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Big Changes at Work Make Us Want to Quit, Bigly

Change. We all hate it, most of the time. Change creates uncertainty, which creates stress, which leads to a new American Psychological Association study that says change at work makes employees want to throw in the towel!

Harris Poll conducted an online survey on behalf of the APA that included slightly more than 1,500 U.S. adults who work full time, part time or are self-employed. Exactly half of those surveyed (50%) said they have been affected by "organizational changes" in the last 12 months, are "currently being affected" by organizational change or "expect to be affected" by organizational changes in the next year.

What to expect when you're expecting change as an employee? Insane levels of work stress, of course: More than half (55%) of employees undergoing big change in the workplace were more than twice as likely to experience chronic work stress than employees in low-to-no stress jobs.

Employees undergoing change at work (or who have recently experienced big changes at work) reported higher rates of work-life conflict, as well. Almost four in 10 surveyed (39%) said their job began to interfere with their non-work-related responsibilities, and they felt more "cynical and negative" toward other people during the work day (35%). Nearly three in 10 employees (29%) began eating and smoking more often at work. And this was before the AHCA passed the House, and the White House released its Hunger Gamesesque budget!

Now for the worst part: big changes at work make us want to quit our jobs. More than four in 10 employees (46%) undergoing change at work (or have recently experienced change) said they plan to find a new job over the next year, compared with 15% of those working in no-change work environments.

Employees also feel skeptical about management's hidden agenda with any intended change. What is this change really about? From the APA's press release:

Working Americans also appeared skeptical when it comes to the outcomes of organizational changes. Only 4 in 10 employees (43 percent) had confidence that changes would have the desired effects and almost 3 in 10 doubted that changes would work as intended and achieve their goals (28 percent each).

"Change is inevitable in organizations, and when it happens, leadership often underestimates the impact those changes have on employees," said David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, 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."

All change has impact on employees, whether it's a small change (altering the snack selection, re-arranging work areas) or a big change (layoffs, a new boss, the loss of a highly-valued colleague). Management must explain big and small changes to employees by anticipating their concerns, their questions about the impact, and their fears. When management does not fill in the blanks, employees will do it for them.

We're living in chaotic times that require managers to brush up on their best communication skills. So talk to employees to sell them on change, but don't sell it like a used car salesman because employees will see right through you. They'll be back in a few minutes, right after they finish another snack.


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