High-Level Changes at Work Tied to Workers' Stress, Intent to Quit

Half of American workers report being affected by upper management organizational changes within the past year or say they expect to be soon, according to the 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey released by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The survey findings show that employees affected by these work-related changes are more likely to report chronic work stress, experience physical health symptoms at work, and say they plan to quit within the next year. They are also less likely to trust their employer compared with those who haven’t been affected by organizational change.

“Change is inevitable in organizations, and when it happens, leadership often underestimates the impact those changes have on employees,” said David W. Ballard, Psy.D., M.B.A., head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

“If they damage their relationship with employees, ratchet up stress levels, and create a climate of negativity and cynicism in the process, managers can wind up undermining the very change efforts they’re trying to promote.”

The survey involved more than 1,500 U.S. adults who were employed full time, part time, or self-employed.

Underlying employee reactions to organizational change may be their perceptions of the motivation behind those changes and the likelihood of success, according to the survey.

For example, nearly a third of workers said they were cynical when it comes to changes, reporting that they believed management had a hidden agenda (29 percent), that their motives and intentions were different from what they said (31 percent), and that they tried to cover up the real reasons for the changes (28 percent).

Surveyed employees also appear skeptical regarding the outcomes of organizational changes. Only four in 10 employees (43 percent) had confidence that changes would have the desired effects and almost three in 10 doubted that changes would work as intended and achieve their goals (28 percent each).

In addition, employees who had experienced recent or current changes were more likely to report work-life conflict (39 percent vs. 12 percent for job interfering with non-work responsibilities and 32 percent vs. seven percent for home and family responsibilities interfering with work).

They were also more likely to feel cynical and negative toward others during the workday (35 percent vs. 11 percent) and to eat or smoke more during the workday than outside of work (29 percent vs. eight percent).

Working Americans who reported recent or current change were almost three times more likely to say they don’t trust their employer (34 percent vs. 12 percent) and more than three times as likely to say they intend to seek employment outside the organization within the next year (46 percent vs. 15 percent) compared with those with no recent, current, or anticipated change.

“For organizations to successfully navigate turbulent times, they need resilient employees who can adapt to change,” Ballard said.

“Disillusioned workers who are frustrated with change efforts, however, may begin to question leaders’ motives and resist further changes. To build trust and engagement, employers need to focus on building a psychologically healthy workplace where employees are actively involved in shaping the future and confident in their ability to succeed.”

Source: American Psychological Association