Dealing with Change at Work

  | James Innes

Change at Work

Change in the workplace is inevitable for a variety of often essential and unavoidable reasons. However, unless change is managed effectively, it can have a very negative impact on both employer and employees. Some of the most common reasons for workplace change include:

  • Technological developments
  • Process or procedural improvements
  • Market or economic developments
  • Merger or acquisition
  • Corporate restructuring
  • Increasing consumer demands

It is possible for potentially negative change to be handled effectively and indeed for there to be a positive outcome. However, it is more than likely that initial reactions may be in opposition to the proposals, while the workforce struggles to come to terms with the potential impact of the situation.

The effects of change

Understandably, different people will respond in different ways to workplace change, resulting in a range of mixed emotions among employees, one of which may be insecurity. Individuals who once felt happy and secure in their working environment may suddenly lose confidence in their employer and find themselves unsure of who they can trust.

The introduction of new technology to replace previously manual processes, for example, can leave people fearing redundancy, believing that they are now surplus to requirements and no longer able to carry out their job to the satisfaction of their employers - even though this may not be the case.

A lack of good communication within the organisation during a period of change can leave employees with a poor understanding of circumstances and this in turn can lead to an unwillingness to embrace or accept the new situation.

All of these emotions can have a dramatic impact on the working environment and can manifest themselves in visible alterations in behaviour:

  • Motivation levels can plummet with employees demonstrating a much more negative attitude
  • Productivity levels may fall with employees being less committed and putting in less hours
  • Sickness and absence levels may increase for both genuine reasons and otherwise

The successful implementation of change

However, there are ways of dealing with change, both from the perspective of the employer and the employee - ways designed to encourage a greater acceptance of change and to minimise the negative impact on the business.

It is the employer's responsibility to ensure that his/her team is provided with effective leadership and support throughout the period of change, and to monitor their patterns of behaviour. This will enable them to ensure they are displaying positive coping strategies. There are some key guidelines which can facilitate this, including:

  • Being open and honest with the workforce from the outset, explaining exactly what is going to happen and how they, as individuals, will be affected
  • Preparing a comprehensive plan to ensure the effective implementation of change in line with business objectives
  • Encouraging the team to voice their own opinions and listening carefully to their discussions
  • Getting the team actively involved in the process where appropriate and responding to positive contributions

Depending on the nature of the change, an employer may also have statutory obligations they should be mindful of. This ensures that the rights of the workforce are upheld and minimises the likelihood of future legal action.

There are now a number of professional training courses and academic qualifications available which are designed to enhance an individual's ability to manage workplace change. They can develop understanding of how change affects different people and the various techniques for coping with it. They also emphasise that the key to successful change is in developing an understanding of it and in adopting a flexible approach to its implementation.

Strategies for coping

There is a real danger that the threat of change in the workplace can lead to increased levels of stress, so it is essential for your health and well-being that you are able to cope effectively - and to see the change more as a new opportunity.

It is quite likely that you will not be the only one to be affected by the changing circumstances, so it is important to maintain strong relationships with your peers. This enables you to share information with each other and also to provide mutual support.

Try not to let your work concerns have too great an impact on your personal life. Talk to family and friends about the situation and allow them to help you through it.

Undertake any necessary or available training to ensure you are able to respond effectively to change. For example, if the change involves the introduction of new technology, take the opportunity to familiarise yourself with it.


It is important to remember that workplace change does not have to create stress and confusion, but can indeed be an opportunity to acquire new skills, achieve career progression and embrace a new way of working. As long as you remain flexible and responsive, you should be able to adapt to the new situation and ensure that you make the most of any new opportunities that are presented to you.

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