In our first article on reskilling, we mentioned the impact Covid lockdowns have had on organizations, including hiring freezes and organizational restructures as attempts to cut costs. While employees may not have felt the initial impact of hiring freezes, the mere thought of your company undergoing a restructure is quite terrifying as you question whether or not you’ll still have a job.
But what exactly is restructuring1? Restructuring occurs when an employer changes the nature and functions of an employee’s position. This can include horizontal restructuring – when a worker’s current job requirements are modified to include some new tasks performed in other jobs on the same level – or vertical restructuring – when a position is given responsibilities and tasks previously performed at higher levels.
So even if you do retain your position, it’s quite likely that your role will change, and your responsibilities expand. Fear of the new, unknown, or different, is often a source of great stress for employees at work, and for people in general, regardless of how smart and sensible they are. It is so common that The Guardian has listed the top five most common reasons that people feel stressed during a period of change at work2
Top Five Stressors for Employees During Restructuring
- Fear of personal failure within a new structure: ”It will never work out for me. I won’t be able to do it.”
- Preferring the familiar, old routine: ”The old way was much better, we knew what we were doing before.”
- Denial of the reasons for change: ”Why did we have to do this anyway? I can’t see how this will improve anything.”
- Unwillingness to learn new systems and processes: ”I already know everything I need to know to do my job, nothing new can help me.”
- Fear of the unknown: ”I don’t know what it will be like for any of us, but I know we will all be worse off.”
We can easily see the insecurities employees have around the roles and responsibilities. These insecurities are often due to a lack of communication resulting in people assuming the worst possible scenarios. In addition, organizational restructures can result in other problems such as underestimating the time required to identify, adjust, and rewrite job descriptions, the overlap in positions, and uncertainties over responsibilities for particular tasks.
How to manage an effective restructure
Restructures are complex endeavors, but they are necessary for organizational evolution and continued growth. Restructures can help a business reconfigure its strategic alignment, address issues that might prevent employees from doing their best work, and improve employee satisfaction.
There is one thing that makes any restructure, or change, go better across all levels of an organization – frequent and concise communication. Many business leaders recommend not only communicating often but “communicate much more than you think is natural”3.
The aim is to keep your employees informed of what is happening and to allow them to ask questions. Even if you do not have all the answers, being honest and genuine will go a long way to maintaining your employees’ trust in both you and the organization.
Once the framework for the restructure has been confirmed, ensure that appropriate mentoring, coaching, learning and development programs, etc., are in place. These should be aimed at all levels to ensure people feel supported and receive the support they need to perform well in their new role.
Tips for communicating during a restructure
- Brief the organization early on that there will be a restructure and explain why you are taking this course of action. Once you have established and communicated this narrative, stick to it throughout the process to limit confusion.
- Identify those people leading the restructuring. Ideally, have a change manager leading the process, with support underneath.
- Hold regular check-ins between change managers and team leaders who can then communicate issues from the teams upwards and updates from the change managers downwards.
- Once you have the new structure confirmed, talk your employees through it, explaining the “whys” and the “why nots”. When people propose alternatives, explain why these wouldn’t work, again sticking to the original narrative.
- Communicate any potential disadvantages or challenges and what plans are in place.
- Where roles are disestablished have individual one-to-one meetings with these employees and treat them with dignity and respect. Explain that this is not personal but a business decision. Provide support such as counseling, career guidance, or support for creating a cv or attending interviews.
Undertaking a restructuring is no small feat, but when it is managed well with concrete action plans, frequent clear communications, and sensitivity and humility, you can limit the confusion, tension, and fear that employees may be feeling. By keeping these things in mind, your restructuring can be successful while also building trust and helping retain your best employees.
1. Chron, Neil Kokemuller. https://work.chron.com/job-restructuring-17903.html. Accessed unknown.
2. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/careers/cope-stress-survival-guide-restructuring-redundancy-change-work. Accessed unknown.
3. Harvard Business Review, Stephen Heidari-Robinson and Suzanne Heywood. https://hbr.org/2016/10/the-two-biggest-communication-blunders-during-a-reorg. Accessed 20 October 2016.