Stress through times of organisational change: its relevance to organisational outcomes
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In today’s fast paced business environment change is something not only to expect but something to take advantage of. Without the ability to embrace change organisations may find they are being left behind competitors who are able to move their organisations past the hurdles that change brings. For many employees and managers alike, the thought of constant change can be daunting, with feelings of uncertainty and anxiousness as common reactions. Uncertainty often causes stress and as a result resistance. Resistance is a likely outcome in situations that seem too stressful to face. However, without the support and co-operation of employees, managers may find it difficult to achieve the desired outcomes. It was the intention of this research to investigate whether, according to managers, the management of stress associated with change may positively affect the change initiative outcomes. Semi-structured interviews were used to better understand seven managers’ perceptions of the idea that stress management interventions may positively affect the outcome of change. The participants were from a range of industries including the food, hospitality, finance, and engineering industries. Participants also included members from government departments, and a business consultancy firm. The managers were aware of the positive and negative effects of change on their employees and the organisations. There was consensus that uncertainty, lack of involvement, and pressure were stressors that both they and their employees faced during times of change. These factors are known to cause stress during ‘normal’ time however during times of change they are particularly evident. The stressors of most concern to the managers were consistent with those reported in the literature. However this is where the consistency ends. It is suggested in the literature that a combination of both primary and secondary interventions should be employed to reduce stress in the workplace with an emphasis on primary interventions. Managers had other ideas. The managers did not see the need to implement formal SMIs as they felt good management practice was more effective in reducing stress. It should be noted here that there are some similarities in what the managers considered good management practice and what the literature suggests for stress management in primary SMIs. Through the involvement of employees, trust gained and open communication the managers felt their employees could overcome any of the stressors that change caused. Many of the managers, in addition to good management practice, referred their employees to EAP programs as their SMI of choice. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) were not seen to alter the outcome of the change however it was acknowledged by the managers that it gave the employees emotional tools to deal with stress in the future. Managers did not appear to believe that proactive stress management (primary and / or secondary SMIs) would be likely to improve the success of management change efforts, yet they did acknowledge that SMIs could reduce stress in employees and that less stressed employees were more likely to perform at a high level, and that high performing employees would contribute to successful change.