Changing times

Change is an inevitable part of life and something that most people find difficult to cope with, particularly in the workplace where the challenges can abruptly alter the course of one’s career and lifestyle. But in today’s business climate, companies are often forced to implement sweeping changes in an effort to grow and survive.

As a result, change can happen quickly, often before employers and employees have had time to prepare and keeping your workplace running effectively means helping employees cope with those changes. Employees fear of losing their jobs, being transferred to unfamiliar positions and having little control over workplace events can trigger increased tension, uncertainty, anger and other forms of work-related stress.

Effectively managing change in the workplace means not resisting change and challenges but having the necessary skills to effectively manage the issues and helping employees to cope with them.

What is change?
Change is usually characterised by a desire to improve things whether that’s cash flow, products or processes.

Change can be either planned or unplanned and it can affect individuals or the organisation as a whole. Major changes can mean mergers, redundancies, re-structuring or new working practises. Minor change can mean anything from the introduction of new training courses or company policies to travel arrangements.

What can cause change?
Both internal and external pressures can cause a change, external pressures could be changes in global markets, technology or even government legislation. Internal pressures could be the need to review policies and procedures, accommodation issues or pay structures.

Managing change
Although every situation is unique, and every business is different, there are common elements to managing change.

Plan for change – although some change comes out of the blue it is better to be able to review a plan then to have no plan at all.
Provide leadership – this is particularly important during times of uncertainty when employees will need reassurance.
• Keep up-to-date with the law – legislation covering redundancies for transfer of undertakings (TUPE)

Changes needs to be managed pro-actively for the following reasons.

Economic survival – developing new products or retraining staff.
Accountability – effective change management gives a chance to explain, to internal and external customers about what you are going to do and why.
Organisational effectiveness – rushed and unplanned for change can damage the confidence of staff and customers alike.
Employment relations – badly managed change can cause long lasting resentment and ill feeling.

Should you consult with employees over changes?
Often employers need to consult with employees due to a legal requirement during periods of major change such as redundancies, mergers or transfer of undertakings (TUPE). This can help to maintain performance and productivity by improving employee engagement.
Engaged employees are likely to adapt better to change and have an easier emotional journey because they know they will be consulted with regularly and given some say in the decision-making process and, because they identify with the future success of the organisation.

What will my employees want to know about a change?
When you talk to your employees about any change to the organisation and their working lives, they will expect the following from you as an employer:

• Question any plans and the reason for them.
• Know that their concerns will be listened to by senior managers.
• Reassurance about how the changes will affect them personally.
• Clear direction and leadership.

What feelings do people experience during periods of change?
Change can affect the way people feel emotionally, mentally and physically. Although change is generally seen as negative, this may not always be the case, for example during a period of reorganisation employees may fell their jobs are under threat, but they may also feel they have the opportunity to achieve greater career fulfilment.

Naturally, employees will go through a range of emotions whilst change is taking place, from anxiety, happiness, fear, through to depression and gradually there will be acceptance before the final stage – moving forward.

Change is one of the great certainties of business and we hope that this article provides you with useful background on the effects that change can have on an organisation and its employees. Of course, managing change in the workplace can be challenging, but with our experience in handling redundancy, TUPE and contracts of employment, Borders Employment Law are more than qualified to help. We can provide guidance and advice on best practice for planning and implementing change, the importance of good leadership and staff consultation, as well as on the legal aspects of change management.