Jane Crosby: Change in the workplace and how to avoid conflict 

jane crosby

In times of uncertainty, organisations facing falling profits have to find a means of reducing their overheads to ensure their continuing survival.

Employees are usually the most important and expensive resource for a business. When all other efficiency savings have been made, the difficult decision to reduce employee numbers may need to be taken, or a restructure of the organisation considered, where staff take on extra duties.

However, once the process of redundancy or restructuring has taken place, it is easy to forget about the staff who are left behind in the business. This can lead to uncertainty.

There may be good reasons for a reduction in staff, but sometimes a business does not appreciate that this can affect the people who remain, who may need to take on extra responsibilities and thereby an increase in workload.

Employers should communicate to everyone regarding why the business has had to make the changes, and make sure the message is consistent. This communication can be in writing, but also may need to be followed up with the staff in a meeting. This gives individuals an opportunity to ask questions about any change in the structure of the business and how their role is affected.

Larger organisations should think about developing certain individuals as workplace representatives, enabling them to be responsible for communicating key messages to their teams.

Employers might consider adopting training programmes for managers, empowering them to listen to employees’ concerns, in addition to supporting them through a period of change.

Training or employing an experienced workplace mediator will help deal with any conflicts that develop in the workplace as a result of the changes, especially where people are given extra duties and react emotionally about the situation.

It is important to look at whether employees can be deployed in other areas of the business if the new structure is not working; if not, employers must communicate the reasons why the business cannot afford to offer alternative jobs.

Conflicts arise because of misunderstandings and a lack of communication. In times of change, communication is the key ingredient.

Jane Crosby is a commercial litigation and employment law partner at Hart Brown