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Effectively Manage Change or Your Employees Will Leave

Over 30% of the American work force is cynical about organizational change. Cynicism leads to chronic stress and a decrease in employer trust and feelings of psychological safety at work. According to data collected by the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey, workers experiencing current or recent change are 2x as likely to be stressed at work and 4x as likely to experience physical health symptoms.

Change that is not properly managed affects an employee’s mental and physical states in negative ways, eroding employee engagement, team morale, overall production, and most importantly, trust in leadership decisions and motives.

Key findings from the survey discovered that workers who did not trust their employer were 4x as likely to look for a new job within the next year.

“Change is inevitable in organizations, and when it happens, leadership often underestimates the impact those changes have on employees,” said David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “If they damage their relationship with employees, ratchet up stress levels and create a climate of negativity and cynicism in the process, managers can wind up undermining the very change efforts they’re trying to promote.”

Helping organizations navigate complex change endeavors, I have discovered that there are two key elements to leading successful change efforts: building employee resiliency and determining individual/team change styles.

“For organizations to successfully navigate turbulent times, they need resilient employees who can adapt to change,” Ballard said. “Disillusioned workers who are frustrated with change efforts, however, may begin to question leaders’ motives and resist further changes. To build trust and engagement, employers need to focus on building a psychologically healthy workplace where employees are actively involved in shaping the future and confident in their ability to succeed.” This can be done by boosting Emotional Intelligence skills within individuals and teams. Within the Bar-On model of Emotional Intelligence, the Stress Management, Flexibility, and Optimism sub-scales address emotional resiliency and measuring these skills with the EQ-i 2.0 assessment can give leadership a roadmap toward building a psychologically safe work place for individuals and teams.

Change is as much art as science. There are many proven scientific models of change management, such as Kotter’s 8 steps, that have demonstrated replicable success within complex change environments. But change is something that people want to feel is being done with them, and not to them. Here is where determining individual and team change styles becomes valuable. The Change Style Indicator assessment measures an individual’s preference for change and determines critical factors that enable change. Does the individual need to know all of the details first or prefer only the big picture? Do they prefer swift change or do they require perfectionism before moving through next steps? Do they prefer change that is incremental, functional, or expansive? Do they prefer the role of traditionalist, mediator, change agent, champion, or bystander? The Change Style Indicator helps us understand our own reactions to change and how others react to change, by identifying individuals as Conservers, Pragmatists, and Originators.

Using these tools will help provide vital information when creating the plans for change. From here, leaders can develop the proper environment and determine the proper method for deploying change. This will minimize any negative impacts that change efforts naturally produce and ensure that your talent isn’t looking elsewhere for a new home.


American Psychological Association. (2017, May 24). Change at work linked to employee stress, distrust and intent to quit, new survey finds: Almost one-third of US workers cynical about organizational changes, management’s motives. ScienceDaily.

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