by Alvin Sim
My ex-classmate, Jason (not his real name)'s employer, a Fortune 500 IT multinational company, underwent transformation every 6 months. Although Jason survived the last restructuring exercise, he wasn't confident if he could make it in the next one. Jason’s supervisor encouraged him to look for a new job. The supervisor himself was also facing tough times ahead.
Besides verbal encouragement, what else can employers do to help employees cope with change?
Few years ago, I implemented a change management program with more than 60 affected rank-and-file staff in a shared service organization. A business unit was restructured and current jobs were re-designed. Affected employees went through customized On-the-Job Training (OJT) to help them perform in their new roles. We even invited an external speaker to share how she coped with transformation in her organization. Although some staff eventually resigned or opted for early retirement, most of them pressed on during the transformation journey.
However, not all employers are that supportive.
In one of the organizations I used to work for, employees resigned when their teams were scheduled for restructuring. Their work was redistributed to other teams despite the fact that most were not trained to do the work left behind by their ex-colleagues. Some may argue that experienced workers should have acquired enough resilience to overcome the steep learning curve as well as the sudden increase in workload. This is easier said than done. Since remaining employees were not trained to do the leftover work, they worked overtime to figure a way out and try to deliver some results. Unfortunately, one of the team members suffered a burnt out, sought medical help from Institute of Mental Health and then resigned. 3 months later, his supervisor and both his peers also left the organization. It was a waste of time, resources and effort.
This is not rocket science but in the context of Singapore where government grants are readily available to support lifelong learning, the best support an employer can give to help employees cope with business transformation is to give ample opportunities and time to acquire new skills before implementing change.