A SURPRISING STUDY!

Participatory change to reduce insecurity

This document is destined for the exclusive use of and cannot be used for any other purpose or distributed to third parties. All rights reserved, Global-Watch ®

Légende: Recommendation of our expert

Expert-adviser:

Michel PÉRUSSE, associate professor, Université de Sherbrooke

Authors:

Étienne FOUQUET, research assistant, Université de Sherbrooke
Rachèle HÉBERT, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Rébecca LEFEBVRE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.

All organizational change comes with a lot of fear and insecurity, for managers as well as employees. Although a number of studies have been done on the topic of change in recent years, its impact on employee insecurity has not received a lot of attention. How to manage this insecurity and reduce negative consequences on the organization? To answer this question, we interpreted the study of Abildgaard, Nielsen and Sverke, published in 2017. This study aimed to evaluate the effects on job insecurity of participatory intervention at the organizational level during a restructuring.

What do we mean by :

Restructuring

Larousse dictionary defines restructuring as the act of reorganizing something based on new principles, with new structures. A restructuring always involves change, but not always at the same levels. So although this study deals with a restructuring that involves job cuts, another organization might reorganize departments, without cutting any jobs. It is therefore important to interpret the results of this study according to your own organizational context.

Intervention at the organizational level

The authors define organizational intervention as a series of planned actions, behaviours (stress management techniques) and theories (education on organizational health) that aims to improve employee health and well-being by changing the way work is designed, organized and managed.

Job insecurity 

The authors highlight two types of job insecurity

  1. Qualitative job insecurity: uncertainty about the future, concerning the future job content.
  2. Quantitative job insecurity: the risk of losing your job.

Both types of job insecurity can have negative consequences on employees, such as reduced well-being, weak engagement in the organization and higher levels of depressive symptoms.

 Method

  •  Two Danish postal services, which were different and independent from each other from an organizational point of view.
  • 238 participants.
  • By random draw, one of the two organizations played the role of intervention group (group where participatory intervention was put in place), and the other, the role of control group (where no intervention was put in place).
  • both postal services carried out very similar tasks.
  • Mixed-method approach combining interviews, observations in the field and questionnaires to evaluate participatory intervention at the organizational level.
Participatory intervention

Participatory intervention means that employees are involved in the implementation of organizational change. In other words, they are invited to participate in planning it and making it happen. This is the case, for example, whenemployees and managers contribute to prioritizing the problems that need to be solved most urgently. As part of the study analyzed, the intervention targeted the restructuring of two postal services. The postal services started to employ many fewer postal workers and to depend less on mail delivery as the primary source of revenue, focusing instead on other services, such as the delivery of packages. Thus, job cuts were expected, as well as changes in how tasks were organized. The restructuring took place in two stages. The first stage consisted of two phases and applied to both postal services.

  1. Initiation phase: a steering committee made up of representatives of employees and managers was created in each postal service.
  2. Exploration phase: data from interviews and questionnaires were collected from employees and managers to identify the most urgent changes to make and the way to make the changes. The results were presented at both postal services, which then carried out their normal activities. Each postal service already had in place an assessment process for psychosocial risks in order to identify remedial actions, which took the form of annual standardized surveyson well-being, followed by team discussions on remedial actions to adopt. These evaluations also followed their usual course.

The second stage applied to the intervention group only and was divided into four phases:

  1. Prioritization phase: the steering committee for the group took part in a prioritization workshop, during which they discussed the action steps identified during the exploration phase and prioritized them.
  2. Planning phase: employee members of the steering committee, a manager and a union representative of each work team took part in a workshop in order to prepare action plans in response to priorities set during the previous phase.
  3. Implementation phase: the managers and employees of the postal service put in place action plans. The steering committee, formed during the initiation phase, held regular meetings to follow the progress achieved.
  4. Evaluation phase: the effects of the intervention were evaluated by the steering committee.The evaluation was done through assessment interviews using a semi-structured format, with a questions series about the project (participation of people interviewed about activities, perceptions of the action plans, etc.) as well as a survey on practical aspects of the process, related to the intervention implementation (restructuring, competing projects, layoffs, etc.). During the evaluation phase, it emerged that restructuring in itself represented the main source of insecurity among employees, even more than the fear of losing their job.

