What’s your biggest fear when it comes to leading a restructure? Is it...the anger, the blame, and the hurt from your people? If so - that’s ok. It means you actually care about your team and how they are feeling! But rather than avoiding confrontation, meet it head on. The best strategy to support your people through this critical business change is to understand what’s going on for them - to empathise. From that place of perspective, you can then deliver activities to smooth the heightened emotions of your team.
The stress and anxiety of a restructure stems from a “survival instinct” that you trigger when you announce an operating model change: the conclusion most people jump to is that you’ll take away their income and therefore their whole livelihood: house, food, kids’ schooling, etc. That’s where people’s psychology will go. Learn how to help ease the stress and anxiety of your team through your organisational change.
I'm Lata Hamilton, Change Leadership and Confidence expert. And this is the eighth article in my 15-part Reimagine Restructures Blog Series.
Prefer to watch the 5 minute video? Jump over to my Youtube Channel.
Restructures are really important for your company and team to achieve your future vision. So when stress and anxiety comes up for your people, it can mean that there's low morale, low performance, and low productivity. People can start to be distracted or feel stressed and anxious in the workplace if they’re uncertain whether they’ll have a role in the new structure. All of this can impact your customer service, customer experience and customer satisfaction. Not to mention the experience of your people through this transitional period, and maybe even your overall brand. It’s crucial to understand why this stress and anxiety is happening, and what we can do about helping our staff through it.
It’s simply the stress and anxiety of "survival instinct". It's that fight-or-flight response that people feel when a restructure is announced. In their psychology, they jump immediately to the loss of their income. What gives them money to:
put their kids through school
pay their mortgage
These are survival needs, and you’ve just threatened them. Then there’s "identity markers" and "benefits" that people attach to their job. But at a really basic level, it's their livelihood! Their income, their salary is their livelihood.
Have things really changed?
Times have changed, industry has changed, global competition has changed, the way that we work has changed, and how we structure our work has changed. But what HASN'T changed is this mindset, is this belief that you have to be in a Permanent role in order to be safe. Often, it will be the Permanent team members that feel it most keenly and have the most stress and anxiety. So we need to start shifting this belief for them. We need to start opening their minds up to the other possibilities apart from Permanent roles, and have them become more comfortable with the idea of change, ambiguity and flexibility generally. Here’s 3 ideas for how to do this.
IDEA #1: Set and manage expectations
We know these particular team members like things to be stable, have all the information, and have things stay familiar. This will be a time of flux and change, they’ll already be starting to feel out of their element and out of control. Help combat this for them by making sure that there's very clear details on what they can expect from their managers, their leaders, and the company, to give them a level of comfort and give them a plan. Something they can "cling to" in their head to help tamper some of the stress and anxiety.
IDEA #2: Encourage contracting
This one requires a bit of groundwork, because you can’t start encouraging contracting when people are in the state of stress. Don't encourage contracting after you've made the announcement of a restructure! Instead, encourage contracting in the months or even years, leading up to the restructure. Bring the idea of more temporary or fluid types of work into people's psychology and showcasing the benefits of this kind of work.
Globally, we are shifting to more fluid, flexible types of work: shorter stints, 3-6 months, getting paid a bit more for it, and moving jobs more frequently. No more "job for life". But you've got to seed that idea with people, and breed it over time. Trying to do it when you've actually announced the restructure is going to be hard. This is a long-term play - think of starting it now. Start offering new types of contracts now. And so when that restructure actually does come about, people are going to have a level of comfort with moving out of Permanent jobs.
IDEA #3: Train your people
You need to start having your staff shift their psychology from a sense of "entitlement" to a sense of "ownership" and "responsibility". A sense of them being in control and driving their own career and career future. People start to feel powerless when a restructure is announced. So you need to provide mechanisms, tools, techniques, (and I think the best way to do that is through "training"), that encourage them to own their own career and to think about what it is that THEY want out of their career, and how they can go about getting it.
So that’s the three ideas for you to help manage stress and anxiety during restructures:
Set and manage expectations
Encourage contracting (well in advance!)
Train staff to own their own career.
Turn that survival instinct into success!
I'm Lata Hamilton - the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, a Change Management consultancy specialising in digital transformation, operating model changes, and new ways of working and leadership.
Grab my free Creative Launch Ideas Guide with 53 ways to bring your next Change and Transformation to life - download it here.
And if you'd like my help with your next change or building leadership capability for your team, get in touch with me here.