‘New normal’ of workplace change affects absence, well-being

Almost half (46 per cent) of employees report they or their colleagues have taken time off after an organizational change, according to new research by Morneau Shepell.

Its survey of 1,018 employers and employees across the country found most employee respondents reacted negatively to organizational change: 40 per cent said it adversely impacted their health and well-being and 30 per cent said it affected their job performance.

But workplace change is “the new normal” with technology, new business models and globalization, said Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell, during its mental-health summit in Toronto on Wednesday. “Futurists predict the intensity of [organizational] changes will increase over time.”

Read: Toronto hospital marks Bell Let’s Talk Day with anti-bullying program

Indeed, the survey found 66 per cent of respondents have experienced at least one organizational change with their current employer, including restructuring (39 per cent), downsizing and layoffs (35 per cent), job redesign (35 per cent), redesign of the office space (29 per cent) and mergers (15 per cent).

While employers usually focus on how they communicate with employees during large organizational changes, they should put as much effort in helping them deal with individual changes such as job redesign, says Allen. “When someone’s job changes, that’s the most personal experience someone could have.”

Employees experience a lot of stress from confusion, so employers should not only give information in advance of the change but provide clear updates throughout the transition so staff don’t feel like details are being hidden or rationed, she says.

Read: Why engagement is critical to managing short-term disability leaves

In terms of demographics, Morneau Shepell’s research found employee respondents age 30 and under are more than twice as likely to take sick leave due to mental-health concerns compared to those older than age 30. “We rarely call out particular groups . . . but the evidence is overwhelming,” says Allen. “The youngest cohort is twice as likely to take time off than other generations.”

For employers, this statistic has significant implications as younger employees represent the future workforce, says Allen, pointing to the probability that companies might face higher mental-health costs going forward.

Morneau Shepell’s survey also found the majority (75 per cent) of employee respondents ranked work culture as the most important issue to address regarding mental health in the workplace. But nearly half (47 per cent) of employer respondents indicated a negative culture as the top issue in the workplace, while 24 per cent said they have no idea how to support a mentally healthy work environment, according to Allen.

“Any kind of change is better for employees if their workplace culture is supportive,” she says. “One factor of dealing with stress is coping skills. . . . Another is social support.”

Read: Bell aims to ‘walk the walk’ during annual mental-health campaign

Employees whose workplace has a positive culture are less likely to have taken mental-health sick leave in the past two years, according to the survey. In fact, 61 per cent of employees polled reported their colleagues have had a positive impact on their mental health.

Activities like team building and regular meetings can help build a positive work culture, says Allen.