Keeping Employees Engaged While Navigating Change
Keeping Employees Engaged While Navigating Change

Keeping Employees Engaged While Navigating Change

Emotional Intelligence, Employee Learning & Development, Company Culture   — 4 MIN


You would be hard-pressed to find someone who says they enjoy feeling uncertain or out-of-control. Unfortunately, these are the precise feelings most of us experience when faced with change. On an intellectual level, we may understand when change is for the best, but we often need help to overcome our fears and accept a “new normal.”

In business, change is necessary for growth. Leaders must anticipate employees’ inevitable reaction to disruptions of the status quo, and how it can negatively impact employee engagement. By approaching changes with understanding and empathy, it is possible to tap into staff’s resilience and keep them connected and committed to the company’s progress and their own professional growth.

For better or for worse—change is inevitable

It’s no surprise that downsizing, organizational restructuring, and mergers take a toll on employees. But it doesn’t take a seismic upheaval at work to impact employee engagement. Less dramatic changes such as revised workflows, new technology, or a change in the organizational chart can throw staff off their game, even if they know the outcomes will be beneficial. Even small shifts in routine—say, a revised break schedule, having to fill out new reports, or mandatory weekly meetings—can make some employees feel anxious and overwhelmed. 

Managers must consider how any change could impact their team. Preparing for only large-scale changes can leave the organization blindsided by staff that’s upset or even angry—and disengaged.

This does not mean a business should avoid making adjustments that could make employees unhappy. On the contrary, a company must constantly evolve to remain competitive. But it is possible to keep employees engaged during changes. The trick is to take a strategic, mindful approach that includes preparing employees for the change, supporting them during the transition, and learning from the experience to make subsequent changes even smoother. 

Negative impacts of change on employee engagement

What exactly is employee engagement? HR software provider Workable defines it as “an employee’s emotional commitment to their organization and its goals, leading to higher performance levels and mutual growth.” Engagement shows up in day-to-day work as enthusiasm, teamwork, connection, and confidence that they are an integral part of the company’s success.

On the flip side, disengagement can manifest as a lack of enthusiasm, withdrawal from collaboration, low productivity and quiet quitting, absenteeism, conflict and hostility, and overall bad morale. 

These detrimental and disruptive behaviors often stem from a negative emotional reaction to change. Employees may feel:

  • Disoriented and confused about how the change will impact them
  • The urge to cling stubbornly to the “old” way of doing things
  • Worried they’ll fail at learning new skills
  • Resentful of new tasks that they feel will increase their workload
  • Angry, disappointed, or mistrustful about personnel changes
  • Fearful about their job security

Most likely, employees will experience a combination of these feelings. And the bigger the change, the greater the toll these emotions can have on employee engagement.

Techniques for managing change

Management needs to recognize that even small changes can be a big deal. While those in the C-suite may be excited about the progress that change will bring, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone on the team to share their enthusiasm. Yes, they may care about the company’s success, but they’ll also be concerned about what it means for their day-to-day routines, as well as their personal and professional future.

The following techniques can help gain buy-in for new ideas and keep employee engagement intact.

Know your team

Part of good leadership is recognizing people’s challenges, what motivates them, and how they learn new things. While some people may embrace change, others will find it bothersome or even scary. One employee may fear that automation will push them out of their job. Another may need extra time to learn new software. Keep these things in mind when communicating about what is to come and what the expectations will be. 

Be transparent

Management is more likely to get buy-in from employees when the employees understand the reasons for a change. And those reasons need to have a beneficial impact on them, and not just the company. For example, explaining that a new procedure will allow the business to sell its product at a higher price point is unlikely to motivate someone on the assembly line. But if the explanation includes how the change will make their job easier, or about the potential for a salary increase or bonus, it can go far in keeping employees engaged in the change’s success.

Communicate with candor

Author and researcher Brené Brown has an oft-repeated saying: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” In facing the unknown, employees will make assumptions, and employee engagement will suffer. The more information employees get about imminent changes, the better. Without clear, accurate information, rumors run rampant. Be direct, but don’t make promises. For example, it is a mistake to assure someone their job is safe unless you are absolutely certain that’s a fact.

Involve staff in decisions if possible

While it’s not always practical, giving employees a voice in the decision-making process helps tremendously in their sense of empowerment when it comes to change. And when there is already a strong feedback culture in place, they will have the psychological safety to share their concerns and get answers to their questions. 

Have realistic expectations

Changes in the workplace often take longer to implement than managers like to admit. Getting buy-in from staff, training, and working out the bugs of new processes all take time. As the saying goes, expect the best but prepare for the worst. Be ready in case resistance comes from employees you’d least expect, or if the impact on employee engagement is greater than anticipated. 

Reward efforts

Measure performance and reward employees as they adopt new processes and learn new skills. This will demonstrate that they matter and that you value their efforts. Tap top performers to set an example for the team and help lead the way through change.

Provide the appropriate tools

Offer support and provide both hard and soft skills training with Blue Ocean Brain’s self-directed learning programs. Having autonomy in their learning process will keep employees engaged and give them some control as they navigate the change.

Finding the silver lining in workplace change

While not everyone will embrace change, treating it mindfully can make it easier for everyone. Employees need support and understanding from leaders in order to stay focused, connected, and confident in their place in the company. When handled right, change will not only result in the intended company-wide improvements but can also provide opportunities for team members to demonstrate resilience and professional growth as the next generation of leaders

Blue Ocean Brain can help your teams learn to navigate change without sacrificing employee engagement. Contact us for a consultation.