Help employees handle change

Elizabeth Solberg

Not all employees are enthusiastic about change. If they get help to develop new competence, they are better able to adapt to changes and new job demands.

Most organisations, both companies and public enterprises, operate in constantly changing surroundings.

Sometimes, organisations must implement changes to meet new demands from their customers and surroundings. This may include utilising new technology to be competitive and live up to expectations from users.

This entails that both managers and employees must change how they perform their work tasks.

See Leader's Toolbox: Three tips to help employees adapt to changes

Some employees appear to thrive on change, and can easily adapt to new job demands.

However, not all employees are ready for change. Employees that are less than enthusiastic about change, are at risk of being considered inept at adapting to new ways of working.

In some cases, they are replaced with new employees with the right qualifications. Is that necessary?

What can the organisation do?

“It is not necessarily prudent to give up on employees who are generally not open to changes,” claims Associate Professor Elizabeth Solberg at BI Norwegian Business School.

Solberg recently completed her doctorate by studying how employees in different types of organisations adapt to changed job demands.

When organisations are recruiting new employees, they now place greater emphasis on identifying candidates that are also able to adapt to changes and enjoy this. But what about those who have been in the organisation for a while?

Solberg has been particularly concerned with studying what organisations can do to better enable existing employees to adapt to changes and new job demands.

In her doctoral project at BI, she followed about 70 civilian employees in the Norwegian Armed Forces over a six-month period. Each month, the participants in the study answered questions on what training activities they have participated in, and how often they adapted to changes in the work situation.

Eager to learn

The study shows that training is important to the employees’ ability to adapt to changes from month to month. Training is particularly important for those employees who are the least open to change.

Solberg actually found the strongest correlation between training from month to month and how often the employee adapts to changes, among employees who are generally not very open to change.

This is quite logical according to the organisational researcher.

“Employees who are not very open to changes typically do not have much experience with adjustment. They therefore have a limited repertoire of abilities and skills to draw on,” she says.

For these employees, it will therefore be critical to develop new competence and learn new ways of working to handle changed job demands.

Supervisors make a difference

The study also shows that supervisors who actively support the learning activities of employees who are not open to change, are rewarded with employees that adapt to new job demands to a greater extent.

Supervisors who are concerned with supporting their employees so they can master the tasks they need to solve, are often called mastery-oriented supervisors. These supervisors take time to understand each employee’s need for development. They advise and support, which helps the employees improve, and they facilitate the employees’ training.

“Mastery-oriented supervisors praise and recognise employees who perform well and fulfil the development goals,” says Elizabeth Solberg.

Elizabeth Solberg. “Adapting To Changing Job Demands: A Broadcast Approach to Understanding Self-Regulated Adaptive Performance and Cultivating It in Situated Work Settings”. Series of Dissertation - 05/2017. BI Norwegian Business School.


Text: Audun Farbrot, Special Adviser for Science Communication at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 22. January 2018

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