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In today’s work environment, rapid change is a constant reality. The COVID-19 pandemic and tech-dependency in a digital economy have compelled organizations to change the way they do business to stay relevant in a dynamic landscape. 

But while leaders get excited about change, employees often resist it, especially if perceived to significantly affect their jobs. 

People don’t fear change; they fear sudden change.

Why Do Employees Fear Change At Work?

The threat of change and the excess uncertainty it brings are very challenging for most workers. Restructuring, new leadership, and other organizational changes can lead to employees who are overly stressed, have less trust in their employers, and have a greater desire to find new jobs, according to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA). 

The pandemic has worsened employees’ feelings of insecurity about the new demands of work. Data from the LiveTiles Global Employee Experience Pulse Check 2021 shows that over a third of more than 7,000 employees in seven countries feel nervous about their job security, and about 37% are looking for a new job.

Leadership plays a critical role in successfully leading change. Ineffective leadership can trigger anxiety and conflict and make employees unwilling to adapt to new circumstances or ways of doing things. A Mckinsey study notes that 70 percent of complex, large-scale change programs fail to achieve their goals because of inadequate management support and lack of workplace engagement

Building A Work Environment That Thrives Amidst Change

“People don’t fear change; they fear sudden change. And great leadership with empathy can overcome any challenges and issues that arise with change programs,” Simon Sinek said in his Let’s Connect event. By approaching workplace change with empathy and compassion, leaders can better understand employees’ experiences and points of view and help them navigate the stages of change.

A Harvard Business Review article also emphasized the importance of empathetic leadership in helping organizations create smart, fast change. “Leadership as a behavior, not a position, has the capacity to meet the change challenge of today. There is a strong need to reconstruct the modern organization and create an environment that fosters more autonomy, participation, and leadership.”

Here are some steps leaders can take to help employees embrace change and see it as an opportunity to grow:

Engage and Involve Employees

Give your people a sense of control and ownership by inviting them into planning. For example, you can do a poll and invite employees to share their sentiments about reporting back to the office twice a week. This way, you’ll gain more insights into the support that your employees need and create a more strategic and informed plan for a return to the office. 

Communicate Clearly and Cultivate A Culture of Transparency 

Maintain honest and open communication with employees by letting them know how often you will update them as the change initiative unfolds—then commit to it. Share as much information as you can about the strategies and challenges. Let your employees understand what to expect and explain what will be different to help them prepare for the new work dynamics.

Having a great employee engagement platform, for example, will keep employees connected by allowing them to easily ask questions, ideate, and contribute to any processes of change. 

Upskill Employees and Prepare Them For New Opportunities

Educate, mentor, and provide the proper training that employees need to seamlessly ease into new processes. Make it a habit to do one-on-ones to check in on each employee, give them reassurance, get feedback, and find out how you can better support the employee to reach his or her new goals.

Strengthen Employee Resilience and Workplace Relationships

Organizational change will be more manageable if you keep your employees’ enthusiasm and optimism alive. Foster a sense of belonging in the workplace by investing in team-building activities that can help build community among employees. Prioritize health and well-being programs that help employees cope with stress and new ways of working. 

Actively empowering employees is the best way to get them on board in any organizational change. Listening to (and acting upon) their concerns can help navigate potential barriers to change that might happen during business and technology transformation processes or transitions.