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Businesses don’t care if staff suffer

HR experts Gary Rees and Sally Rumbles

HR experts Gary Rees and Sally Rumbles

Many employees feel it to be true and now research has proved it – businesses really don’t care how constant change affects their staff.

Business failure is directly related to senior managers not understanding or caring that change can knock a workforce off its feet, according to human resources experts Gary Rees and Sally Rumbles.

Mr Rees and Ms Rumbles, of the University of Portsmouth Business School, argue in their small-scale study that while many organisations have serious concerns about the impact change is having on their business, very few were worried about employees or their welfare.

Mr Rees said: “We were alarmed at some of the results. Employees are an organisation’s most valuable asset and collectively have the power to help businesses survive and thrive in bad times as well as in good.

“Managers seem to think they have a licence to change, but our research has shown high-level executives admit only about a third of changes they’ve made are successful and have helped sustain their company through turbulent times.

“Employers and senior managers need to stop foisting continual change upon their staff in a bid to stay viable as a business. The secret is not to ignore the fact change can threaten the staff who, in turn, can become exhausted, cynical or depressed, which destabilises the organisation.

“Companies which overload their employees with continual change tend to see staff react by withdrawing and becoming less engaged, resulting in poorer performance, productivity and retention.

“In the past three years the global economic crisis has sparked unprecedented change with businesses traditionally considered as solid, crumbling before our eyes.  Businesses know things are hotting up for staff, but they don’t know what to do about it.”

Burnout in the workplace includes emotional exhaustion (loss of energy, feeling worn out and powerless), cynicism (negative attitude, distancing and irritability), and low personal accomplishment (feelings of incompetence, low assertiveness, low self-esteem, ineffectiveness and cognition focused on failure).

Their study of 20 senior human resources practitioners at companies employing more than 100 people found senior executives are embarrassed at high levels of employee stress within their organisations but also, that many don’t care if employees are burning out.

Ms Rumbles said: “The worst thing is those who are more likely to burnout in the workplace are the most engaged and hard working staff. If a business loses those people then it risks destabilising the business.

“Instead of seeing people as the most important asset and what gives a business its competitive advantage, too many senior managers think what is good for business is good for the workers.”

The research suggests organisations react to change in a variety of ways including the ‘boiled frog syndrome’: When a frog is placed in hot water it will instinctively jump out, but if it placed in cool water that is then slowly hearted, the frog will stay in the water until it is boiled alive. In terms of organisational change ‘boiled frog syndrome’ is a state of denial that things are ‘hotting up’ and a complacent attitude to the effect it is having on employees and the organisation.

Other syndromes preventing organisations from dealing constructively with burnout include the ‘empty shell syndrome’ – where a wide range of policies and procedures exist but have little impact on stress and burnout; and the ‘survivor syndrome’ – where those who survive a round of redundancies then suffer from low morale and higher stress levels .

The researchers say the concept of successfully managing change is not new, but the recent pace and scope of that change is exceptional. Some organisations are now taking ‘stress tests’ to see how fit they are to survive more change, less money and more uncertainty. But while it might be possible to judge if a business’s finances are resilient enough to survive a bleak economic period, organisations are less able or willing to judge if the people they employ are close to burnout.

Ms Rumbles said: “Continual change can feel like bereavement and employees need time to recover and adjust after change, not be thrust again and again into new periods of uncertainty and new initiatives and restructuring.

“Businesses need to plan change, execute it and then tell staff the turmoil is over.”

The researchers say the root cause of burnout lies in people’s need to believe their lives are meaningful, and that what they do has significance. Managers can help avoid burnout by not avoiding problems and by encouraging staff to be innovative, to ‘break the rules’, to use their talents and take initiative.

In the UK, the cost of sickness absence due to mental ill health alone is estimated by NICE to be £28bn a year.

The research is published in the International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management.

4 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I wonder if the Senior Management at the Uni could comment on the support they’ve put in place to support all staff who’re impacted by the imminent changes to the academic year/ Victory to Moodle. etc.

  2. “Businesses need to plan change, execute it and then tell staff the turmoil is over.” As an entrepreneur and business owner of an HR consultancy for 16 years I am disappointed at statements like this. I have spent so many years trying to instil commercial understanding in the HR people I employ and it feels like a constant uphill battle due to too many HR professionals not understanding the real challenges within businesses. If only we business owners all knew when the ‘turmoil’ would be over so can tell staff that there will be no more change. But its impossible. That is not the real world of business. Global issues impact, goverment policies impact, competitor strategies impact. Supplier payments strategies can impact. To name just a few of those things that are out of our control. If we as businesses stand still there is a danger that everyone we employ could lose their jobs. The responsibilities on directors’ shoulders are enormous and not helped by unreal expectations about our ability to see into and control the future.

  3. i agree with helen jamieson it is true that many business have to make sure they stay in business to produce and create more jobs but i also belive that a business should also give employee writen notice stating that they can not use them anymore and to also provide refrence so that those workers can uptain future employment with companys that need staff for the workers future and welfare give in a good word i also have a blog you can check it at i talk a little about the changes indivials can make to grow economy

  4. Another Christmas…on the clock. And my employer does nothing for their employees during any holidays. Due to the economic downturn, I’ve been stuck with a loser company for 5 years. Yes, I’m looking for another job!

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