Supporting and Involving Employees during Change At Work

14 Sep ‘23
5 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Paul Hessels
Embracing Change and Overcoming Challenges
Change is uncomfortable, yet inevitable. That is why it is important to learn to embrace that discomfort. Because there is one constant in life and that is that everything is always changing, according to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Psychologist Paul Hessels explains how to support employees with change in the workplace.


Gartner research shows that almost three quarters of employees get stressed by change. This high number shows how its time to make change more bearable, or rather, fun and challenging.

In this article, we’ll explore:


  • Why employees should be part of change
  • How change affects us, both positively and negatively
  • How to involve employees in a change process
  • Why employees should be part of change

Why employees should be part of change


Gartner spoke to over 6,500 employees and 100 CHROs for their research and found that the most successful organisations give their staff the lead role in managing change at work. That’s right, not senior management or executives, but people in operations.


Employees simply do not want to be in the back seat of the car that drives change, writes the research and consulting firm, because organisations that go give their staff ownership in leading change are 14 times more likely to succeed and grow. 


From a psychological perspective, this is not surprising. “When people are involved in a change, it gives them a sense of control,” says Paul Hessels. And that is comforting, especially in uncertain or chaotic times. 


“In addition, people feel ‘ownership‘ when they are more involved. They become part of the process, which creates more intrinsic motivation,” adds the psychologist.


But unfortunately, despite the benefits, 80 per cent of companies still maintain a top-down approach when leading internal change processes. As a result, they innovate less (quickly), growth lags, and employees feel less well and seen.


How change affects us positively and negatively


Before we move on, it is important to understand how change affects us as individuals. Because depending on the type of change and the person in question, it can be either positive and negative.


“The nature of the change does not directly say anything about its effect. For example, a setback which is mostly seen as a negative, such as a break-up, can give you new insights that help you approach things differently,” Paul explains. “And a typical ‘good change’, such as a promotion at work, can keep you from making that career switch and doing what you really want to do.”


This means that the nature of the change isn’t the only deciding factor on the feeling outcome. What matters is how you handle this as a person. How quickly do you adapt to the new situation? And to what extent do you see the change as an opportunity or a setback?

“Growth and comfort do not co-exist.” 


– Ginni Rometty

Change always forces us to adapt. “And the more you do it, the better you get at it,” says Paul. “Change challenges us to be flexible, which is an important part of positive mental well-being and greater satisfaction in life.”


The negative consequences of change 


But too much change (or not knowing how to deal with change) can lead to mental stress. After all, change brings risks and uncertainty. 


Paul: “Our brain is risk-averse by nature. So in times of change, it starts looking for answers: How do I deal with this? What are the consequences? What are my options? Such thoughts are a survival mechanism of our brain, but the result is that we fret, lie awake at night and become exhausted as a result.”


Change takes energy. Energy that a person desperately needs to work their way through uncertain times. This makes it crucial for organisation not only to support employees in the change, but also to involve them throughout the process. Especially in a fast-paced working environment where employees are already under pressure and changes often come in rapid succession.


💡 Also interesting: How change affects your employees, and what you can do about it


How do you involve employees in a change process?


Change is scary and uncertain, but also challenging and full of opportunities for growth and development. How do you make sure there is room in the organisation for all those feelings? And how do you involve employees in the process?

Below, Paul shares tips to focus on as an HR department or manager:


  1. Acknowledge all feelings, including those of uncertainty and fear
  2. Do it together, ask employees for their input
  3. Designate a central point of contact, such as a change manager
  4. Create a culture of failure and learning, keeping psychological safety at the forefront

“Change challenges us to become more flexible. 

It makes us more resilient and increases satisfaction.”


– Paul Hessels


1. Acknowledge all feelings


Everyone experiences change differently. Acknowledging this and making room for all feelings is step one. Talking about it creates safety; and employees feel seen and heard.


Gartner research also highlights the above. The best way to manage change and reduce uncertainty and fatigue is to focus on how employees experience the change (rather than just its outcomes).


“Sometimes management tends to focus immediately on all the opportunities the new situation brings, but it helps to first acknowledge that this change can also make individuals feel anxious, uncertain, or chaotic. And that these feelings are valid and can be there,” adds Paul.


If you know how people are feeling and what the trend is in the workplace, you can take the right steps together to manage the change process more effectively.


2. Do it together


“Get employees’ input to give a sense of ownership and control,” Paul stresses. Involve employees in choices and decision-making and then also show them that this input is used.


Open-source change, Gartner calls it. Such an approach creates transparency and removes feelings of uncertainty and anxiety among employees.


For example, create select groups of employees from every layer of the organisation. The group forms the bridge to the rest of the organisation. This allows you the organisation to pick up ideas, questions and stories without having to involve each employee individually. 

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3. Appoint a central point of contact


Make sure there is a central point of contact people can turn to at any time with questions or uncertainties, such as a change manager.


This lowers the threshold for people to express feelings and concerns. It creates trust and clarity for employees and, at the same time, is a great way to find out what is going on internally.


4. Create a culture of failure and learning


A corporate culture where it is okay to fail, and where mistakes are seen as opportunities makes it easier for employees to deal with change. It removes uncertainties because the situation is seen as a learning process.


Fostering a growth mindset is a big part of this. How can you promote this as a leader or manager?


  • In (individual) meetings, emphasise growth and learning moments, rather than the consequences of mistakes.
  • Make ‘yet’ part of the company’s vocabulary: “I can’t do this yet”.
  • Turn big goals into small, comprehensive goals or steps. Each small achievement or victory boosts one’s self-confidence and can be a cause for celebration. 
  • Normalise giving feedback, and make it part of the culture. Constructive feedback is indispensable for growth, but is still often seen as scary. For example, start by providing training on giving and receiving feedback and encourage people to exchange feedback on a weekly basis. 


Such a corporate culture hinges on a psychologically safe working environment. Psychological safety is the confidence that it is safe to take interpersonal risks. Or in other words; that you can confidently come up with ideas, ask questions, voice your concerns, or make mistakes without being constantly reprimanded.


This is essential for employees’ job performance, job happiness and mental well-being.


More on creating psychological safety at work: How to Identify Psychological Safety in the Workplace (or a Lack of It)


OpenUp supports companies in creating a psychologically safe working environment; by supporting employees with challenges, thoughts and emotions, both in personal life and at work. 

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