Change—the Human Factor

Posted on December 30, 2012 by VITAL WorkLife

Updated March 16, 2021

022615_1810_ChangeManag31-3Change has become the new constant—how is that for an oxymoron? In almost every industry, the pace of change is increasing as organizations look at all aspects of their operations to increase efficiencies in response to new economic realities, adapt to new technologies, and confront global and competitive pressures.

For effective change management, there are several critical success factors that must be met to ensure goals are achieved. John Kotter, in his seminal 1996 book, Leading Change,1 observed that only 30% of change efforts succeed, a number corroborated by a 2008 McKinsey survey2 that found only a third of organizational transformations were deemed successful by executives from several industries and regions.

One of the biggest pitfalls for organizations as they pursue change involves not sufficiently taking into account "the human factor"—the needs, wants and, in many cases, fears of employees at all levels. We often see the effects in our work—in the form of increased stress and anxiety, and sometimes in reports of increased conflict in workgroups.

Confronting the Issues

In a recent presentation on change management, Liz Ferron, senior consultant for VITAL WorkLife, spoke about this issue. She noted, "It's going to be important for you to tune in to the fact that change is creating turmoil for many of your employees. And, that is normal and natural. Even though most change brings positive experiences, it also usually includes some loss, uncertainty and increased work effort. Also, it usually takes time to reap the rewards of change, and things may even get worse before they get better as you work out the kinks."

Employees often feel stressed and worried about what the changes will mean to their job security, to their customers and co-workers, and to their ability to do their jobs. Common reactions to change—for everyone, at all levels—include:

  • Increased stress and worry
  • Decreased tolerance
  • Self-protection and distrust
  • Resistance
  • Health concerns
  • Attitudinal issues: "It's management's job."

The downstream effects—increased workplace conflict, and sometimes incivility and other negative behaviors—are by-products of these reactions.

Things You Can Do

There are, however, things you can do to minimize the impact of the negative aspects of change, and make it more likely that your staff will move through resistance more quickly.

Some of these involve addressing issues with the change process, itself—things like better communications, establishing clearer accountability, and engaging employees more in setting goals and involving them more in the process, to achieve greater buy-in.

Some other approaches work better at the individual and workgroup level. This can involve:

  • Strengthening coping skills and building resilience
  • Teaching and reinforcing good communication skills to address and, ideally, prevent conflict
  • Providing coaching and mentoring for those employees who need extra support
  • Education around successful team dynamics and appropriate behaviors, especially where incivility has become an issue

Depending on the nature and scope of the change initiative, other areas can be fruitful to pursue.

We Can Help

As your EAP, there are many areas where we can provide assistance. As always, if you have employees who are struggling, encourage them to call us—we're available anytime, day or night. Whether they're experiencing stress or anxiety, or wish to talk through issues they might be having with co-workers, we can help.

We also have several standard training modules on change, conflict and incivility that can be delivered, either onsite or via webinar, that are appropriate for all employees. These include:

  • Coping and Resilience
  • Managing Change Effectively
  • Civility in the Workplace: Working in a Culture of Mutual Respect
  • Identifying, Managing and Resolving Workplace Conflict

We also have modules specifically for managers around change, civility and conflict.

In addition, our senior consultants can provide more focused assistance on a consulting basis. This can involve helping and guiding organizations and workgroups through change initiatives, or adjusting to changes that have happened, as well as in addressing workgroup and team dynamics, working on communication skills and many other related issues. In many cases, facilitated group discussions can help groups that are "stuck" in particular areas. Click here to learn more about our manager/supervisor consultation resource. 

Access your EAP resources by calling 800.383.1908 or through your VITAL WorkLife App.

1 Kotter, J. P. Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 1996.

2 Meaney, M and Pung, C. McKinsey Global Survey results: creating organizational transformations. The McKinsey Quarterly, July 2008.

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