What do the results of the study tell us?

Surprisingly… Employee participation in the change process is beneficial in a very specific way!

Employee participation in developing content for the organizational intervention did not cause a reduction of job insecurity. In fact, both types of insecurity increased slightly. However, when it came to qualitative insecurity – which was the subject of the specific action plans – this increase was significantly less than in the control group (no intervention).

 Principal results

1)   Paradox of participatory intervention

  • It is paradoxical to introduce measures that aim to reduce job insecurity when change has been planned and announced.
  • Participatory interventionadds a number of tasks to employees’ workload.

2)   Effectiveness of participatory intervention

  • Realistic objectives for participatory intervention would be effective in stabilizing job insecurity.
  • It is better to manage well the amount of work than to try to reduce it at all costs.
Interpretation
  • The intervention happens at a time when many employees are worrying about the extent of changes to come, which hinders the prevention of job insecurity.
  • Participatory intervention involves an increased workload stemming from meetings, working groups, surveys and additional action plans.
  • Reducing job insecurity during restructuring is overly ambitions; it is more effective and realistic to stabilize insecurity through participatory methods.
  • Despite an increased workload, participating in the planning and implementation of a restructuring stabilizes or greatly decreases job insecurity.
  • WARNING! Participatory intervention is not a miracle cure that can save an organization that is in trouble.
Because studies must always be interpreted with caution
The study was based on participatory intervention within a specific organization (national postal service). Therefore, the action plans created by employees would not necessarily suit other organizations. However, the principles that underlie participatory intervention as well as its main elements are transferrable to other contexts.

Actions for employers

To avoid as much as possible the negative consequences related to job insecuritymentioned above, this study offers concrete actions to better manage restructuring in organizations. The following table presents these.

Action steps

Specific ideas

Example

  • Involve employees in change management
  • The participation of employees can require more time and resources, but over time, it is beneficial.
  • Adopt a strategy of communication transparencyto avoid unjustified insecurity from arising.
  • Involve employees even in minor changes: their participation will lead them to take ownership of changes and adopt them more easily. Their involvement can have a positive effect on others (ripple effect).
  • The insecurity will be mitigated for aspects that were the subject of the intervention.
  • Adopt a culture that promotes participation
  • Reflect on ways to apply the different phases of intervention.
  • Lay the groundwork!
  • Encourage employees to take part in decisions and make them feel they are important to the organization.
  • Adapt the intervention’s phases to the organizational context.
  • Do not hesitate to call on external consultants, if needed, for support in managing change.
  • You have to prepare. Participatory change can be complex to put in place. It is better to implement this participatory culture in the organization’s various decisions when it is stable. If a change occurs, employees and managers will be better able to apply it.
  • Be careful!
  • Set realistic objectives during major periods of change.
  • Reduce expectations to a realistic level when it is a matter of reducing the effects of change on employees. Sometimes, stabilizing a negative situation is more achievable than reversing it.

Recommendations from our expert

In a time of organizational change, both types of job insecurity are unavoidable. Employee involvement allows you to substantially mitigate the aspects of insecurity for which participation is solicited. In short, the following steps must be done:

  • Undertake participatory processes as early as possible;
  • Identify the aspects of change that are most likely to cause employees concern;
  • Create working groups that can suggest ideas related to the content of change as well as the best ways to introduce it;
  • Carefully follow the proposed action plans, provided that you
    • Regularly evaluate the progress made; and
    • Are ready to jointly carry out readjustments, if necessary.

TO CITE THIS GLOBAL-WATCH SCIENTIFIC INTERPRETATION

Pérusse, M. Fouquet, E. Hébert, R., Lefebvre, R., (2018).  Participatory change to reduce insecurity. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at www.global-watch.com

TO CITE THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY THE AUTHORS OF THE STUDY

Abildgaard, J. S., Nielsen, K., & Sverke, M. (2017). Can job insecurity be managed? Evaluating an organizational-level intervention addressing the negative effects of restructuring. Work & Stress, 1‑19.

Pin It on Pinterest