When a business undergoes significant changes, such as a merger, the team’s struggle to adapt can significantly impact their well-being.
Case in point—hundreds of Twitter (now X) employees quit when Elon Musk drastically changed the company culture, introducing the requirement to work long hours in highly intense circumstances.
Given that employees’ eagerness to support organizational changes has plummeted to 43% in 2022, in comparison to 76% in 2016, managers may have their work cut out for them when helping the teams deal with new circumstances and avoiding talent loss.
“While we may recognize the long-term benefits of change, the immediate impact on employees can often be overwhelming, sending ripples across their mental well-being. Employee well-being is like a puzzle with various influencing pieces,” Ieva Vaitkeviciute, a psychologist, co-founder and CEO of Mindletic, a mental health startup, says.
“To truly grasp how the corporate environment, a single piece of this puzzle, shapes well-being, we must see the whole picture, i.e., the predominant factors impacting our collective well-being—for instance, the rising cost of living, war in Ukraine, unstable political system, climate crisis, and uncertainty about AI.”
Stages of adaptation
According to Vaitkeviciute, adaptation to change within a business typically follows a curve that begins with shock and concludes with integration.
At the start of the curve, it may be difficult for employees to envision the future or see how they’ll fit within the changed situation. For some, this may lead to feelings of fear, shock, and/or anxiety.
Others may feel a sense of relief that something will change, while some may exhibit denial, behaving as though the change hasn’t occurred—this is a coping strategy often likened to the “head in the sand” syndrome. Others might feel a sense of frustration, questioning the “new” organization’s values, beliefs, and goals.
“We should aim to guide everyone through each stage, culminating in the final phase: integration. This phase signifies the moment when individuals begin to regain their sense of control. During this phase, they start to feel more at ease and exhibit increased activity and efficiency,” Vaitkeviciute said.
Helping the team to ride out the change curve
The manager’s goal throughout the changes is to have constant conversations with the team and communicate with colleagues as effectively as possible. Vaitkeviciute suggests managers take the “Inform, Connect, Guide, Unite” approach for this.
“Managers should share what they know instead of waiting for perfect news. Honesty is critical. Even if there’s not much to share, communicating that fact is important. When people don’t know what’s coming, their minds are compelled to fill in the blanks, often fearing the worst or making decisions without information,” the psychologist shared.
“People need to feel a personal and authentic connection with managers. So they are seen as a credible source of reassurance if they reach out to their people and foster warmth and support, or share their own experiences. It’s helpful for managers to admit that they are, too, affected.”
Focusing on concrete steps around which the whole team can align instead of getting back to business as usual is another crucial step. People may not be ready to discuss long-term visions if they are bracing for more bad news or recovering from previous news.
At the same time, employees need to rally behind the things that bind them together. Managers therefore can pull people closer by reinforcing what makes them a unique group, celebrating the team, and reminding them of their successes.
Vaitkeviciute also offers to make certain adjustments at work to ease people into the transitional period: enforcing a flexible approach to business hours, giving additional time off and more frequent and longer breaks, reducing the workload, and helping the team to prioritize tasks.
Managers can also increase one-on-one support and provide constructive criticism, create opportunities for training, offer coaching, enroll people into a mentorship program, or suggest counseling or therapy if they think the team would benefit from this.