HR pros play a critical role in communicating change

Posted December 8, 2016

By Katie Loehrke, PHR, editor, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Few companies make it in business long without a few significant changes, and many find themselves adjusting business models almost regularly in order to stay competitive. Since many people seek stability in the routine nature of their jobs, calls for change within an organization can provoke especially intense resistance.

Unfortunately, whether you encounter resistance or not, change is inevitable. Communicating change and helping employees adapt is absolutely a Human Resources function. So, how can you, as an HR pro, help employees better cope with change?

Refrain from assumptions. Sure, you and other company leaders may think a certain change is a great idea, but employees probably haven’t had the same time to consider and adjust to the modification. Give them a little time to reflect and adjust.

Understand how people react to change. There are three main reasons people dislike change. First, they fear the unknown. Second, they fear they may lose something because of the change. Third, change implies the possibility of failure. Understanding employees’ fears can help you effectively address them.

Keep the lines of communication open. While employees may not be the ones making strategic decisions, they are the ones who will determine the success or failure of such decisions. Help employees understand why a change is necessary and how it will affect them. Perhaps the company can’t remain competitive if a change is not implemented, for example. If employees aren’t on board right away, find out why. It’s possible that the people in the trenches have some insight that you and other company leaders don’t. Or, perhaps employees don’t understand a change because they haven’t been exposed to the same level of detail that you have.

Get key buy-in. Employees may be more likely to accept a change endorsed by an influential peer.

Acknowledge the emotional turbulence the change may create. Even the best employees may exhibit sadness or frustration over abandoning long-held ways of doing business, even if they understand that the action was necessary for the health of the organization. Encourage employees to speak up if a change is causing them trouble, and help them sort out whether their issues are purely emotional or whether a particular process needs further improvement.

Be a role model. Employees will look to company leaders for reactions to change. Don’t make light of a situation in which an employee is having difficulty adjusting, but do maintain a positive attitude about the change. Seeing positive examples may help employees see change as a less-scary proposition.

Be willing to investigate a change that might not be for the better. Not every change will be implemented smoothly, and some won’t be as effective as they were intended to be. If employees have legitimate concerns, consider making appropriate adjustments or discussing your employees’ concerns with the initiators of the change.

About the author:

Katie Loehrke

Katie Loehrke is a certified Professional in Human Resources and an editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource firm. The company offers a diverse line of products and services to address the broad range of responsibilities held by HR and corporate professionals. Loehrke specializes in employment law topics such as discrimination, privacy and social media, and affirmative action. She is the editor of J. J. Keller’s Employment Law Today newsletter and its Essentials of Employment Law manual. For more information, visit