[su_pullquote align=”right”]By Secil Bayraktar[/su_pullquote]
Based on the article “How Leaders Cultivate Support for Change: Resource Creation through Justice and Job Security” – Published in Journal of Applied Behavioral Science in 2018.
Change is inevitable in the agenda of the 21st century. Consequently, organizations must adapt to the rapidly shifting business contexts through ongoing reorganizational practices to increase their effectiveness and stay competitive in the market. In this context, employees’ behavioral support is crucial for the success of change initiatives since it facilitates reaching strategic change objectives. On the other hand, lack of employee support usually is associated with failed change efforts.
Helping employees deal with the stress of change
Unsurprisingly, leaders have an essential role in creating behavioral support for change. Compared to senior managers, the immediate supervisors are more influential on employee attitudes and behavior during change since they have more direct contact with their team members. Research shows that the quality of the relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate influences employees’ behavioral support during organizational change.
Change is a stressful experience for employees. Many employees are unwilling to support the change because of feelings of anxiety, negative emotions, and uncertainty. In that context, employees need more resources than during stable times to cope with this stressful event, reduce strain, and increase positive reactions such as support for change. Moreover, during an organizational change, employees already face loss in their resources (e.g. increased workload, change of positions, or losing good coworker relationships) which in turn increases their stress and may lead to change-resistant behaviors. Under such circumstances, receiving sufficient resources from the supervisors is expected to help to reduce the stress, cope with change with more resources, and hence be more positive towards the change.
Two key resources to obtain employee support
In my recent study, I found that two resources, namely perceptions of procedural justice and job security, help employees to cope with the stress and uncertainty of the changing situation, to overcome their challenges, and subsequently to display supportive behaviors. Moreover, I found that leaders have a crucial role in building up such resources by establishing high-quality supervisor-subordinate relationships. These two types of resources are especially crucial during organizational change periods (i.e. context of uncertainty). First employees become more sensitive to justice related acts and fairness becomes particularly critical when a high level of uncertainty is experienced. Secondly, during change periods, substantial concerns about job insecurity persevere among employees.
The importance of justice and fairness
Leaders and their attitudes and behaviors are an important source of justice perceptions in the workplace. Employees who are treated in a fair manner tend to reciprocate by their favorable attitudes and behavior. When their leaders use fair procedures in allocating outcomes, their team members become more supportive of their goals and act in more cooperative ways. Procedural justice becomes even a more crucial resource under uncertain situations like change because employees are more sensitive to justice in the decision-making procedures and they expect more constantly applied, bias-free and ethical decisions in order to support the change. Moreover, fairness makes employees feel as valued members of the organization.
Value of clear communication throughout change process has been confirmed to increase the perception of fairness. In addition, managers also need to make sure that employee concerns are heard before making decisions. These decisions should be applied consistently across all affected employees, additional information should be provided about decisions when requested, and employees should be allowed to challenge the choices made by managers.
Make your employees feel safe
The second resource that leaders can generate is the perception of job security. Job insecurity refers to a sense of powerlessness and a subjectively perceived likelihood of involuntary job loss. Especially during an organizational change, job insecurity may constitute an important variable that is negatively related to behavioral support for change. On the other hand, when employees are equipped with the valuable resource of employment (i.e. perceptions of job security), they will be less likely to withdraw from their work, identify more with corporate objectives without the anxiety of a possible job loss, feel more powerful and acquire predictability over their future jobs. Consequently, they will be less likely to display change resistant behaviors and be more supportive.
Leaders are found to be influential in this subjective appraisal: high-quality relationships with the leader involving open communication, empowerment, support, assurance, and trust may play a role in increasing the controllability, predictability, and perceptions of security. In addition, individuals who have high quality relationships with their supervisors may receive updated and transparent information about the ongoing changes and may feel more certain as to whether they will keep their jobs. Such high-quality relationships with the supervisor may create a supportive workplace which makes the employees feel less threatened by the uncertainty. For those reasons, leaders provide an important job resource for employees to reduce the threat to their future jobs, which in turn leads to better coping with the uncertainty of change.
Transparency is key
On the other hand, there may be times in which managers may not guarantee job security in the future. Some types of changes (e.g. restructuring, downsizing, mergers) by their nature involve the reality that some people will lose their jobs, by either being laid off or being reassigned to new positions. Even in such cases, it is crucial that managers act transparent and do not lie and demolish trust. Moreover, when job elimination may be a reality, managers can use certain levers to reduce the adverse effects of such an environment by, for example, discussing the personal situation of each employee and planning the steps ahead with them. Although the current environment may not promise job security, organizations may offer re-employment counseling or outplacement assistance services to dismissed employees to increase their likelihood of future employability.
Given the significance of organizational change in today’s business context, it is vital to understand how to successfully manage change. Managers who want to increase their employees’ behavioral support for change need to consider providing them with certain resources to help them cope with change. This study demonstrates the positive role that leaders can play in the success of change initiatives by providing the right set of resources that employees need during the organizational change process. Justice and job security are two of these critical resources. Therefore, it is suggested that managers create the perception that processes are conducted in a fair manner and that the employees feel secure about their jobs. In other words, a climate of justice and security would help employees to be more supportive and thus less resistant to ongoing changes.
In this study, a survey was conducted with 269 employees and their supervisors from 30 organizations going through a significant change process. Examples of types of changes that the organizations were going through included mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, downsizing, CEO change, sector change, ERP system change, new markets, and new processes. All organizations were private companies in a variety of industries, including electronics, information technologies, food, finance, health, logistics, manufacturing, and media. The majority of the organizations were mid-sized firms in Turkey.