Change can affect employees’ mental health

BILL HOWATT Published February 27, 2018 - in

When you hear the term “change management,” what thought comes to mind — positive or negative?

If you Google change management, you’ll find more than 70 million results — evidence that there are many points of view on this topic. The concept of change management originated from behavioural and social science, information technology and business. As a result, there’s no single, accepted best practice. Every organization is left to determine how it will implement change.

The reasons organizations make change vary from macroeconomics trends, new technology, competitive dynamics, operational inefficiency, financial issues and HR policies in response to new legislation. Most organizations are going through some form of change, whether minor, medium or major. It’s not unusual for an organization to have more than one change initiative happening at a time.

When done correctly, change management initiatives support employees to navigate change that directly impacts them. However, what’s often missing when implementing change is consideration for the impact on employees’ mental health.

Considerations when making change

Employers can consider several factors when designing a change management strategy, to reduce the risk pending change will have on employees’ mental health.

For your average employee, consider the relevance of each of the following change terms, on a continuum from: not at all relevant (1) to very relevant (5). The higher the score, the higher the probability change is having a negative impact on employees’ mental health.

Change confusion

A decree has been made that something will be changed, but it’s unclear what the specific changes are, who will be doing what, and how the change will impact employees. This can result in feelings of stress, fear and lack of clarity.

Change resistance

Change has been a constant over the past couple of years. While there have been lots of change announcements, due to lack of follow-through many employees have learned that often nothing happens. There’s lots of talk but no action. This results in feelings of sarcasm, apathy and ambivalence.

Change fatigue

Before one change is completed, another is announced. Each change creates additional work and demands for time and resources. Employees feel overwhelmed and trapped in a marathon with no clearly-defined time when change will slow down. This rapid change cycle increases employees’ risk for burnout and mental health issues.

Communicating a change alone is not change management. When done correctly, change management supports, influences and educates the workforce to move from one way of doing things to another. Some employees’ mental health can be negatively impacted when they’re not prepared to cope with pending change.

Some actions that can be layered into an organization’s change management strategy to reduce effects on employees’ mental health:

Clarify and define how the organization facilitates change

Educate the workforce on what change management means within the organization, and the specific change management steps. This can help employees be ready to cope with change. When on-boarding new hires, train them in the organization’s change management strategy and the tools that can help them move through change.

Avoid taking shortcuts

Treat change management initiatives like any structured process, to avoid shortcuts. Following a structured change management plan can ensure that proper communications are put in place to reduce employees’ ambivalence and questions. It’s important that employees are clear why the change is happening, what will be changed and how the change will be implemented.

provide employees an opportunity to offer feedback

Encourage feedback on what’s working and what’s not. This helps ensure that employees who have a need to share their opinions have a forum to do so. As well, it can provide information that uncovers blind spots to help the organization learn how to be more effective.

Monitor the amount of change happening

Consider how much change will be implemented at any one time. Any change may create some degree of stress within a workforce. Sometimes it’s the not the change but the degree of change happening all at once that can tax employees’ mental health. Considering employees’ mental health can influence decision-making and the pace of change that will be implemented.


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