The current world economic context is dismal, to say the least – financial analysts and the World Bank continue to predict slow growth, volatile markets and the possibility of a longer or deeper recession than was first suggested. Governments are attempting to send the “right messages” internationally to continue attracting investment, and fiscal efficiencies, disciplined spending and budgetary application remain important to stimulate economies. Simultaneously, many companies are struggling to remain afloat and have to find new ways of doing business – “business as usual” seems to be becoming a less common phenomenon.
Interestingly, companies that seem to be doing well and are even growing in these tough financial times are partly so because they have learned to adapt to this changing environment, have recognised their need to let go of non-core business activity and have re-focused the energy of their staff on the business drivers that really matter and drive revenue streams sustainably. The leadership teams of these same companies have acknowledged the potential resistance that change introduces to employees, have sought to address the negative emotions that seem to run concurrent to any change initiatives and have simultaneously and intentionally attempted to support and encourage their people throughout the change process and beyond. Staff, feeling valued and cared for, have responded positively, taken ownership of the change process and have “on-boarded” themselves seemingly far more quickly than their counterparts in slower-growing organisations.
When faced with change, employees are “forced” to leave behind activities and colleagues that they value highly, the same causing feelings of intense loss. They feel tired, lethargic, alone and threatened. The less control they have over the events, the greater the feelings of being victimised, betrayed and angry about what they are forced to leave behind and what they are forced to face. Some of the symptoms of this emotional pressure are:
- Tears and loss of temper
- Absenteeism or lateness
- Lack of concentration, with subsequent mistakes
- Criticism and cynicism
- Lack of energy, tiredness and physical illness
In order to assist employees in regaining their confidence, some of their energy and appropriately applying the same within the new context, company leadership needs to spend time encouraging, supporting and potentially equipping staff for new expected tasks and focused activities. An environment should be created where regular discussion groups gather to discuss progress with the change initiative, handle queries and endeavour to remove obstacles to enable faster transition for everyone concerned. Empathic listening is a critical skill that managers need to apply for emotion to be adequately resolved. All staff should be led to a place of gaining understanding and developing their own dissatisfaction with the status quo of the past and the need to bring changes to not only survive as a company in these tough times, but to be competitive and grow sustainably.
Ignoring emotional dissonance and fear during times of change is perilous – in such circumstances, staff will feel disconnected, harbour resentment and not apply their energy appropriately to adopt the change. Employees that feel cared for by their managers, on the other hand, will probably take ownership of the intended change and help carry it through.