Work-related stress – poor organisational change management

This guidance may help employers control change management risks that lead to work-related stress.

Psychosocial hazards

Psychosocial hazards are factors in the design or management of work that increase the risk of work-related stress and can lead to psychological or physical harm. Examples of psychosocial hazards might include poor supervisor support or high job demands.

Employees are likely to be exposed to a combination of psychosocial hazards. Some hazards might always be present at work, while others only occasionally. There is a greater risk of work-related stress when psychosocial hazards combine and act together, so employers should not consider hazards in isolation.

Psychosocial hazards do not necessarily reveal the causes of work-related stress. Causes are likely to be specific to the employee, work or workplace. Senior management should identify which psychosocial hazards negatively affect employees' health and well-being and take appropriate action to control the impact of those hazards.

Effects of change in the workplace

Change in the workplace is inevitable, however it can lead to employees feeling anxious and uncertain about their work and employment status. Change can relate to alterations in individual work conditions, for example, a change of role or shift roster or the introduction of new technology. Change can also relate to work team or organisational changes, such as mergers, acquisitions, restructures or downsizing. Managing and communicating change can reduce the likelihood of an employee's stress response.

Effective change management

Employers must decide what risk control measures they will use in the workplace to control change management risks that might lead to work-related stress.

Planning change management and its communication across a workforce can help control risks and helps employers meet their obligation to ensure they provide a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as reasonably practicable.

Control measures should target the work environment and focus on job design and working conditions. Risk control measures should address communication before and during a change process, ensuring effective consultation and participation take place and ensuring job roles are revised should any changes occur. Feedback is critical.

Communication

Communication is crucial for successful change. Failure to effectively communicate changes in the workplace can increase an employee's likelihood of work-related stress.

Employers can manage the impact of changes in individual work conditions or larger changes to the work team or organisation by:

  • consulting with employees about proposed changes that may affect their health and safety
    • ensuring the person communicating the change, usually the employer or senior manager, has the skills and authority to do so
      • training managers or supervisors to support employees through periods of change
        • explaining to employees the background and reasons behind the change, what the organisation wants from the change and the expected outcomes and timeframes
          • explaining openly and honestly any significant adjustments that will follow the proposed change, for example, a restructure or the need to retrain employees
            • establishing a communication system, for example, meetings or emails, that keeps employees regularly updated on developments
              • communicating developments quickly to increase employees' feelings of job security and prevent the spread of rumours which can arise when people are left without information
                • encouraging an open-door policy for employees who want to discuss their concerns with managers or supervisors
                  • advising employees of the final decision, including reasons for that decision, both verbally and in writing within a reasonable timeframe

                    Consultation and participation

                    Employees can experience work-related stress if they feel they have little control over their work and their work environment or they feel unsupported in their workplace. Communicating with employees and seeking their participation in the change process may ease feelings of little control and lack of support.

                    Ways to communicate about change include:

                    • consulting with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) about workplace changes that may affect them – this must be done with regularity and as early as possible to allow time for reflection, discussion and understanding of the changes
                      • ensuring employees are aware of any potential impacts on their roles – as early as possible to reduce the stressful impact this may have
                        • providing opportunities for employees to take part in the change process to encourage acceptance, increase motivation and promote ownership of the process and outcomes
                          • encouraging involvement from individuals and work teams. This can include being involved in the planning stage of a change process and providing ongoing feedback on the proposed change
                            • providing group information and feedback sessions to give employees the opportunity to raise concerns about the change in a group setting. For example, have regular meetings or focus groups because employees may feel more comfortable raising issues in a group rather than individually
                              • providing employees with enough time to consider and respond to proposals
                                • providing feedback to the group or individuals following consultation and providing reasons why ideas will or will not be implemented
                                  • implementing changes in a timely manner

                                    Reviewing roles

                                    A change in the structure of an organisation or work unit can affect role clarity, therefore it is important to review employees' roles to ensure employees continue to understand what is required of them.

                                    Ways to ensure employees continue to understand what is required of them include:

                                    • reviewing team and individual work plans after the change to ensure roles, objectives and accountabilities are clear
                                      • changing job descriptions to match the new duties and tasks of the role, preventing uncertainty and role conflict. Employees should participate in the review process where possible
                                        • encouraging employees to develop their skills to help them undertake new and challenging work produced by the change
                                          • ensuring employees feel confident doing their job tasks and making sure they receive enough training to be competent in their roles
                                            • providing re-training if required
                                              • providing an opportunity for employees to have renewed input into the way they complete their work

                                                Providing support

                                                Employees may need additional practical or emotional support during times of organisational change.

                                                Work-related stress and your legal duties

                                                The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and HSRs on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety, including hazards and risks associated with work-related stress.

                                                Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.