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Does change have to be stressful?

As digital transformation communication specialists, we know all about organisational change. We know that change can be tough, and for some it can be a source of stress. But does it have to be?

With April being Stress Awareness Month, there is no better time to think about the ways in which change in the workplace can leave us feeling overwhelmed, out of control and fatigued, and what we can do to prevent this.

After a year like no other involving three on and off national lockdowns in the UK, we are all familiar with the feeling of stress related to change. Psychologists believe that despite having the skills to adapt, humans are hardwired to fear uncertainty and unknown outcomes. This is why we often resist change.

While change and development are vital processes for organisations, they can’t happen at the sake of employee wellbeing. Without offering the right guidance you can ask too much of your employees.


So how can you address change-related stress in the workplace? We have broken this down into three steps: recognition, management and support.

Step one: Recognising change-related stress

According to HSE, the most common signs of stress are irritability, being withdrawn and unmotivated, and experiencing a loss of confidence. If your organisation is undergoing structural, organisational, or digital change, you may observe some of these signs in your employees.

One of the easiest ways to gauge employee wellbeing is by creating a culture of conversation. Ask your employees a simple ‘how are you?’. You may be surprised by how many people will answer honestly and express their stress, uncertainty, or worries to you.

We also recommend more structured ways of monitoring employee stress. This includes formal 1:1 mental health check-ins, set mental health consultation hours with qualified individuals, or a feedback app within your employee portal which can be used to comment on their work life at present.

Not everyone will be vocal about their struggles, so you should also remember to look for non-verbal cues. Watch out for individuals appearing tense, worried, fidgety, or simply less like themselves, during the workday.

Showing these leadership and communication skills can give your employees more faith in the organisation. It can help you achieve higher employee satisfaction and engagement, and ultimately higher staff retention. It’s a win-win.

Step two: Managing to mitigate stress

Effective management is the key to mitigating change-related stress in the workplace.

Before embarking on a change project, you need to think about whether you have the resources, whether your employees are prepared, and how you can ensure a positive outcome for the organisation.


In his book The 5 Forces of Change, Anthony Greenfield explains that resistance to change happens due to our need for:

  • Certainty

  • Purpose

  • Control

  • Connection

  • Success

(This is a great read: Anthony Garfield, 2008, The 5 Forces of Change: A Blueprint for Leading Successful Change)


Focusing on these key areas when implementing change can help you mitigate change-related stress. Give your employees certainty and stability by using storytelling to explain the change project. Offer them the why, the reason for the workplace change.

Ensure your employees feel a sense of purpose by explaining their role within your plans. Put your employees in control and help them feel a connection to the project by updating them along the decision-making and change implementation process.

In doing so, help your employees achieve success in their work, and your organisation achieve success in adoption of the change project. And celebrate those successes together as a team.

This model is just one way to approach change management, but using these five elements, you can avoid change resistance and change-related stress through great management.

Step three: Supporting overwhelmed employees


Despite trying to reduce stress through great management and looking out for early warning signs, you may not be able to reduce change-related stress or chances of burn-out for every employee.


Through speaking directly with employees at 1:1 check-ins, or through offering mental health services, you can identify key areas of concern which can be addressed on an organisational level.

You should always offer help which will develop employees professionally, and can reduce the change-related stress directly. Reduce their workload for a few days by taking it back to basics. Set up software training sessions, digital transformation workshops, or create helpful guides for email distribution.

You may also want to tap into more general wellbeing strategies: setting firm working hour limits, creating a company culture of work-life balance and boundaries, or offering mental health days to allow employees to recharge. It’s all about making your employees feel supported and understood in ways that feel authentic.

To sum up

A clear and concise change communications strategy can help you understand some of the stressors of a change project and give you and your managers the tools to manage these accordingly.

Think about The 5 Forces of Change, and how you can meet the psychological needs of your employees through focusing on areas such as certainty, purpose, control, connection and success.

With the rest of your available resources work on strategies to recognise stress. Invest time in 1:1 check-ins, mental health consultations, or anonymous feedback platforms for your employees.

And above all else, talk to your people. You're all in this together, show you care and understand what they are going through.

Having trouble communicating your digital transformation? Are your employees feeling stressed out by the change?


Here at Inside Out Communications Consulting we specialise in communicating big digital change projects in a manageable way. Let’s talk hello@insideoutconsulting.co.uk

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