Motivating Employees During Times of Change


December 2002

Motivating Employees During Times of Change

CIDMIconNewsletter Gretchen Marks, Consultant, Comtech Services, Inc.

Constant change in an organization, brought about by downsizing and mergers, adds significantly to the stress experienced by staff members. This stress contributes to “low employee motivation, a lack of commitment to organizational goals, and reduced productivity,” says Mary T. Pellak in “Sustaining Motivation and Productivity During Significant Organizational Change” in the November/December 2001 issue of Performance Improvement. Managers may face reduced productivity and a general feeling of distress in their organizations. So, they need to know how to motivate staff members and sustain productivity in this time of change.

Managers play a vital role in sustaining motivation and maintaining productivity. Managers must decide to intervene in ways that both address the needs of staff and support evolving organizational goals. “Managers in an organization might become aware of problems in motivation and productivity during periods of change when they encounter the following trends:”

  • staff anger, mistrust, or defensiveness
  • increased absenteeism
  • an increase in customer complaints
  • an increase in staff errors or product defects
  • reduced output from staff members
  • staff reluctance to offer suggestions for improvement
  • an increase in stress-related claims through staff assistance programs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows how motivation is affected by unmet needs. When an individual’s job is threatened because of an organizational change, the first level of need, physiological, is affected. At this level, an individual focuses on putting food on the table and having money to pay bills. Once these needs are met, an individual can focus on the next level of need, safety and security. An employee may, at this point, seek a position with more security.

The need to belong is the third level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, in which staff members believe that they share common goals with their team members or the organization. Once the need to belong is satisfied, recognition or self-esteem becomes the motivator.

The fourth level is recognition, where an employee’s self esteem is satisfied from a sense of belonging. A manager needs to understand the need for recognition and acknowledge superior performance. “Recognition need not be in the form of monetary compensation, but could be in the form of a letter of appreciation or a congratulatory celebration with coworkers and team members.”

The ultimate goal for a corporation is to foster an environment that supports motivation and self-actualization. A staff member who is self-actualized is motivated to be the best performer that he or she can possibly be.

“Managers face additional challenges during organizational change. Three skills that will help managers to successfully facilitate change are: empathy, communication, and participation.” Managers express empathy when they try to understand what employees are feeling and what might motivate them during organizational change. Support for training and professional development can help ease the transition. Managers need to communicate to employees about the changing situation. A manager who encourages staff participation in a change helps them to remain productive. Asking staff members to help in decision-making processes or allowing them to provide input are opportunities for open participation.

Organizational support is needed to help managers handle intense change effectively. Staff members fear losing their jobs due to downsizing or mergers. Some positive actions managers can take during downsizing are to

  • involve staff in decisions about downsizing
  • institute job-sharing or work-sharing arrangements
  • maintain clear, two-way communication with staff
  • provide assistance and counseling to displaced staff

Individuals need to know that they won’t be punished if they participate in decisions made during a time of change. Whether the organizational change is due to downsizing or mergers, the staff feels that their well-being is threatened, and they experience a loss of control. Organizations can help ease these feelings by informing staff about the reasons for change and having leaders in the organization address the staff directly.

Departmental managers and senior management must work together to make the transition easier for employees. By providing leadership, open communication, employee participation, and management support, managers can succeed in a changing organization. CIDMIconNewsletter