Workplaces have changed a lot in the last decade, but in the last 2 years, the rate of that change has accelerated exponentially. In 2020, for example, we saw 10 years of technological change in just 10 months.
After all, we’re in the midst of an era of change in the workplace known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. New tools and methods are emerging (such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI)) that allow companies to make better products and services. The COVID-19 crisis has helped push this technological revolution forward and transformed the way we work. Although we were already heading toward a remote and digital-first workforce, the pandemic made it a necessity. As a result, the physical and digital realms have crossed over, creating new avenues for work and industry.
Employers have been forced to adapt to these changes in the workplace to survive—and we can be sure that more changes will come in 2022. So how can employers help employees continue to embrace change? How can they encourage employees to see change as a positive thing rather than just another workplace stressor?
How Does Change in the Workplace Affect Employees?
Employees have been swept into new ways of work and new ways of living all in the span of a few years. Keeping up with the continuous pace of change in the workplace can be overwhelming, from learning emerging technologies to adapting to new workflows.
Employees have to stay on top of the different learning tools available to them. Only a few years ago, training happened in discrete, in-person programs; now, training is online and almost constant. The expectation to “always be learning” is high. And with tools like AI and social learning platforms like Microsoft® Viva enabling it, endless training is possible. This also means endless changes in knowledge and education are possible.
In addition, the pandemic has brought new responsibilities to workers. They now have to understand and deal with a level of safety technology that they never contemplated before. They also have to navigate workplace challenges from outside the office. Remote working goes well for some, but even the most flexibility-loving employees will need to adapt to more advanced remote communication, including analytics tools and dashboards that keep track of business performance. In order to successfully collaborate with their teams, employees also must become experts in collaboration tools. Even conferences, which used to be a social highlight of the workplace calendar, are now populated by avatars and can be draining.
For some employees, keeping up with these kinds of changes in the workplace is easy. They embrace the unknowns of new technology and are excited about doing things differently. For others, adapting to change in the workplace is challenging. They might not fully understand the reason for the change and therefore resist it, seeing it as a disruption instead of a way to align operations with strategies, get to market quickly, or increase profitability.
How Can HR Leaders Help Employees Embrace Change?
To help employees embrace change, HR leaders will need to be patient and listen to their reasons for resistance. There might be all kinds of factors playing into employees’ opposition to change—fear of failure, exhaustion, limited resources, lack of trust in those around them, and lack of understanding, to name a few.
Here are some ways you can assuage these feelings and help your teams be more open to change in the workplace:
1. Show your team the way.
You can lead by example by working to fully understand changes in the workplace and then transparently communicating what you know. Try using simple change-management practices. For example, begin by discussing the reason for the change, provide a vision of the desired state, then brainstorm ways to get there together. This piece-by-piece change-management strategy should help employees become more open to change in the workplace because they are involved in the process.
2. Help employees see the big picture.
Sometimes, a lack of understanding surrounding the benefits of change causes employees to be hesitant, so help them see the reasons for change with an outside lens. Host a team exercise assessing external threats and opportunities by conducting a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOTs) analysis. SWOTs are not just leadership exercises; they can help individual contributors and teams come to the conclusion that change is needed on their own without leadership having to tell them.
3. Remember to celebrate.
Change can be tiring, and you need to stop along the way and remember why you’re doing it. Celebrating small wins can help employees stay motivated and keep them feeling optimistic about the process of change. Engage some cheerleaders by identifying people within the team who seem to be up for the challenge of rapid change; empower these people to motivate others to help the whole organization better adapt to change in the workplace.
4. Create a cross-functional change team.
Sometimes, HR leaders are unaware of the real changes that need to be implemented, and they require help from those in the trenches of the organization. By creating and nurturing a cross-functional team that advises leadership on opportunities for change, you can move quicker on change initiatives and assign the talent needed for a specific goal to be achieved. Moreover, employees will feel empowered by the trust being placed in them.
Change can be hard on an organization, even if your team feels ready for it. That’s why HR leaders need to learn to become change managers, helping their employees deal with and embrace change in the workplace. And remember, you’re not alone! If there’s anything constant in this crisis, it’s that we’re all changing.
Tania Fiero is the chief Human Resources officer at Innovative Employee Solutions (IES), a global employer of record in more than 150 countries that specializes in payrolling and contractor management services for today’s contingent workforce. Founded in 1974 in San Diego, IES has grown into one of the city’s largest women-owned businesses and has been named one of its “Best Places to Work” for 10 years in a row.