Business change, Business transformation, Commercial strategy, Insights

Guide to employee engagement in change management

Employee engagement can play a pivotal role in the success of implementing organisation-wide change. By fostering employee engagement in the change management process, you can ensure that they are bought into the process and won’t act as blockers to success. This will help create a more positive and productive work environment for everyone involved.

Why employee engagement matters

Employee engagement is viewed as ‘very important’ to achieving overall organisational success, according to Harvard Business Review’s The Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance.

The same report found that a highly engaged workforce increases:

  • Innovation
  • Productivity
  • Bottom-line performance

On the other hand, employees who are not invested in change outcomes may express negative opinions about proposed business changes, which could have a domino effect and negatively influence other staff members.

The role of employees in change management is vital. So how do you keep employees engaged, motivated and happy, particularly during change?

role of employees in change management

How might change impact employee engagement?

Recognise that change can be unsettling for employees. According to a US study, workers going through change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress than employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change.

Individuals or groups may resist change. McKinsey estimates that “70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support”.

According to the CIPD, employee resistance typically stems from the content of change (such as new technology) or the change process (how change is introduced).

The CIPD notes that resistance isn’t necessarily negative but can act as the canary in the coal mine that prompts organisations to rethink initiatives and employee engagement.

How to communicate change to employees during times of change

Good communication with employees is vital during periods of change.

Tips include:

  • Explain the why – Link communications to the broader organisational vision. Explain why you’re making changes and the business benefits of the change.
  • Be clear – Explain employees’ new or modified responsibilities. Share timelines for change, and how and when you’ll communicate with employees.
  • What’s in it for me? – Let employees know how they will benefit from the change.
  • Be transparent – You won’t always have all the answers, but during periods of change, it pays to be open and honest. Let employees know it’s OK to ask questions, but be candid about what you do and don’t know.
  • Listen carefully – Hear employees’ concerns about changes and provide detailed responses, even if you don’t have all the answers.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – Keep communications channels open. In a hybrid environment, channels such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and company intranets can help keep communication channels open. However, watch out for rogue channels that spread dissent.
  • Workshops – Run workshops to inform staff about change and make them part of the process. Dialogue boosts engagement and may spark ideas leaders haven’t considered.

Quick wins – demonstrating early success to employees

Change, especially cultural change, can take months or years, and it can be hard to sustain optimism and enthusiasm.

It is helpful to generate short-term wins to keep the momentum going, such as:

  • Link changes to previous positive developments.
  • Implement ways of recognising employees that respond positively to the changes – it may be possible to engage them as champions within the organisation.
  • Identify small steps along the way and milestones you can celebrate.

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Tips for boosting employees’ resilience to change

Leading through change requires building resilience in your teams. Better resilience can also reduce stress in the workplace, improving well-being and promoting teamwork.

Workplace resilience is an employee’s ability to cope with diversity, which is essential to individual, team and organisational success.

Resilience protects your people from issues such as emotional exhaustion, psychological distress and burnout.

You can take a proactive change to increase resilience:

  • Encourage professional connectivity – Positive and healthy organisational relationships can boost resilience. Encourage leaders to connect about leading change programmes and provide space for employees to communicate during change.
  • Listen to your employees – Acknowledge that resilience levels, especially during transition, will vary by individual. Some employees may thrive on change, while others will find it unsettling.
  • Create an honest, positive and realistic vision – Help employees see the positive outcome of the change, which can reduce anxiety.

Learning and development to help employees cope with change

For those leading the change, you could consider training around guiding, supporting and motivating teams during a transition.

You could also provide information for staff on building resilience.

For example, you could run internal webinars and workshops for coping with change.

Read our guide on the benefits of using a management consultant.

Practical tips for driving organisational change

Change champions can help embed positive change across an organisation. They are employees that champion the change you want to see across your organisation. They don’t need to be change management specialists but people who know the business well.

They should be able to influence and empower people around them. They may be senior managers, middle management or frontline workers.

All champions should have a mindset for growth and the ability to lead.

You may wish to create a formal network of change champions.

Other tactics you could use include rewarding positive behaviours.

Where changes link to organisational strategies, vision, mission and values, there is potential to bake it into individual and team objectives.

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Payback for employee engagement

Employee engagement increases the chances that you will deploy change successfully.

Research by Gallup found that broader benefits of employee engagement include decreased absenteeism (down 81%), improved employee well-being and increased customer loyalty and engagement.

Consider engaging a change management consultant

Change can be disruptive – especially for senior leaders and HR managers tasked with implementing change.

Bringing in expert support and guidance through engaging a change management consultant can save time, unlock expertise and help cultivate an ‘outside in’ approach to change management.

Discover how our management consultant marketplace can help match your project with the ideal change management consultant.