Most employees are creatures of habit and like coming to work each day knowing what will be expected of them. Changes can be unsettling and disruptive to employee morale, especially when those changes are perceived as creating greater restrictions. When implementing a new employee policy or changing an existing one, you should be aware of the potential negative consequences and take steps to minimize the impact on employee morale. In this post, I discuss 4 steps you can take to minimize the negative reaction to workplace policy change.
Be able to articulate a legitimate business reason for implementing the new policy
Because policy changes can have an adverse impact on employee morale, you should make sure there is a legitimate business reason for the change and that the benefits of implementing a new employee policy outweigh the potential disruption to employee performance. Whether it is to save the company money, to improve employee safety, to make employees more efficient, or for any other purpose, you should be able to articulate the reason. In other words, you should avoid changing a policy based on a whim or solely in reaction to employee behavior you do not like.
For example, an employer may be experiencing a situation where employees have demonstrated a pattern of showing up to work late or leaving work early. Implementing a new attendance policy may be appropriate, but before implementing the policy, the employer should be able to articulate the business reason why employee tardiness is an issue. For example, in a call center, staffing levels may be optimized based on the assumption employees will appear to work on time. Thus, when an employee shows up late to work, customers remain in queues longer and other employees bear the burden of covering for the late employee. Therefore, the business reason for implementing an attendance policy in this situation is that tardiness negatively impacts customer satisfaction as well as co-worker morale.
Give your employees notice that you are implementing a new employee policy
Giving your employees notice that you will be implementing a new employee policy gives them a chance to prepare for any adjustments they will need to make. This is especially important if the policy change may impact their off hours routines, such as changes to work hours or paydays.
The notice of the change should be distributed to each employee in writing and should include the future date when the policy will become effective. The period of time between the date the notice is distributed to employees and the date you will be implementing the new employee policy may vary depending on the nature of the policy. You should pick a future effective date that is sufficient to provide employees time to make any necessary on-duty or off-duty changes. For example, if you are changing the start and end times of a shift, you should give employees sufficient notice so they can make any changes to childcare or similar arrangements.
A copy of the new employee policy, or at minimum a detailed outline, should accompany the notice so that the employees are aware of what the specific changes will be. Additionally, where appropriate, the notice may include an acknowledgment section where employees can sign that they have received, read, and understand the new employee policy.
Explain the purpose for the new policy
Explaining the purpose for implementing a new employee policy or changing an existing policy, especially one that is likely to be unpopular, goes a long way in helping employees cope with the change. When you explain the business reasons why you are implementing the new employee policy, emphasize any positive impact it will have on employee welfare and company performance. And don’t forget to be gracious, thanking the employees for their understanding and patience while the new employee policy is implemented.
Informing employees of the reasons for a policy change also helps cut down on speculation and gossip. When employee don’t know the reason why you are implementing a new employee policy, they will individually and collectively try to guess what motivated the change. These attempts to deduce the reason for the new change can result in unnecessary distractions and wasted time. It can also lead to finger pointing directed at fellow employees whose behavior is speculated to be the root of the policy change.
Give employee time to adapt to the new policy
In some case, it may be worthwhile to give employees some time to adapt to the new employee policy after it is implemented. Although most employees will be prepared for the change after receiving sufficient notice, it may take some employees time to adapt after the fact. This may be because they failed to anticipate the actual effect of the change or were just unable to prepare in time. Either way, giving these employees some extra time to adjust, within reason, may stave off a drop in employee morale. Options for giving employees time to adapt after you begin the policy implementation process may include phasing the policy in over time when possible or increasing the number of warnings an employee may receive before being formally disciplined.
Implementing a new employee policy or changing an existing one can negatively impact your employees’ morale. However, many steps can be taken to minimize that impact. Taking the time before and during the implementation process to make sure it is done right may end up saving you from having to spend more time after implementation restoring employee morale and replacing disaffected employees.