How management can prevent the downside of change
It has been found through a series of studies that staff cutbacks, particularly in service industries, invariably have a negative impact on frontline employees’ ability to interact successfully with customers. For example over nine years in the US healthcare industry, the number of patient interactions per employee increased from 182 in 2006 to 216 in 2015.
But is this really effective?
Whilst at first sight this might look like a greater level of effectiveness, in practice it has been found to:
- Dramatically reduce the amount of ‘quality time’ that healthcare professionals have with the patients
- Reduce health care outcomes
- Increase mistakes
- Increase offset and long term cost and
- Increase work stress and
- Increase staff turnover which can lead to a deskilling of the workforce
Cost efficiencies are usually the driver in staff cutbacks in the service industry, yet one of the most important factors in job satisfaction for those at the coalface is client interaction. Could effective management, where the staff trusts its managers, improve the negative implications of such change?
Research just published suggests that most of the negative impacts brought about by such ‘cutback’change cannot be offset by management as they are structural issues.
The study, based on interviews of 879 nursing staff from five US and Chinese healthcare organisations, did find however that good management can, “attenuate the negative effect of frontline employees’ role stress on their quality performance and job satisfaction, thus securing the intended benefits of a productivity orientation.”
Change – role stress and performance
What this means is that whilst good management cannot overcome the effects of cutbacks on things like the amount of time a nurse gets with a patient for example, it can help to
- Reduce the stress experienced by the staff brought about by such changes
- Increase job satisfaction and
- Improve productivity
Perceptions of change and the perceptions of management
The researchers, from universities in China and the US, found it is the perceptions of the change coupled with the perceptions of management which increase role stress and have a negative impact on role performance and job satisfaction. Together these two factors often exacerbate an already bad situation.
Drive their staff harder
What the researchers also found was that senior management seeking cost efficiencies will inevitably drive their staff harder. This is often as a direct result of the fact that fewer people have to do the same job as a larger team once did.
In many sectors such as healthcare, the passenger airline industry etc. there are definite minimum ratios between staff and clients that cannot be reduced without compromising safety.
However, during cutbacks those on the front lines tend to sense that they can’t do their jobs as well as they used to with larger teams. A nurse rushed off her feet will not be able to form relationships with her patients, and the patients will often feel anonymous and uncared for as a result. This feeds back to the nurse through patient attitudes and negatively impacts her job satisfaction as a consequence.
So how management can prevent the downside of change?
How management can prevent the downside of change
However, the researchers did find how management can prevent the downside of change, or some of it at least. They found that trust in management can attenuate the stress associated with change. As the researchers recognise, “establishing trust is not a quick fix that can allow any manager to successfully implement organisational change. Rather, trust must be understood as a long-term asset to be developed, which managers can leverage to more nimbly guide their organisations.”
In effect what the researchers found was that in cases where the staff trust and have a good relationship with their managers and the management as a body, and they feel the managers care, then stress levels are likely to be significantly reduced. As a direct consequence of this trust and reduced stress, the researchers found that the staff and management worked together to reduce the impact of the cutbacks on the patients and often actually increased productivity.
Where the relationship between the management and the staff did not promote trust the effect was the opposite; higher stress levels, lower job satisfaction, reduced productivity, reduced patient / customer satisfaction and reduced outcomes.
So where trust has been built between the management and the staff, the negativity associated with efficiency driven change can often be eased. This does not mean that trust in management will entirely prevent the negative consequences of cutback focussed change, but it will definitely ease the consequences and, where that trust does not exist, cutback focussed change will invariably result in worse outcomes than intended.
Reference – available to members
We are just starting to build an encyclopaedia of useful research terms. Are there any you would like to see? Go to The Oxford Review Encyclopaedia of Terms
Be impressively well informed
Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published
Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...