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Tired of Transformation: Navigating Change and Mental Health in the Workplace

Sara Whitman and Remi Yuter

In the rush to rebuild after the last several years, many organizations have directed their attention and resources toward internal transformation initiatives, while already fragile employees struggle to keep up. With the speed and force of fundamental change taking place all around the world and across every area of business, it makes sense that businesses have identified the need to evolve. However, at the same time, a survey of over 1,000 respondents by Deloitte indicated that 77% of people say they have experienced burnout at their current job. This combination has resulted in organizational changes overlapping to create a rippling effect for employees. 

People are what make or break change efforts, and it’s crucial to ensure they are prepared — both emotionally and physically — for these efforts to be successful. So where and how can we start?

Understand where your employees are and how ready they are for change. 

Before embarking on significant change efforts, organizations need to initiate conversations with their employees to understand where they are and what they’re thinking, both on the current state of the business and on their perspective about impending change. This check-in process will look different for every organization, but leaders can utilize the following process to begin the conversations: 

  • Lead by Example: People leaders need to demonstrate that they have the capacity for these conversations, and are willing to engage themselves in this dialogue. They can do this by focusing on how the change will make employees’ lives easier and their workflow more efficient, and encouraging conversation and feedback to sense and address any resistance.
  • Establish a Process: Develop a change readiness procedure to support planning, and to inform decisions about timing. A helpful model to follow when planning change is “pacing and spacing” — gauge the pace of the changes that are happening, as well as how to space them out properly to allow employees to adjust, adapt and prepare for the next change.
  • Utilize Communications Channels: Technology can significantly help facilitate openness and conversations among organizations. Whether it be through enabling anonymous feedback or Q&As during town halls, take advantage of technology to facilitate conversations among your team, and to understand what barriers are coming up so you can problem solve together. Build in checks and balances to ensure intention and execution align, and provide training and resources to help scale the intended approach.

They say less is more, but in change communications, repetition is key. The more a message is repeated, the better — a leader hasn’t communicated enough until they feel as though they’ve repeated themselves over and over again. 

Build back trust. 

Through the transition to remote work, which has resulted in less facetime and interaction with executives, the trust employees have in their employers has waned. Building back trust won’t happen overnight, but rather through a series of concerted efforts to prove to employees that you are hearing and validating their concerns, and translating them into actionable steps to move forward. Advice for leaders: listen first, make your intentions clear, and address concerns to ensure leadership and staff are in alignment before moving forward. 

Address the hard things at work.

It’s crucial to keep a finger on the pulse of how people are doing through change, not only at work but also in their life outside of working hours. Sometimes, response to change can manifest as feelings of grief, and these feelings need to be addressed head-on, even if the conversations are hard to have. As written by Kyle Cupp in a piece for USA Today, “You can’t keep grief out of the workplace. It will be shared. The alternative is to make a place for it.” Creating a safe space and, within it, opening dialogue for these kinds of conversations will normalize this vulnerability, and foster a sense of psychological safety among people across all levels of your organization. 

The success of an organization’s next change effort hinges on the mental health and wellbeing of its employees. From manager communications training and toolkits for manager development, to mock sessions and mental health training, there is a breadth of resources that organizations can and should be utilizing before initiating any big transformations. There will always be resistance, but cultivating readiness through a demonstrated commitment to prioritizing employees’ mental health and wellbeing goes a long way toward steering any change efforts, and in positively impacting company culture overall.