Are you Sick of Change Yet?

In today’s work environment, and our country’s economic conditions, organisational change is inevitable. Organisations are constantly restructuring, downsizing, de-layering…. Whatever name you put to it, there is no doubt that changes impact on staff. Some of these effects are tangible – staff might lose their jobs through redundancies, or have their roles changed through job redesign. But what other impacts can change have?

A survey in an Australian Public Sector organisation measured employees’ views of recent workplace changes, as well as their levels of job satisfaction, and intentions to leave the organisation. The researchers found that the perceived frequency of change was related to higher levels of psychological uncertainty, leading to lower job satisfaction and higher turnover intentions. These findings suggest that if staff are exposed to frequent changes, they are more likely to lose enjoyment of their jobs, and look to leave the organisation. This isn’t surprising really – when change only happens occasionally, it is seen as a one-off event with a start and end point. On the other hand, when change is a common factor in our work lives, we become uncertain about when it might end, and we become tired and anxious about the perceived outcomes of the change. We start to wonder if our work life will ever be routine and settled.

It’s not all bleak though. These researchers also found that the perceived level of planning involved in the change related to reduced levels of uncertainty, which was related to higher levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of intentions to leave. Phew! So it’s not all bad, right?

These findings suggest that there are simple things organisations can do to keep staff engaged and loyal during times of change. Planning is essential; when change is planned in advance, there is more opportunity to provide staff with information about the change before if occurs, thus reducing anxiety and uncertainty around the process. Not only does planned change reduce the negative outcomes for staff, but it should also help to reduce the need for further change. If we get the opportunity to thoroughly plan before restructuring our organisations, we are more likely to implement changes that are beneficial in the long-term, thus reducing the need to engage in further change. Obviously we don’t operate in an ideal world, and sometimes we need to act quickly without thorough preparation. But, what’s that old saying? Short term sacrifice (time spent planning) equals long-term gain (staff engagement and retention). Do you think it could be worth it?

Rafferty, A.E. & Griffin, M.A. (2006). Perceptions of Organizational Change: A Stress and Coping Perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(5), 1154-1162.

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