From management restructuring to new IT systems, every workplace is constantly changing. For employees who are going through change, it can be unsettling, but it doesn't have to be traumatic. Managers can help their staff by considering in advance how they might be affected, and then introducing a range of exercises and communication strategies to help them cope.
The Internet has made a major difference to most people's lives, yet few would consider that they have had to "cope" with the changes it has brought. Instead, for example, they now do their shopping in a new way that has saved them time and money. Managers should talk about workplace changes in the same way. Instead of a "major restructuring," for example, they can talk about "creating new teams, so that you can work with different people on exciting new projects."
A good exercise to get teams thinking about change in a positive way divides people into groups of four, sitting at tables with a selection of craft materials in the middle of each. Every person is asked to put his dominant hand behind his back. Then each group is given three minutes to work together to produce a poster (or other craft object), using only their weaker hands. The manager or facilitator can then lead a discussion about how staff members felt about working in this different way. Typically, employees who have done this exercise have emphasized that it was fun and required teamwork, and that they enjoyed keeping one another in line, reminding colleagues to keep their dominant hands behind their backs.
People feel uncomfortable with change usually because of a lack of knowledge and a lack of power. For major change projects, it's a good idea to hold regular, informal question-and-answer sessions in which staff can ask senior managers or project leaders about issues that are bothering them. If staff are nervous about asking questions, nominate a trusted, confident colleague, perhaps from HR, who will ask questions on behalf of staffers who wish to remain anonymous.
Change makes people stressed. One of the best ways of dealing with stress is to exercise, at least a little, several times a week. So a workplace that is going through a change program could help its employees by introducing some new exercise classes at lunchtime or after work. From relaxing yoga to pounding on a punchbag, employees can literally work out their change-induced stress.
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