Thursday, 8 August 2013

Beware of the guy with nothing to lose

I recently read a post by Alex Fradera at the BPS Occupational Digest which looked into how two different types of employees working in the same organisation would respond to change. One employee was well paid, felt valued and had an attentive boss. The other was poorly paid, under valued and disconnected from their boss.

If change was being introduced to the organisation you might expect the happier employee to be more resistive, as they have more to lose. It turns out that research specifically asking this question suggests that the better you are treated, the more open you are to change, even though you have most to lose.

The better employees felt they were treated, the less anxious they became. They had good reason to expect that if they were treated well before the change, they would continue to be treated well afterwards. The employee treated badly is already in a mind-set where they expect to be taken advantage of and the forthcoming change agenda was just another way for that to happen.

I was surprised by this, I had assumed that those with most to lose would be most anxious about losing their current cushy number. Then I thought about a large multi national insurance company I had worked in where there was a merger and major departmental changes.

The overriding feeling at the time was uncertainty as to how individual roles would turn out. We were reassured by management euphemisms about synergies and stability. Not being completely na├»ve, my colleagues and I viewed this as spin and PR, the real proof would come once the change was implemented. The feeling of uncertainty came down to trust, did we trust what we were being told?

This could be at play in the research cited by Alex Fradera. The person treated well probably trusts the employer and their change agenda, the other guy is probably very cynical and has no reason to believe that the change will lead to any good. It just means even more hassle.

So if you are changing how things work, watch out for those with nothing to lose, they could be the most resistive. If you want the change to go a little smoother, make an extra effort so that staff feel valued beforehand.

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