SUMMARY: Any organizational change may have an unsettling impact on employees who have mental health issues, whether it involves them directly or indirectly.

Consider the impact of change

Any change in an organization or to an employee's role has the potential to cause stress. The stress can be overwhelming when an employee is also dealing with mental health issues.

In some organizations, constant change is the norm which may have a negative impact on the psychological health of some employees. Using psychologically healthy approaches to change is a worthwhile investment to support employee performance, loyalty and support for the change.

While these approaches can benefit any employee, for those who have mental health issues, this can be the difference between an extremely difficult transition and one that involves a manageable level of adjustment.

Strategies to support employees during change

  • Be open, honest, positive, clear and accessible both in communicating the changes and after the changes have been made.
  • Celebrate or recognize the good work that was done under the old system. This step is often missed in change management. In an effort to "sell" the change, employers will sometimes dismiss or minimize any successes of the past. This may leave long-standing employees feeling unappreciated. Recognizing how they were able to accomplish so much under the previous system is more likely to leave them open to engaging in change.
  • Be specific about why and how the change will be implemented. Share as many details as possible about the intended timeline and steps of the change. State how the changes will ultimately contribute to both employee and organizational success and how success will be measured.
  • Be transparent about potential challenges that may be experienced as a result of the changes and jointly look for solutions to address them. Do not pretend the challenges do not exist nor try to minimize them. By stating the challenges and concerns before the employees do, you are helping to show you understand their reality and are working to make it as positive as possible.
  • Explain clearly what the employee's new or modified responsibilities will be. Ask the employee to share their understanding of your explanation to ensure that it has been communicated effectively.
  • Listen carefully to the employee's concerns about the change. Provide detailed responses to reassure the employee that you have heard their concerns, even if you are not able to address them completely.
  • Help the employee manage fear. Understand that some people do not like change, especially when it is not of their choosing. For people who may be experiencing a mental health issue, this can include severe worry or fear about their future. Discuss these fears and offer realistic reassurance to the employee. Consider approaches that could address these fears such as a temporary reduction in expectations, or additional skills training.
  • Consider modifications to accommodation. Times of change may warrant a review of any existing accommodation plans. If no accommodation plan exists, this may also be the appropriate time to offer accommodation to employees with mental health issues, even if they had previously declined such help. See Accommodation Strategies for ideas.
  • Reinforce what the employee does well and has previously done well on the job. Emphasize how these strengths will help in the adjustment to the new responsibilities. Let the employee know that they are valued by the  organization.
  • Adjust or set new performance goals once you have addressed the employee's concerns. Ask the employee how they can help meet the goals of the new organizational structure. This involvement can help employees feel that they are, to a certain extent, controlling the change and their future.

Addressing job insecurity

Changes that provoke feelings of insecurity about work can be particularly stressful for employees who have mental health issues. In the following article, experts identified strategies that can be useful for addressing concerns about employment insecurity:

Employment insecurity, economic insecurity, layoffs and mental health in the workplace
See the article Labour market changes and job insecurity: a challenge for social welfare and health promotion for more information.