Change: Why It’s Hard and How to Manage Through It

February 3, 2016 Steven Laird

As the saying goes, change is the only constant. In today’s work environment, it’s inevitable. So why does it freak employees out so much?

The answer is simple: people are afraid of the unknown. And they tend to resort to worst-case scenarios—particularly if they don’t have the right information to help them through it.

Here are five things you can do to help your employees cope with change.

  1. Get employees involved – Robert Half Management Resources recommends involving employees in the change and delegating tasks that contribute toward the end goal. Depending on the type and level of the change, that may or may not be possible, but you can open the lines of communication and start a dialogue. Yes, as a manager, you might get dumped on by your staff. And you might not be able to act on the concerns they’re raising. But at least you’re demonstrating that you care and you’re listening. Also, give staff the opportunity to ask their questions one on one, since some people aren’t comfortable speaking up in a group setting. 
  1. Recognize people have different tolerance levels for change – If you’re an involved manager, you probably already know who on your team is going to flip out and who’s going to be more Zen about it. So when you communicate, keep the messaging consistent but also make sure you’re communicating to each person in a way they’ll understand. Speaking of which….
  1. Communicate well and often – Make sure information cascades throughout the entire organization so your entry-level reports aren’t getting the news from whispered conversations in the lunch room. You may not be able to communicate everything all at once, and there may be details you just can’t communicate at all. Fair enough…most employees will understand that. But to maintain trust in senior leadership, it’s important to communicate in a timely manner and to be as clear and honest as you can be.

Also make sure communication isn’t a one-time thing. The marketing Rule of Seven says you have to repeat a message at least seven times before people will take action on it…the point isn’t the actual number but the fact that you need to communicate messages many times, in different ways, for them to be heard. If you don’t know the answer to a question (or you’re not able to share it), don’t lie or make things up. Giving a bogus answer that ultimately gets overturned ruins credibility.

  1. Talk about successes and what’s NOT changing – Employees may find it reassuring to know that while changes are occurring, most aspects of their work life will remain status quo. Make sure to talk about some of the good things people are doing and how they are positively impacting the business. But don’t oversell it, either: people can tell when you’re not being authentic.
  1. Provide additional takeaway resources – If the change is a gradual one, or one that’s occurring at many levels of the organization, it might be hard for employees to absorb everything all at once. Offer written or graphic materials as takeaways so employees can review them later. And make sure they know where and how to get information if they have further questions once the dust has settled.

We’ve all been unsettled by changes at work at one point or another. The best advice I ever got about change was this: Control what you can, but don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t. Because the worst-case scenario you’re dwelling on is likely to be much more disruptive than the reality.

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