Engagement, Productivity at Risk for Employees Averse to Workplace Changes

By SHRM Online staff Apr 3, 2009

Nearly one-third of employees are not able to adapt to changes at work, according to recently released survey results by Right Management, a talent and career management consulting firm. The inability to adapt to workplace change can decrease employees’ level of engagement and effectiveness on the job as well as put organizational productivity at risk for many organizations.

In response to the question “Is your workforce able to adapt to change and increase their effectiveness on the job?” more than 100 senior human resource professionals from across North America said:

  • No, employee engagement and productivity are a major risk (31 percent).
  • Somewhat, our workforce gets the job done, but morale suffers (43 percent).
  • Yes, our workforce is very agile and responds to new challenges (26 percent).

“Addressing the challenges created by today’s tumultuous economy requires leaders to make a variety of difficult changes, from reductions in force to radical restructuring,” said Right Management President and Chief Operating Officer Douglas J. Matthews in a statement about the survey. “Our poll results demonstrate—with only one in four employees having the agility to adapt to change—most organizations don’t prepare their employees to handle changes at work. As a result, change management strategies tend to fail, undermining the organization’s ability to achieve the goals the change initiative was designed to produce.”

Matthews noted that the most common obstacles stem from a lack of planning, preparedness and skill in managing the change process.

“With careful planning and the support from top leaders, organizations can help their workforces adapt to change, maintain employee engagement and productivity, and accelerate performance to new heights.”

Failure to act can have severe consequences, said Matthews. “Productivity drops, service quality declines, unwanted turnover and absenteeism increases, customer loyalty wanes and often the organization’s brand reputation is tarnished. And all of that, of course, ultimately affects the bottom line.”

Matthews cautioned that most change management strategies tend to fail because of human nature.

“Most people have a hard time dealing with change. But, more than that, they lack the specific behavior traits needed to adapt easily to difficult changing circumstances. Assessment instruments can help to evaluate an individual’s propensity to deal with change. Coaching can help them to bridge to behaviors that reflect competence. Understanding and developing the behaviors that help individuals adapt and thrive during change will enable organizations to realize significant benefits and ensure the company’s continued success.”


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