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13 Oct 2020
by Robert Ordever

How to support employees through sudden organisational change

Ordinarily, when leaders talk about organisational change, they’re referencing mergers, acquisitions and altered business models, such as moving from a shareholder-driven business to employee ownership. However, 2020 has distorted the rulebook. Organisational change in 2020 also means the catastrophic fallout from a global pandemic – lockdown, sudden homeworking and many businesses forced to pivot their operations overnight.


The business theory around managing organisational change isn’t quite as straight forward when the world is turned upside down! Here we outline how to support employees through change when it is frenetic, unpredictable and swiftly executed.

The state of 2020

The world is in turmoil with COVID-19 putting immense stresses on businesses. Suddenly, organisations have to enforce staff working from home amid heightened anxiety and uncertainty. It’s no surprise then that our 2021 Global Culture Report finds that 57% of businesses anticipate major changes to their culture as a result of the pandemic. In fact, COVID-19 has already caused an 11% drop in employee engagement and a 15% increase in burnout.

Supporting others through change

At times like these, employees look to their leaders for reassurance, and it’s vital that they step-up amid the chaos. Here are the best ways leaders can offer support at a time of sudden change:

Be transparent

Even when the truth is uncomfortable, leaders must find ways to reduce uncertainty and bring honesty into the workplace. Leaders who communicate decisions honestly, completely and proactively build trust and provide much craved reassurance. In fact, organisations that have increased transparency with employees since the start of the crisis have seen a 72% increase in employee satisfaction.

Show empathy

More than ever, leaders must try to understand individual circumstances. People are fighting private battles and what is supportive to one team member will be quite different to another, highlighting why it’s so important to get to know people on a personal level. Rallying the troops around sudden and dramatic change requires a lot of thought and compassion.

Prioritise connections

It’s crucial to connect people to the reasons for change and how it connects to purpose. It’s also key to connect people to each other. Change and uncertainty cause a lot more anxiety when individuals are sat working alone, and so building a support network will prove a lifeline for many. Time must also be put aside for one-to-ones that deliver mentorship and coaching; focus on concerns and wellbeing, and allow for listening, feedback and appreciation.

Give recognition

During times of sudden change (crisis even) it’s crucial that employees feel seen, valued and appreciated. In fact, recognition can directly impact how employees feel about, and respond to a crisis. Our 2021 Global Culture Report found that employees recognised in the previous seven days are 103% more likely to feel supported by their organisation.

Interestingly, the right level of support leaders need to provide during sudden, unexpected change, can only be delivered by modern leaders. Our latest Global Culture Report describes modern leaders as effective, progressive and emotionally intelligent who reject the traditional leadership model of commanding, evaluating and gatekeeping. And so, it’s only when leaders embrace humility and inclusivity and seek to become mentors, cheerleaders and collaborators, that will they be fully equipped to lead and support others during turbulent times.

The author is Robert Ordever, MD of workplace culture specialist, O.C. Tanner Europe.

This article is provided by O.C. Tanner Europe.

In partnership with O. C. Tanner

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