Mental wellbeing: how HR can help staff manage change

Published 16th June 2018 by Investors In People

What do we mean by change?

Our lives change all the time. Some change we can deal with and some we can’t. The bus is delayed: we get frustrated, but it doesn’t affect our mental wellbeing, because we know what’s going to happen. Either it’ll turn up soon or we’ll get the one after. There’s no uncertainty.

This is the key difference between change that affects us mentally and change that doesn’t. And it’s a scale too: the greater the uncertainty, the greater the potential effect on our mental wellbeing. That’s why organisational restructuring affects people so much: people aren’t sure if they’ll even have a job at the end.

7 actions HR can take to help staff cope with change

Coach people to tease out individual requirements and action

People respond to change differently and some types of change affect some people more than others. Responding to change in a positive way is driven by who we are as individuals, making one-size-fits-all policies and interventions less effective. Coaching helps people get to the bottom of what they need to better respond to change.

When faced with things we can’t control, we often redouble our efforts to take control, which leads to frustration and self-doubt.

Make mindfulness more accessible

Mindfulness isn’t a silver bullet for the mental distress that comes from uncertainty but it can help people better cope with the natural reactions in their brain and organise and understand their feelings.

HR should provide different mindfulness tools, as one approach or framework (such as using an app) won’t work for everyone. The success of mindfulness initiatives comes down to how accessible they are.

Communicate to a schedule at all times

Organisational change often has a ‘double whammy’ impact on people: the uncertainty inherent in the change and the uncertainty that comes from not knowing when new developments will be communicated.

HR can alleviate some of this uncertainty by being very clear when new communications will go out and sticking to this schedule. Even when there’s nothing pertinent to communicate, employees will nonetheless appreciate a touchpoint.

Help individuals work with their brain chemistry

When faced with change and uncertainty, people naturally gravitate to habits and routines they know, because they’re safe. However, this gives the brain extra room for rumination, which is not a good idea when we’re facing uncertainty.

By educating employees on the importance of things like exercise (to release endorphins to counteract rumination), you help them avoid and respond to the negative habits humans get into when faced with change.

Give them the freedom to mould their work experience

Many employees work flexibly to some extent, but during periods of change, their needs differ and what used to be flexible may become rigid. A sick child, for example, could render any normal schedule untenable.

From flexible working to job crafting, HR should be ready to empower employees to re-imagine their working schedule to maintain productivity while prioritising wellbeing, to avoid potential problems like burnout in the face of change.

Help staff see what they can control – and act on it

When faced with things we can’t control, we often redouble our efforts to take control, which leads to frustration and self-doubt. HR can help individuals better understand what they can and can’t control, so not only are their efforts focused on things that will make a difference, but they aren’t wasting energy.

When redundancies loom, for example, HR can help people focus on improving work-life balance or improving their skills so that if the worst happens they are in a better place.

Many employees work flexibly to some extent, but during periods of change, their needs differ and what used to be flexible may become rigid.

Create open dialogues about how people may feel

Much has been written about the change curve – the stages people go through when faced with change. Although there’s evidence questioning its validity, it encourages people to be self-reflective, which is a good thing. When facing organisational change, people will respond with a range of different emotions, all of which are valid, and it’s HR job to normalise every type of reaction rather than restrict the range of acceptability.

Creating open dialogue helps people move past the more negative stages, such as resistance, in order to better accept the change and create a path for moving forwards.