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Study examines connections between organizational change and health

Change negatively affects 40 per cent of employees: survey


(Canadian OH&S News) — Do significant changes in a workplace have an effect on the mental and physical health of employees? This was the question posed by a new study by Toronto-based human-resources consulting firm Morneau Shepell.

The organization announced in a press release, dated Jan. 24, that it had conducted a nationwide survey of employers and workers, asking them about their reactions to major organizational changes like job redesign, downsizing, restructuring or mergers. According to the researchers, about 40 per cent of employee respondents said that organizational changes had affected their health and well-being in a negative way. Thirty per cent of workers claimed that change had negatively affected their job performance, while 43 per cent said that it had affected their perceptions of their employers in a negative way.

Only slightly more than one-quarter of employees said that organizational change had improved their health, performance and perceptions of their companies, said Paula Allen, Morneau Shepell’s vice president of research and integrative solutions.

“We thought it was important that we actually look at this,” Allen told COHSN, regarding how change affects workers. “The numbers were a little bit higher than we thought, in terms of how many negatively impacted employees.”

This was the third straight year that the company had conducted a survey like this, Allen added. “People are talking about workplace mental health, and there’s expert commentary and different things of that sort,” she explained, “but we think it’s most important to hear directly from the people who are most impacted.” Organizational change became the focus this year because it is so common today: “Looking at business just generally speaking, it seems like no one can really escape. Organizations change, due to technology, new business models, organization.”

The study also analyzed the differences in effect with varying types of workplace change. For example, job redesign had the strongest effect on respondents’ physical and mental health, while major organizational shifts like mergers had smaller effects.

“The closer it is to the person to what they do every day, the higher the impact of a change,” said Allen. “Organizations put a lot of effort into communication and planning and preparation for something like a merger, and might put a little bit less into something like changing the nature of an individual’s job.”

Organizational change was not the only area that the survey covered. Among other findings: workers 30 years old and younger were more than twice as likely to take sick leave over mental-health concerns than were those older; 61 per cent of employees said that their co-workers had a positive effect on their mental health; and 75 per cent of all respondents cited work culture as the most important issue regarding workplace mental health.

Allen’s advice to employers was to instill a positive problem-solving culture in the work environment, to help workers adapt to change more effectively. “People who had a positive impact as a result of organizational change had workplaces that had that kind of positive problem-solving culture,” she said.

“It’s really important to consider how adaptive the workplace is and workforces are,” added Allen, citing good communication, availability of resources and managers who know how to support employees as ways to help workers ease into change.

“So we hope there’s an awakening for employers.”