When your organisation is responding to global stresses, and the directive from the top is to restructure, you must consider the impact of change on employee mental health. Companies need to be flexible in today’s competitive global economy, but any organisational change may have an unsettling effect on employees.
Reorganisations, takeovers, mergers, downsizing and other changes are major stressors for employees, as companies try to beat the competition to survive. These changes put pressure on everyone, from the CEO to the shop floor employee.
The impact of change on employee mental health for those that are managing mental health issues increases because organisational change can make their symptoms worse. You can help through thoughtful planning, effective communication, and engaging employees in exploring how you can handle the changes in a psychologically safe way. In this article, we provide some practical strategies that you can use to lessen the impact of change on employee mental health.
Strategies to support your employees during Change
- Set expectations – In your communications, it critical that you set the ongoing expectation of change with all your employees. You need to let them know that because your business is competitive, there is likely to be a continual improvement to the work environment, new technology, new equipment, a review of processes. That they are likely to need to upgrade and extend their skills and abilities to meet the changes. The best time to do this is during your onboarding processes and subsequent training sessions. Change and improvement should be part of the everyday conversations between managers and employees.
- Recognise the work under the previous system – There will have been some excellent work done under the old system and it is vital that you recognise and communicate this to your employees. It’s not a matter of throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it’s about building on their previous success. If you miss this step, you may leave long-term employees feeling that you don’t appreciate them and they can become demoralised. If instead, you recognise how much they achieved under the old regime and how impactful their foundation work is, they are more likely to be open to engaging in change and championing it to others.
- Create a compelling vision of the intended outcomes – To lessen the impact of change on employee mental health you need to create an honest, positive, accessible and compelling vision of the intended results. Why are you making the change? Your employees need to see the benefits and the end goals once the changes are made. Create a story, make it visual, engage their senses because this helps to elicit an emotional response and if done well, support and excitement in the new world to come.
Explain how you will implement the changes
You need to be open and honest about what is about to happen to lessen the negative impact of change on employee mental health. There are four strategies you can use to support organisational change:
- Provide details – You need to be specific about why you are advocating for change and how you will make the changes and when they are likely to occur. It is critical that you provide as many details as possible about the timeline and steps of the changes that you will undertake.
- Discuss the pros and cons – Openly discuss the known challenges and concerns to make the change as positive as possible. Be honest and don’t pretend that challenges don’t exist. It’s vital that you listen to employee feedback and take steps to address their fears as soon as possible. Where you can, look for solutions together with your employee groups and involve them in the process.
- Remind employees of other successful changes – In a continuously improving environment, your employees have been through changes before. It helps to link the new changes to previous positive examples. You can help relieve your employee’s anxiety about up-coming changes by reminding them that the last change process was successful.
- Make the changes in small steps – Where you can, it’s a good idea to break the changes into small, incremental steps and provide some time for employees to complete and bed-down each step before moving onto the next change.
Additional strategies for employees with Mental Health Issues
For employees who either currently experience mental health challenges or have in the past, you may want to spend some extra time to ensure they have what they need to successfully continue their work throughout the changes that you’re planning. To manage the impact on employee mental health for someone with a mental health issue, it’s crucial that you:
First, explain clearly what your employee’s new or modified responsibilities will be. It’s best to ask the employee to repeat back to you what the changes will be and how it affects them. In doing so, you can address any misunderstandings on the spot. Documenting the conversation helps to protect you if a problem arises in the future.
Second, be sure that you listen carefully to your employee’s concerns about the change. Ensure you respond with enough detail to reassure them that you have heard their concerns. You may not be able to address all of their fears and once again should document the conversation.
Third, try to help your employee manage their fears. Generally, people don’t like change, especially when it is not of their choosing. For employees with a mental health issue, change to lead to severe anxiety and fears about their future. You need to discuss their worries and offer realistic reassurances and support. They may need a temporary lowering of expectations or demands or additional skills training.
Be positive and flexible
Providing positive reinforcement about what your employee currently does well is critically important for those with a mental health issue. They need to feel what they offer the organisation is valuable and that they have the skills and you will support them to adjust to their new responsibilities.
You may need to consider adjusting or setting new performance goals according to your employee’s concerns. It helps if you involve your employee in developing strategies they can use to meet the goals of the new organisational structure and their job requirements. Giving employees a sense of control and input helps them to feel that they can manage the changes to come and that they have a certain level of control of their experience of the changes and their future at work.
How to handle employee terminations
Finally, during times of change, there are likely to be job losses and you should handle terminating employees sensitively. Restructuring, redundancies, or the need for new skills to support the organisation’s changing vision may see employees losing their job.
For people with a mental illness, termination is more complicated and comes with it added responsibilities. You need to take steps to protect the psychological safety of your employees, managers, and co-workers.
It’s critical that you offer post-termination support, for example, ensuring a safe way for them to get home, providing access to your EAP, making managers available to support the employee in the first few days after the termination and developing a communication plan to inform others.
Managing organisation change can be difficult. There is always the concern on the level of impact of change on employee health because it can lead to all kinds of disruption and increase their levels of stress. The issue of stress becomes a greater concern when you have employees who already struggle with mental health issues.
However, there are several things you can do to help. Thoughtful planning, effective communication, and engaging employees in exploring how you can handle the changes in a psychologically safe way lessens the impact of change.