people they are unsure of. It may be necessary to look into team-building exercises, one-to-one review meetings and discuss the new team dynamics with the team manager.
Best practice for employers
As we’ve seen, employee engagement may be affected even before the process of organisational change begins, so how can employers reassure their workforce and maintain their productivity?
Before and during organisational change
Handling employee engagement following organisational change may prove difficult if the situation isn’t addressed before and during the period of change.
The first step, therefore, must be to make employees aware of the changes to come from the beginning of the process. This will involve:
- Explaining the reasons for the change and the vision for the business going forward.
- Setting out how different areas of the business will be affected.
- Explaining how employees may be affected, e.g. new functions and opportunities, and possible redundancies.
- Holding meetings to make the above explanations rather than simply communicating the news by email or letter.
By informing the workforce what will happen from the very beginning, employees are much more likely to feel included in the employer’s journey and vision.
From the beginning, and during the period of change, the employer must check on the readiness of each area of the business for that change.
For instance, where it is known that certain functions of the business will be closed down and redundancies made, it will be necessary to enter into a redundancy consultation process. This will take time and may hold up other areas of change.
Another example is where the organisational change is caused by a merger of two businesses. At some point, both businesses must be ready to bring the two into one. Is one business lagging behind the other in readiness?
It may be useful to have a dedicated team to manage the process of change. These may be external consultants or senior members of staff temporarily seconded to the team. The team will manage the organisational change by working with key employees, such as managers, HR and team leaders, to both gather data and disseminate information throughout the business. Having a team in place who can offer guidance on the process of change can reassure employees that they have a place above their own leadership to go to for answers.
Throughout the process, line managers and HR should be available so that employees can talk through their concerns. These may be worries over job losses, relocation, moving to a new team, or simply a query on progress. It is important, therefore, that line managers and HR are made aware of what they can openly share with employees, the ongoing progress of the organisational change, and how to handle concerned employees. It may be necessary to provide an awareness and training session for line managers on how to handle queries from their workforce.
Once the organisational change has taken place, how can employee engagement be maintained?
As with any development in a business, it will be necessary to monitor and review the organisation in its new form. Are the new goals being met? Are new ways of working proving efficient? One key factor in maintaining employee engagement after a period of change is to include employees in monitoring the effects of that change.
This, in turn, will allow discussion between the workforce and the employer, provide an opportunity to explain and reinforce the reasons for the organisational change, and develop further understanding amongst the employees.
One of the best ways to encourage employee engagement after a period of change is to find out what employees think about the situation by asking them to fill out a survey. It is important, however, that once the survey data has been gathered, action is taken on any clear areas of concern, and feedback is provided to the workforce.
Where new teams or departments are formed, it may be necessary to improve teamwork in the workplace through clarifying the purpose of the team or department as a whole, defining the role of each member, setting clear goals for the team, working with the line manager to promote the above factors and taking part in team-building exercises.
All of the above methods should help to alleviate any concerns over joining a new team or remaining in a department that feels different due to the loss of long-time members.
Finally, keep talking to your employees. There should always be a method of communication for employees to not only voice concerns but also to provide solutions and be made aware of the business’ ongoing progress.
DavidsonMorris are experienced human resource consultants and specialist employment lawyers. We work with employers to provide HR expertise in areas such as organisational change and employee engagement. We understand the importance of change projects in delivering organisational value, and key to this is ensuring your personnel are actively bought into the process and go on to live the changes.
We can provide a holistic view on the HR aspects and employment law risks that we recognise from substantial experience will require skilful handling and management to ensure the successful implementation of the change project.
If you are embarking on a change process and are concerned about the impact on internal engagement, contact us.
Organisational change FAQs
How do you engage employees during change?
Employee engagement through organisational change centres primarily on proactive and open communication, supported by appropriate training and feedback.
How is change management and employee engagement connected?
Engaged and informed employees are shown to be more supportive of and amenable to organisational change.
How does organisational change affect employee engagement?
Poor change management can result in productivity loss, low morale and potentially staff attrition.
Last updated: 22 May 2023