Study links employee health to organizational change

New Canadian research suggests physical and mental wellness may take a hit when employees experience upheaval in the workplace.

Study links employee health to organizational change
Organizations embarking on major change may want to bolster their health and wellness initiatives after a new study found links between workplace upheaval and employee health.

Released yesterday by HR consultancy Morneau Shepell, the research shows that 46 per cent of employees have either taken time off following workplace changes and/or have noticed colleagues doing the same.

The survey found that 66 per cent of respondents had seen at least one organizational change with their current employer – the most common came in the form of team restructuring which 39 per cent of employees had experienced.

Downsizing and job re-design came in joint second place with 35 per cent, followed by re-design of the office space at 29 per cent and mergers at 15 per cent.

Of those employees who had experienced a change, a significant amount admitted it had impacted them in a negative way – in fact,  43 per cent said it damaged their perception of the company, 40 per cent said it affected their health and well-being and 30 per cent said it impacted their job performance.

Alan Torrie, president and CEO of Morneau Shepell, said the study was worrying as organizational change was only going to become more frequent in the future.

"The reality is that organizational change is more likely to increase than decrease over time. With technology advances, new business models and global economic forces, change is the new normal," Torrie explained.

"With this, it is important for organizations to understand the impact on people and consider the best way to support their workforce through on-going change."

Morneau Shepell also assessed workplace mental health issues in general and found that the most prevalent conditions remain depression and anxiety, with 31 per cent and 28 per cent of employee respondents having indicated a current or past mental health condition, respectively.

"On the positive side, many employees are turning to their co-workers as an important source for social support,” said Stephen Liptrap, COO at Morneau Shepell.

“We found that 61 per cent of employee respondents indicated their co-workers had a positive impact on their mental well-being,” he revealed. “Employer support and resources, such as an employee and family assistance program, were also noted as valuable by employees."

Unsurprisingly, the study also found that culture is vital to ensuring employers are resilient to change – in fact, a huge 75 per cent of all respondents pointed to culture as the most important issue to address regarding mental health.

This issue ranked above the importance of employees' willingness to get help (71 per cent), employees' coping skills and resilience (70 per cent), reducing stigma among employees (65 per cent), reducing stigma among managers (65 per cent) and concerns about employees returning from disability leave (62 per cent).

"We know that employees who report a positive work culture are less likely to have taken mental health sick leave in the past two years," said Paula Allen, VP of research and integrative solutions.

"We also found that employees were less likely to indicate negative impact to their job performance, view of the company or their own health and well-being after an organizational change when they report a positive and supporting work culture."

That said, among people managers, nearly half (47 per cent) indicated negative workplace culture as the top issue in the workplace. This issue was ranked higher than absenteeism (36 per cent), presenteeism (32 per cent) or employee engagement (21 per cent).

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