Change and its Effect on Employee Engagement and Wellbeing

Change, Leadership

Change, change, change. The word that perfectly sums up 2020. We’re talking change in the way people live, work and socialise; and we’re talking change in systems and mindsets as the fight against systemic racism continues.

Although some of these changes, specifically with regards to obliterating systemic racism and improving diversity and inclusion, are really positive, there are some changes that are incredibly frightening.

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People’s lives and lifestyles changed almost overnight. Many activities people once relied on to destress and cope have become almost impossible without worry – think of socialising with friends and family, travelling etc.

On top of this, people’s livelihoods have changed as businesses let go of staff and redundancies increased. Employees saw a change in their usual working structure, and have seen colleagues, or friends and family being laid off.

We could go on and on about the immense change we’ve all had to endure. 

For people lucky enough to still be working, ‘‘Am I next?’ is a constant thought, amongst many other concerns. As change plays out, employee fear, anxiety and stress is skyrocketing, which is not healthy; not for their wellbeing, nor for business success.

What we’re saying is: uncomfortable change affects people negatively; uncomfortable change is affecting your employees. 

We at Inpulse have helped hundreds of thousands of companies through change, because more often than not, change provokes bad feelings amongst employees, which causes destructive behaviour. And of course, this is something all businesses want to avoid.

Change causes a change in feeling

Change can be the greatest thing to happen to your business, or it could cause great damage to areas you’ve worked so hard to nurture: like employee engagement and wellbeing, for example. It’s usually the change that brings about fear, worry and anxiety amongst your people, that is most destructive.

Then, of course, there’s ‘good’ change; which is usually beneficial to your people, and which brings about feelings of positivity, excitement and security. 

In May, Inpulse surveyed a total of 11,000 employees located in various parts of the world. We found in the UK, that levels of anxiety amongst employees had risen by 240% from the same time last year. Our founder, Matt Stephens concluded that extreme negative emotions are being driven by fears of job security (24%) and high workload (16%).

How do we ensure change is not destructive?

We ensure employees feel as good as they possibly can about the changes. The secret is making your people feel secure in their position, being transparent about the change and not having them wonder what’s happening and why. It’s about preparing managers at the local level, to properly lead their people through change, and ensuring that you put the feelings and needs of your people first. 

Change impacts behaviour

When people feel a certain way, it’s reflected through their behaviour. If your people are scared and anxious, they are going to act out: you may see conflicts arise, you may experience high absenteeism, but you’ll most definitely see a drop in engagement. Once again, it comes down to how your people feel. Luckily, you can change how they feel to avoid destructive behaviour, like disengagement, poor performance, low productivity, negative culture, poor communication, absenteeism and more.

How to change feelings and behaviours?

First you need to uncover what your people feel. You can do this through simple weekly surveys. Inpulse surveys ask the right questions aligned to your business needs and your people. Our surveys measure emotional analytics (we’re one of the only engagement experts to do so), and will reveal the exact pain points to address for the improvement of engagement and wellbeing. 

Change causes poor communication

When people are afraid and anxious about their position in their workplace, they’ll be less inclined to communicate their concerns. This is because of fear. Fearful they may be placed on the chopping block if they express themselves in a way that could get people’s backs up. What this does, is it damages communication, which is SO crucial in times of change. It also makes things extremely difficult for managers and HR departments who rely on feedback from their people. But, their people remain tight-lipped out of fear, and begin to behave differently: they look for work elsewhere or are often absent. Or worse, the workforce speaks amongst themselves, spreading rumours, driving fear and creating a culture that’s negative and unproductive.

How to maintain strong communication during times of change?

It starts with management setting the tone by being ultra-transparent about the change and their vision going forward. Then, management needs to stress the importance of feedback from their staff; they need to be 100% approachable and open to understanding what their people feel and what they need. There should be no divide between management and staff – when this happens, staff will never speak up, and management will have to deal with the consequences later on. Communication is key!

Change damages culture

As mentioned, uncomfortable change causes ill feelings which provokes ill behaviours. When people feel bad, they’ll often share what they feel with those around them. In some cases, they’ll try to make those around them feel the same way they do, so as to feel less alone and more secure. I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying ‘misery loves company’. While it’s a rather harsh way of putting it, it’s absolutely true in the workplace. If your people feel vulnerable, gathering an army for protection is the safest route – they’ll most likely pull together, feed the fear and create a culture of fear and negativity. Creating this ‘army’ is actually a normal human response to vulnerability, that helps people feel less alone, safer, and ultimately ‘survive’. What you need to do is get everyone on the same page; to constantly reinforce the reasons why you’re making the changes you are, and express the benefits your people will reap from them. Again, communication is key – if you have that, you have a business prepared for change.

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