A psychological contract represents the mutual beliefs, perceptions, and informal obligations between an employer and an employee. It sets the dynamics for the relationship and defines the detailed practicality of the work to be done. – Wikipedia
In my last post I explored how I am usually pro-change in my approach to work, and how, because of a restructure, I have become quite anti-change. While I was doing my Masters degree I read a research paper that said only 4% of corporate change management programs succeed. Or something like that. The point is: workplace change is difficult and this is because people and the F-word are involved. That’s right. Feelings.
People have feelings. They have feelings about the job they go to, the work they do, the organisation they work for, the people they work with, the customers and clients they have, and the intangibles like status, power and respect that make the job what it is. Most people invest emotionally while cashing that paycheck. I’m no different. I have emotions and feelings. And I have become difficult and prickly and unmanageable because how I felt about things was simply discounted, dismissed, or not even considered. Choosing to behave this way (and it is a conscious decision) is my way of controlling a situation that can only be understood in terms of loss.
The reason organisational change fails so often – despite all theoretical underpinnings, all the communication strategies and all the leaders in the organisation on-boarding – is that employee loss is either underplayed or completely ignored. Unless loss is understood and handled with empathy, and people’s feelings are accounted for sympathetically, employees will wrestle back control of their individual situation as best they can, by any means possible. That’s one thing in the change process that is absolutely certain. For example, an analysis of my own work situation shows that I have lost:
- a manager going into bat for me in terms of career progression
- projects I was going to be driving and be involved in
- my colleague and offsider
- my position, status and influence in the organisation
- my support network with an (impending) move to another floor
- autonomy and control of what I would be working on and with whom
- a work environment that was interested in me as a person and my well-being
- professional development activities that I would have been given the go ahead to undertake
- the ability to chart my own course, with support of management
- my additional duties allowance that signalled the work I was doing was valued and respected by the organisation.
Is it any wonder I am snarky and difficult and prickly, particularly when I was passed along (like a parcel) to a new manager who has displayed no empathy or understanding for the losses I (and other colleagues) have experienced in the past couple of months?
When people perceive no gains from a situation, they also believe they have nothing to lose. In their minds, they have already lost. The psychological contract has been broken. Why should an employee care about their work when the workplace cares not a jot for them? From my perspective, not one person who orchestrated this restructure bothered to say to me: how are you? How is this working for you? What can I do to make this easier for you? What can we keep to help make this transition smoother for you? Not one person.
And because I had nothing to lose (I’d already lost all the things I valued about my job, right?) I tried to wrestle back control of the situation. I transformed myself from a star performer into one disengaged, unmotivated, unhappy and unaccommodating worker. I was now controlling my situation by being uncontrollable. No more Ms Nice Gal. That strategy clearly wasn’t working for me any more.
One thing I would say to employers is: don’t employ smart people and then not expect them to be smart. Once it was clear to me that I was a loser in this restructure, I got strategic. And I got bolshy. I contacted the Union and I joined. I found out what my rights were, what I could and couldn’t do, and I got out my best weapon ever: the written word. I used words to document – on the record – that I was unhappy and the circumstances that brought on my unhappiness. I used words to tell what I would be doing in my job and why. I used words to show that I would not be pushed around. I used words to create buffer of control against the loss. And when it was appropriate, I used an absence of words: silence and delays. I was back in the game.
But it needn’t have been this way. This loss of productivity, and the stress and the angst could have been avoided completely. All my new manager had to was show me that he cared. That he understood what I was going through. And that he was there for me.
If you want your change program to be successful, show people you care. That’s it. It’s not that hard. Really. It’s not. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human.
But when you care, make it genuine. Do tangible things to demonstrate that you care. Ask how someone is. Listen to their response. Really listen. Acknowledge their pain, fear and loss. Their uncertainty. Then do something about it.
You’re the manager. You have the power. You can.
And if you can’t or won’t, then you shouldn’t be managing. It’s that simple.
People reading this will say: if you are that unhappy, why not just get another job? And my bolshie response is: why should I? I like the people I work with, the customers and clients I deal with, the location and (most of the time) the organisation for which I work and the job that I do. Why should I have to go?
Did this post resonate with you?
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