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Most employees say their leaders lack empathy in addressing resistance to change

Emma Williamson - Oak Engage

A survey of more than 1,000 employees* has revealed that three quarters (74%) of employees say their leaders need to be doing more to understand why people are resistant to change and of those, over half (55%) said it would improve staff retention. Forty five percent also said it would make people more productive.

The survey shows that lack of support from or trust in leaders (41%), lack of awareness about the reason for change (38%), change in job role (27%) and exclusion from change-related decisions (23%) are the main reasons that would make people resistant to change.

The survey also found that almost a third (29%) of employees say their place of work does not communicate change clearly and that 18% of employees admitted that if a big organisational change happened at their workplace, they would consider leaving their job.

As we enter another year of significant change, it continues to be a challenge to engage and communicate with employees.**

1. Be consistent
It’s important to remain consistent in your messaging when communicating change at work so that employees feel at ease. The report found that nearly a third of employees think change wasn’t communicated clearly in their organisation. Confusing, unaligned and inconsistent messaging is a recipe for change failures.

Hilary Scarlett, consultant and author of Neuroscience for Organisational Change said: “There are various reasons why our brains tend to find organisational change difficult. Change often takes away some of the things that our brains crave. For example, brains like habits because they feel less stressful and less effortful but change means we are going to have to do things differently. Our brains are ‘prediction machines’: they want to know what is coming up so that they can better protect us. Change takes away this ability for our brains to predict.”

2. Be human
You need to be able to reach employees on a human level, which can be difficult in a hybrid or completely remote working environment.

Will Murray, CEO at Oak Engage said:  “Regular consultations with staff will encourage participation and make them feel like their opinions are valued. Try methods like face-to-face meetings and listening/Q&A sessions.

Hilary added: “Human beings are deeply social creatures. This is an area many organisations underestimate – our need for social connection. Feeling that we belong, that our manager is interested in us, that we have someone who will listen to us at work makes a big difference to our resilience, our staying power and ability to think. There is nothing soft about social connection – research studies show it has a big impact on performance.”

3. Be prepared
You need to engage leaders and line managers. Without line managers and leaders’ support, communicating change will be sure to fail. Engage them early and often and make sure they are fully briefed. Use methods such as  FAQs and include three clear and concise key messages.

Hilary comments: “Good communication during change is essential. Managers are often in the tricky position of being expected to lead their teams without perhaps being part of the decision-making. Providing information is important – brains respond to information in much the same way they do to food. Brains crave certainty: if the organisation does not provide enough information, then people speculate and try to fill the void, trying to create their own certainty. We can waste lots of time and energy trying to fill that information gap – just when we need to spend our energy on learning and adapting.”

4. Make sure leaders are coached and supported
Advise and educate your leaders on what is happening. It’s really important for them to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, the impact of change and how people’s brains work. Make sure your leaders are equipped with everything they need when communicating with your people and make sure they set expectations about failure, mistakes and uncertainty.

Hilary said: “Creating certainty where you can for employees is really helpful. As leaders or managers we might not be able to provide certainty about the bigger picture or the longer term, but we can aim to provide certainty in smaller ways, for example, guaranteeing to communicate on a certain day each week what we do and don’t know; if we are inviting people to a meeting, we should send an agenda so that they know what to expect – these small things can help settle the brain and help us to focus during times of change.”

Will Murray, CEO at Oak Engage said: “Organisational change takes many forms. Whether structural, process-driven, technological or otherwise, they have one significant thing in common; only people can deliver change successfully.”

“Through our research, we wanted to highlight the importance of understanding how people react differently to change and the need for business leaders to engage with their people on a human level.”

“Oak gives you the tools to support you through the change, reinforce the message and also help make it easier to create a culture of inclusivity, recognition and positivity.”

*Research from Oak Engage

**Guide provided by Oak Engage and Hilary Scarlett, author of Neuroscience for Organisational Change

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