What is change management and what does it mean for employees?

Change management may be defined as ‘the process of continually renewing an organization’s direction, structure, and capabilities to serve the ever-changing needs of external and internal customers’ (Moran and Brightman. 2001).

However, from an employee perspective it usually just means one thing- job losses. In the middle of a recession from the global financial crisis, that’s all people are hearing about each and every day. Everyone knows someone who has lost their jobs and companies are under scrutiny for how much they pay their execs and what they are spending money on. One of the worst examples was that of CEO’s in the US who chartered private jets to ask for bailout money.

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The worst case scenario at the moment for an individual is if they are made redundant and must start the search for a new job. The labour market is already saturated with people out of work and baby boomers are feeling vulnerable being close to retirement age, but not close enough to retire. There are also many who had intended to retire, but can’t because their superannuation savings have dwindled. Being out of work is an extremely stressful situation, particularly when it places people under financial pressure.

I’ve been made redundant before and I have to admit that one of the hardest hits is to your self esteem. Sure, everyone worries about money but internally you analyse the situation and wonder why it happened to you, you question if you did anything wrong and sometimes you even feel embarrassed. Western society places a great emphasis on what one does for a living- it’s like your identity. To have that taken away from you on someone else’s terms feels like you’ve lost a part of yourself. I’m glad I’ve been through that experience because hopefully that will make me a better HR professional knowing exactly what it feels like.

However, organizational change doesn’t only affect those who have lost their jobs- take a moment to consider the ‘survivors’ of the event. Change means a different way of doing things and this can cause disruption, concern and angst amongst employees who usually are also saddened by the loss of their colleagues. Its not easy sailing being left behind and many experience some form of ‘role stress’ which is when employees become stressed by ‘role overload (too many tasks given), role ambiguity (not knowing what the job expectations are), and role boundary (caught between conflicting job demands), because the company is pretty much in a state of chaos (Tiong. 2005). There is so much confusion over what is happening whilst also trying to operate ‘business as usual’.

It’s so important to be aware of this for your employees and provide support wherever possible. Remember, everyone is human and will react in different ways. The corporate/scripted speech won’t be the right response in every case so go with your instincts and think how you would like to be treated.

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