4 Ways Business Leaders Can Support Workers in Times of Uncertainty

As much as we hate to admit it, we don’t always like change. However, the desire to run from change and uncertainty can cause extreme difficulties for leaders; especially when managing their teams through times of workforce transformation. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizational change has been increasingly common. According to a 2021 Gartner Hybrid Work Employee Survey, 54% of HR leaders say that their employees are fatigued from all of the changes they have experienced. With the use of new technologies, adjustments in workplace structures, and safety initiatives, it is understandable that employees have been experiencing adverse effects on their mental health. 

On the Survive and Thrive podcast, leaders discuss successful management strategies to manage change in the workplace. To avoid common complications associated with change, implementing supportive leadership methods can promote a positive workplace culture and be beneficial to your team’s success. 

Here are 4 focus areas for leading and supporting your workers to thrive through times of change and uncertainty.

1. Provide Training and Preparation 

If there is one thing people don’t like about surprises, it is the lack of warning. Without proper notice, people cannot prepare for changes to come, making changes all the more jarring when they occur. 

To ensure a smooth transition, you should aim to inform your staff members of changes in advance, providing them with enough time to make necessary arrangements and preparations to allow them to be more receptive to work adjustments. 

As you inform them of future changes, your announcement should include information that reflects their concerns and interests. If you’d like to know more about how to set up the right messages for the right audience in your workplace, check out our guide on the 8 Tenets of Successful Change Management.  

The best way to support your team in preparing for change should depend on the type of work adjustment that will take place and how it could affect them. For example, implementing new technology and digital assets may require skills that your team doesn’t have. Therefore, providing training on the new software can prepare them for its introduction and help them feel more confident. 

Preparation through training can also support your team’s employee retention. According to a 2020 LinkedIn Learning Report, 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development.  

Of course there are times when change happens quickly and there is no time to get ahead and prepare. In this case, acknowledging what you know, your objectives for navigating the uncertain environment and your immediate planned actions foster trust by building peace of mind. 

By supporting the development and preparation of your team as much as possible, they can feel more comfortable working within your team throughout times of change.

2. Support Psychological Safety with a Positive Team Climate 

Adjusting to the new normal over the past couple of years has taken its toll on the mental health of workforce members. According to a survey by meQuilibrium, between December 2020 and July 2021, employees reported a 21% increase in burnout, a 17% increase in somatic symptoms of stress, a 4% increase in job stress, and a 9% increase in work-life balance challenges. 

Burnout and stress can be caused by change, and research has supported change as being a source of employee mental health issues since even before the pandemic. APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey showed that workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress than employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change. 

Workers are more likely to experience mental health struggles from work changes if they lack feelings of psychological safety at their jobs. Psychological safety is necessary to thrive in times of change, as it is the comfort that employees feel for being open and taking interpersonal risks in the workplace.  

According to research from McKinsey, creating a positive team climate can pay additional dividends during a time of disruption, and leaders have the strongest influence on a team’s psychological safety, as their actions can influence and set the tone for team climate.  

We recently delved into the topic of psychological safety with my guest Dr. Amber Tichenor on Season 4 episode 11 of the Survive and Thrive Podcast. We touched on the importance of psychological safety, as well as what happens when a company does not foster it.  

The research mentioned above showed that the most important driver of a team’s psychological safety is a positive team climate. Therefore, leaders should take measures to establish a team climate where members value one another’s contributions, care about one another’s well-being, and have input into how the team carries out its work.

3. Listen to Staff Suggestions and Feedback 

One way to support your workers and minimize their fears is by providing avenues for their input on work adjustments. After all, who is more likely to know the best methods to implement change among team members than the members themselves? 

According to research from Gartner, shifting change implementation planning to employees can boost the likelihood of success by 12%. In addition, they found that the best organizations rely on their workforce to lead transformational change and empower employees to experiment with solutions and ideas while setting guardrails to help manage the process.  

If you’re worried about placing full responsibility in the hands of your staff to implement changes, you can start small by accepting their suggestions and feedback on change management methods. For example, allowing your employees to share their constructive opinions and thoughts in periodically-held meetings will help your staff feel unified and valued as members of your team.

4. Establish Trust 

Research on trust and leadership conducted by Kurt Dirks and Donald Ferrin suggests that leaders appear to be a particularly important referent of trust. 

The results of APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey also supported the idea that leaders building trust and a psychologically healthy workplace can help workers become more accepting of changes. According to the survey, working Americans who reported recent or current change were almost three times more likely to say they don’t trust their employer, at 34% vs. 12%.  

Almost a third of U.S. workers said they were cynical when it comes to changes, with 29% reporting that they believed management had a hidden agenda. Additionally, 31% reported that they believed management’s motives and intentions differed from what they said, and 31% reported that they thought their management tried to cover up the real reasons for the changes.  

However, results from the survey reflected that workers had more trust in their companies when the organization recognized employees for their contributions, provided opportunities for involvement, and communicated effectively.  

There are many ways that you can build trust with your employees. By maintaining transparency, honesty, and consistency with your staff about workplace changes, you can earn the trust to lead to a positive team climate and a greater sense of psychological safety.  

Remember that fostering trust, safety, and support is key to leading a resilient organization capable of withstanding change and thriving through times of uncertainty.