Carpal Tunnel, Cannabis, and COVID-19: Managing Change in the Workplace

Carpal Tunnel, Cannabis, and COVID-19: Managing Change in the Workplace

Remember in 1998 when our biggest health and safety concern was repetitive strain injury or in 2017 when our workplaces were worried about the legal issues around cannabis in the workplace? Oh, those were the days! Now our worry is mental health, infectious diseases, and vaccination policies. Every day we struggle as employers to find ways to ensure that our employees are safe at work. As Human Resources Professionals, we now have to concern ourselves with psychological safety, working from home (actually anywhere), and managing infections.

Our locus of control used to be our workplaces but now our workplaces are impacted by social media campaigns and our sphere of influence is controlled by social network influencers. Who has the biggest, loudest voice in the world? Are they interesting and believable? Evidence-based science has been controlled by those with louder voices and perhaps polarizing views.

The Art of Managing Change

As Human Resources Professionals, we need to understand more than ever human psychology and decision making. When developing our change strategies at work, we need to understand that the cookie cutter poster campaign is not effective. Earlier this year, I reported in a webinar on the trends occurring in the world that will impact your workplace in the next 20 years:

  1. The gig economy (they are not really my employees; they just do things for me here and there).
  2. Populism (a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups).
  3. Work demands changes that will require more emotional intelligence, critical reasoning, and problem solving (cognitive skills and emotional skills that a computer cannot perform).
  4. Focus on psychological safety (Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace).

So why do I bring this up in a blog about carpal tunnel, cannabis, and COVID-19? The only constant in our workplace is change. The art of managing change is a necessary skill for all Human Resources Professionals. How does an employer influence individuals with the RIGHT information that is science and evidence informed and not social media and politically influenced. How can you influence the people in your organization to care for themselves and others?

Understanding Lewin’s Change Management Model

If you have a large cube of ice but realize that what you want is a cone of ice, what do you do? First, you must melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you must mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you must solidify the new shape (refreeze).

Lewin's Change Model: Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze

By looking at change as a process with distinct stages, you can prepare your team for what is coming and make a plan to manage the transition – looking before you leap, so to speak. All too often, people go into change blindly, causing much unnecessary turmoil and chaos.

To begin any successful change process, you must first start by understanding why the change must take place. As Lewin put it, “Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to others.” This is the unfreezing stage from which change begins. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, this crisis has been forced upon us and not carefully planned.

Unfreeze

This first stage of change involves preparing the organization to accept that change is necessary, which involves breaking down the existing status quo before you can build up a new way of operating.

Key to this is developing a compelling message showing why the existing way of doing things cannot continue. This is easiest to frame when you can point to declining sales figures, poor financial results, worrying customer satisfaction surveys, or suchlike. These show that things have to change in a way that everyone can understand.

To prepare the organization successfully, you need to start at its core – you need to challenge the beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors that currently define it. Using the analogy of a building, you must examine and be prepared to change the existing foundations as they might not support add-on storeys. Unless this is done, the whole building may risk collapse.

This first part of the change process is usually the most difficult and stressful. When you start cutting down the “way things are done,” you put everyone and everything off balance. You may evoke strong reactions in people, and that’s exactly what needs to be done.

By forcing the organization to re-examine its core, you effectively create a (controlled) crisis, which in turn can build a strong motivation to seek out a new equilibrium. Without this motivation, you won’t get the buy-in and participation necessary to effect any meaningful change.

We have been thrown into an UNFREEZE state… Now it is about determining the change that you want or need as an organization.

Change

After the uncertainty created in the unfreeze stage, the change stage is where people begin to resolve their uncertainty and look for new ways to do things. People start to believe and act in ways that support the new direction. For example, organizations have been forced into thinking about hybrid work models and work from home capabilities.

The transition from unfreeze to change does not happen overnight: people take time to embrace the new direction and participate proactively in the change. A related change model, the Change Curve as outlined through Kubler Ross’ stages of grief, focuses on the specific issue of personal transitions in a changing environment and is useful for understanding this aspect in more detail.

In order to accept the change and contribute to making it successful, people need to understand how it will benefit them. Not everyone will fall in line just because the change is necessary and will benefit the company. This is a common assumption and a pitfall we should avoid.

Time and communication are the two keys to the changes occurring successfully. People need time to understand the changes, and they also need to feel highly connected to the organization throughout the transition period. When you are managing change, this can require a great deal of time and effort and hands-on management is usually the best approach.

Refreeze

When the changes are taking shape and people have embraced the new ways of working, the organization is ready to refreeze. The outward signs of the refreeze are a stable work environment with clear policies, consistent job descriptions, and so on. The refreeze stage also needs to help people and the organization internalize or institutionalize the changes. This means making sure that the changes are used all the time, and that we incorporate them into everyday business. With a new sense of stability, employees feel confident and comfortable with the new ways of working.

The rationale for creating a new sense of stability in our ever-changing world is often questioned. Even though change is a constant in many organizations, this refreezing stage is still important. Without it, employees get caught in a transition trap where they aren’t sure how things should be done, so nothing ever gets done to full capacity. In the absence of a new frozen state, it is very difficult to tackle the next change initiative effectively.

As part of the refreezing process, make sure that you celebrate the success of the change – this helps people to find closure, thanks them for enduring a painful time, and helps them believe that future change will be successful.

So what does this mean to me as an employer implementing a Hybrid Work Model?

Unfreeze stage

  1. Determine what needs to change and why through an organizational survey.
  2. Ensure there is strong support from senior management.
  3. Create the need for change through a compelling message, evidence supporting the vision and the why.
  4. Train your leaders and managers to understand the doubts and concerns and proactively manage them.

Change Stage

  1. Communicate often about the benefits, how the change will affect everyone, and prepare people for the changes.
  2. Dispel rumors through open and honest discussions to deal with concerns or challenges immediately.
  3. Empower action through employee involvement and management engagement in the change.
  4. Involve people in the process and reinforce short-term wins.

Refreeze Stage

  1. Anchor the changes into the culture by identifying barriers and support for change.
  2. Develop ways to sustain the change through feedback systems, rewards, and adapting organizational structure.
  3. Provide support and training to keep everyone informed and supported.
  4. Celebrate success!

What Can Gowan Consulting Do to Help You with the Change?

  • Train Managers on how to support employees through the change by enrolling them in Manager Mental Health Training or Manager Accommodation Training Programs.
  • Consider trainings and awareness sessions for employees on change management, crisis fatigue, resiliency.
  • Consider accommodation needs of employees that may not be able to complete the change without accommodations or supports – make a referral to an Occupational Therapist.
  • Provide Success Coaching for employees and managers to individually change mindsets and actions to support return to the workplace or return to the new normal. Contact us or book a consultation to learn more.

References

“Understanding the Kubler-Ross Change Curve,” Anastasia Belyh, Cleverism, July 28, 2020, https://www.cleverism.com/understanding-kubler-ross-change-curve/  

“Kurt Lewin’s change model: A critical review of the role of leadership and employee involvement in organizational change,” Syed Talib Hussain et al., Science Direct, October 11, 2016, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2444569X16300087

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