Managing change at work
Around the world, the pace of change in workplaces is getting faster. It’s now more important than ever that managers and supervisors help their teams adapt.
Great managers support their people through change at work, making the process a smoother and easier journey for everyone.
Watch the Video Good work design: Managing changes at work for an introduction to this topic.
Managing change at work better practice guide
Download the Better Practice Guide: Managing change at work (PDF, 1.5 MB) for guidance on this topic.
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What is workplace change?
Workplace change occurs when a business alters key components of its strategy or operations. This can include changes to company culture, technologies, structure or size, or to major initiatives, activities and goals. Sometimes workers can struggle to adapt to change at work – even when the change appears minor or positive.
Signs of poor organisational change management
- Inadequate consultation
- Little consideration of new hazards or risks to health and safety or performance impacts
- Insufficient support
- Not communicating key information to workers during periods of change.
Why managing change matters
Workplace change is normal and brings benefits. It can influence growth and innovation, but still leave people feeling anxious and distressed.
Change can impact the psychosocial work increasing risks and causing harm to worker health. For example, poor change management can increase workloads, role conflict and uncertainty, while reducing role clarity and feelings of job control.
Go to How to control the risks of organisational change for guidance on reducing the risks of organisational change.
Section 47 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 requires employers to consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by a health and safety matter. This includes change at work.
How to manage change in the workplace
Great managers never assume that there is no impact and they proactively lead their teams through change. They communicate and collaborate with their teams, review roles, and provide and seek support.
Communication is the single most important strategy in managing change, so make it a priority.
- Have early and regular conversations with your team during periods of change.
- Keep your team informed of what is going on. When nothing is happening, let them know that too.
- Provide opportunities for your team to voice concerns and views.
- Listen to your team’s concerns and make sure you respond to them. Be fair and equitable and explain reasons for decisions.
- Check back in later to see whether people feel that their concerns have been addressed, and if there’s anything more you can do
2. Involve your people
- Find ways for your employees to participate in the change process, to ease feelings of lack of control and support.
- Have conversations with your team about what the change means for them.
- Provide opportunities to influence how the team responds and adapts. Where possible, involve them in the redesign of tasks, roles and responsibilities.
3. Clarify roles and responsibilities
During or following change, team members may feel uncertain about what their role involves or what their current priorities are. Sometimes change creates conflict between different aspects of a person’s role or between the roles of different team members.
- Draw on context and purpose in framing conversations to promote clarity and stability.
- Check that your team members know what they need to do, how they can do it and when it needs to be done by.
- Make sure your team has the resources they need to effectively deliver their tasks.
- Help people understand how the delivery of their work impacts the work of others and how they can work together to achieve good results for all.
4. Provide support
Individuals have different levels of tolerance to change and your team members may all react differently.
- Understand the common emotional responses people can experience and tailor your support appropriately. Refer to the Kubler-Ross curve for more information.
- Be alert to signs that people need more practical or emotional support.
- Encourage them to share their feelings about the changes and acknowledge their emotions.
- Make sure people know what support services are available and how to access them. Workplace services or programs may include an Employee Assistance Program, Early Intervention Service or NewAccess. Outside the workplace see Beyond Blue - Get mental health support.
- Give individuals the time and support they need to learn to use new technology.
- Remember that change can take time to process, so be patient.
5. Seek support
How you manage yourself during times of uncertainty is important because your people will look to you for direction and support.
- Reflect on your own feelings and behaviour and seek support to lead others through change when needed. For example, this could be through coaching or mentoring.
- Maintain self-awareness and provide more clarity and direction to your team if you are finding the change process difficult.
The role of trust during times of change
- Trust acts as a buffer to change related risks.
- Organisational change can threaten and damage trust – particularly early in the change process – but effective change management can mitigate the risk.
- High levels of trust between you and your team will help your people go on change journeys with you.
- High levels of trust increase team performance in new situations.
Wendy Hirsch, July 9 2022, Why trust matters during organizational change
- Go to Comcare's guidance on How to control the risks of organisational change
- Go to SafeWork NSW Managing change and work-related stress: Tip sheet 11