Kip Soteres

Mitigating Workplace Stress During Times of Company Change

Workplace stress can be a challenge at any organization, but it really comes in full force when companies introduce change — even if the change is a positive one like new facilities, volume promotions or increased hiring.

The American Psychological Association reports that 50 percent of American workers have either been or will soon be affected by organizational changes. According to the same study, employees in the midst of large-scale changes are more than twice as likely to notify leadership that they’re facing chronic work stress and four times as likely to report physical health problems in the workplace.

Workplace stress can affect every area of a business, and leaving it unaddressed could mean setbacks for your company’s productivity, engagement and retention. Since every situation is different, handling an overstressed workforce can take some creative thinking, but these four suggestions are a great place for any business to start.

1. Improve Communication

Minimizing stress is so much easier when communication becomes a priority. Start by presenting one cohesive, overarching narrative for employees that directly explains which changes are happening within the organization and why. One-off projects can start to feel directionless and chaotic, so go for the bigger picture. Don’t just address the initiative of the week, but create context when you communicate so employees can anticipate what’s coming next.

Once you’ve said your piece, see how employees feel. Listening to and acting on employee feedback reduces stress, since employees get to have a voice in the outcome of whatever the organizational change will ultimately look like. Work with managers to act as a communication channel to reach employees with important messages, and empower them to implement employee comments and address side effects of the change, including workplace stress.

2. Implement Cross-Functional, Cross-Initiative Planning

Watch out for initiative overload. Do you have a single map of every major initiative you have planned for the next six to 12 months, or are siloed teams overseeing individual projects without much awareness of other activity going on around them?

Even the best-planned effort can get swamped if other large-scale projects start happening at the same time. From the outside, poor planning can give the impression that new changes are arbitrary and chaotic. Make sure to schedule your initiatives in advance and promote communication between teams and task forces.

3. Develop Positive Leadership Behaviors

Waiting for a big celebration at the end of a major change is like placing a 50-gallon water tank at the end of a marathon, so celebrate early and often. Plan small, sustained celebrations and checkpoints throughout the process. When you celebrate smaller milestones, you create momentum and open up new opportunities for employees to relieve stress in a positive environment.

On the other side of the coin, don’t overreact to initial resistance. Workplace stress makes it harder for employees to bring their best selves to work, so when employees indicate their dissatisfaction, the best approach is de-escalation. The specifics of how you accomplish that might differ depending on the situation, but staying calm and professional when reacting to negative feedback will almost always be more effective than matching emotions with upset employees.

4. Offer Resilience Training

With resilience training, you can help frontline managers and employees manage stress by teaching them to recognize the signs of stress in others and develop ways to cope with it themselves. Share tips like ones from the Center for Creative Leadership to support employees struggling to accept change or feel in control.

Let these suggestions give your organization the push it needs to learn how to manage stress during times of change. When you effectively address stress at work, you help maintain a healthy workplace and differentiate your company from others that are wrestling perhaps less effectively with the same issues. Acting as a resource for employees who are struggling to face workplace stress isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also a way to cement your business as a place that supports its workforce no matter what changes it undergoes.

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