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Introducing Change

We are all creatures of habit; we all have a routine and a particular way of doing things, even down to how we make a cup of tea. While the idea of change is like water off a duck’s back for some, for others it will send them into turmoil.

Change is inevitable. If you think about the speed of technological change, it’s turbo-charged these days. At the start of the twentieth century the cycle of complete technical change was about once every 45 years. Now it’s about once every three or four years. What happens in life spills into the workplace and there are changes all the time. Some are micro-changes, some are whoppers. When people hear that things are going to be different, they often think it will be bad and are not willing to accept any variation to their routine and what they know.

One of the common workplace changes we regularly experience is an update of employment documents. It might be an individual variation of contract or a full overhaul of your terms of employment and employee handbook (you really ought to do this every three years if they’re going to be effective). These updates should reflect the requirements of your business as well as current employment law requirements.

Many employers find introducing changes is a daunting task as the fear of change leads employees to say ‘I’m not signing that’, then causing confrontation. Change is often feared because the reason for the changes and how it will affect employees is not communicated well. An employee needs to hear what the changes are and understand the justification for them. Most people will accept changes if they understand why they are happening and if they think they are reasonable. Employees should also be offered the chance to ask questions and have time to consider any variations (if they are significant) before they sign to agree.

There will be some employees who will be more willing than others to accept changes. Start introducing the changes with them and then move onto the more reluctant employees. Depending on the changes you can sit employees down in a group or talk to them individually, for some changes it may be worth speaking to all employees first then speaking to them one to one.

There are three key points to cover when informing employees about changes to employment documents. Give the rationale for the change and the evidence supporting the decision. Talk the changes through with affected employees and explain how they will be affected. Give employees the chance to ask questions and raise concerns. Take the time to do what you can to resolve those concerns. In most cases, most employees will usually accept these changes without a fuss and once one employee has signed to agree, most employees will follow in their footsteps.

Sometimes there are a few employees who dig their heels in and refuse to sign any variation. If they have a valid reason for refusing change there are a variety of ways of tackling it. On one occasion an organisation had carried out a pay and benefits analysis and concluded that it wanted to harmonise holiday terms. This meant an increase in holiday for most staff. But one or two of the senior people were already over the proposed level by a few days. The organisation was prepared to offer a sweetener. One manager accepted that the proposal and process was reasonable and signed. The second did not. He immediately started talking about the sweetener, but we pointed out that only those on the new contract would get that. If he stayed on the old contract he’d have his holiday at the existing level and there would be no sweetener. He went away, thought about it and signed.

Once the majority have accepted change, most people will fall into line. If they don’t a genuine effort to address their concerns usually does the job. If they’re still refusing, it’s time to call us!

It is really important to ensure that all employees have signed and you follow up with anyone who is outstanding. While the easier option may be to forget about it to avoid fuss and confrontation with an individual, problems can arise later and it can cause confusion because you don’t know what part of the changed terms the employee has accepted and what he has not accepted.

Summer offer – we’re offering a 20% discount on terms and conditions and employee handbook update for the month of August. If you’d like your documents updated so they’re not just compliant and up-to-date but reflect the HR Headmistress’ practical style, get in touch. Call 0845 644 8955 or email us.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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