Changes and setbacks are an inevitable part of every company’s journey.
At some point, most businesses will have to pivot without much planning
just to survive and stay competitive. Very few organizations never
change their strategy or business models. Restructures, layoffs and
closures are a part of business. For some of our clients, facing
setbacks plunged their organisations and employees into chaos. When this
happens the focus shifts to damage mitigation and saving workplace
culture becomes an afterthought.
But putting culture on the backburner is overlooking why change is so
painful for employees.
Business setbacks destabilise organizations precisely because they leave
people feeling untethered and disconnected from what is ‘normal’. By
nature, people crave stability and want it to return as soon as
possible. When employees no longer recognise their company because of a
change in corporate mission, a change in leadership or the redundancy of
a colleague, anxiety and fear often quickly set in.
Our data has shown that changes and setbacks can cause happiness at work
to drop 30-60 points on a 100-point scale in a single week. It’s not
surprising that an organisational setback is felt so directly by
employees. What is interesting, however, is how teams and divisions
Psychological attributes like resilience are often talked about as an
individual characteristic, but resilience is a property of teams and
organisations as well. Resilience is built through trust. The way your
organisation mitigates changes and setbacks depends on how you manage
trust in the face of adversity— and what keeps teams resilient is a high
level of trust.
Here’s some insight on how to survive a business setback, and what your
organisation can do to prepare against setbacks now.
Well, that hurt. What can we do to get by?
A key component of resilience is the ability to absorb shocks and bounce
back. For teams, their ability to cope depends on their level of
preparedness. The Stoic philosopher Seneca taught that as long as we are
mentally prepared for setbacks — as in we acknowledge
they COULD happen — we reduce shock and won’t be as paralysed by them.
Instead, we can say, “Well that hurt. What can we do to get by?”
At Friday Pulse,
one of the things we encourage is open and honest communication between
team members and team leaders. If a team leader is aware of setbacks and
significant changes on the horizon, it’s important to let the team know
so they aren’t blindsided by it. Having open conversations ahead of
impending crises can help teams prepare with solutions on how to
The grim alternative to this is silence. When employees feel like they
were lied to or misinformed — even if they weren’t — they lose trust in
their leaders. That sort of opinion is difficult to change and takes
lots of work for leaders to undo.
Use the Science of Wellbeing
Many companies are using the science of wellbeing to create cultures
that ready employees to adapt and lean into change. In January, Melanie
Robinson, Senior Director at ADP, spoke at an event about using a new strengths-based
approach to their talent management programme. Employees are encouraged
to check and adapt their work focus to play to their skills and
interests, which in turn will increase the agility of the workplace
Research supports this approach, showing that organisations are more
resilient when employees are not trapped in a rigidly defined career
track. By allowing employees to draw on their strengths and interests,
companies not only reap the benefit of solid work and productivity but
also help employees build the psychological capacity to pivot in the
face of change without feeling overly stressed.
Smaller businesses often don’t have the budgets to facilitate the talent
management programmes, like the one described above. Instead, smaller
organizations can use tools like Friday Pulse to prompt regular and authentic conversations
about how they feel at work and learn about their culture. These
conversations guide team leaders into where unique opportunities to
build preparedness in different ways, like strong cross-team working
Honest and Authentic Conversations
Leaders are often affected by the discomfort and pain surrounding the
decisions they’ve made. Their choices can cause them to withdraw and
focus on crafting messages to send out to the business when what is
required is humility and a good conversation. Leaders can stay
authentic, empathetic and competent in the eyes of their employees by
having honest conversations with them. It’s better to paint a picture of
likely scenarios than wait to share a perfectly mapped out plan of
If your organisation is small enough, ask how employees are doing in
person. Global or remote organisations can use technology to facilitate
these conversations. Some of our clients have added custom questions to
their quarterly pulse survey during periods of business change to
monitor levels of understanding, and to find out whether colleagues feel
supported. These questions allow the company to create space for
dialogue and suggest ideas on how to work better together.
Though in the short term these approaches may appear to slow the process
down, they actually speed up business transformation. A leadership that
invests the time to have good quality conversations with its workforce
recognizes an essential point about the human psyche — we are more
accepting of decisions we have been a part of making, even when they
don’t go our way. In the medium term, honest conversations with
employees will speed up the transformation. And in the long-term, that
trust will be retained or even strengthened.
Reset with Wellness First
Crisis is an opportunity for novelty and innovation. Constraints like
limited budget or less personnel can shift people from complacency and
into new and better ideas. So long as these constraints are not too
burdensome, disruption and the novel problems it brings can cultivate
greater collaboration and creativity.
That said, periods of change are also an excellent opportunity to
adjust habits around self-care. Periods of setback and change are times
of high stress, so it is vital to take a step back. Walking meetings,
healthy snacks, massages, meditation, email downtime, expressing
appreciation, informal socialising are all things that nurture and
sustain us. These are activities often squeezed out in the busy
Periods of change often bring heavier workloads that are draining and
require short bursts of positivity and recovery to recharge. In the same
way as athletes have to possess realistic expectations of their bodies
to avoid injury, we must have realistic expectations of our mind to
Major business setbacks or change is undoubtedly a turbulent and chaotic
time for any organisation. How well a workplace culture survives these
periods entirely depends on its ability to develop resiliency — the
ability to absorb, adapt and transform. Though change is inevitable and
necessary, if you involve your employees in the change process then
transformation is possible — with your workplace culture intact.
For more on how Friday Pulse can help reduce resistance to change and
improve resilience in your company, contact us today.