Emotional Salary is the non-financial or emotional gains we obtain from working that motivate us, change our perception of work and lead to personal and professional development.

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Decreasing employee resistance to organizational change through Emotional Salary

“Change is the only constant in life.”


When the going gets tough, and it always does, you will need all your people to row with you. We are talking about a constant in our workplaces: Change. Change is a constant inevitable. It is just a steady process that we all need to learn to navigate in the way we work. A leader that does not know how to adapt to change will have a harder time moving the organization forward. Love it or hate it, organizational change is a fundamental part of leadership today. According to research by Gartner, a typical organization has undertaken five major company-wide changes in the past three years — and nearly 75% expected this to increase significantly in the following three years. In a 2018 research study of over 2,000 managers, 47% reported that in order to survive, they needed to reinvent their businesses every three years or less. And that was before the global pandemic and war in Europe, so one can only imagine how this statistic has changed in the last three years. 

Why now?


In one of our recent webinars, leaders cited employee resistance to change and uncertainty as one of the key challenges they are facing. During periods of organizational change leaders oftentimes feel like octopuses  trying to navigate their own way through the change as well as trying to figure out the best way to support and encourage their teams. Yet many leaders receive little or no training or support in how to do this, and organizations assume that it is something leaders should know just because of their role . For example, as many organizations are navigating a return to office-based working or hybrid working following long period of working from home, and we need to recognize that this is a significant change for employees and it is likely to lead to resistance from some quarters. 

What are the effects of Organizational Change?


Organizational change causes a sense of uncertainty among employees and this is likely to create stress which will have a huge impact on our wellbeing at work. According to research by the American Psychological Association, those affected by change at work are more likely to report chronic work stress, less likely to trust their employer, have lower levels of job satisfaction, and are more likely to say they plan to leave the organization within the next year compared with those who haven’t been affected by organizational change. At a time when organizations are already struggling to retain and attract staff, but need to continue to change to survive, what is the answer?

What is Emotional Salary?


Emotional Salary is the non-financial or emotional benefits that we get from our work that motivate us, change our perception of work and lead to personal and professional development. In our research we’ve identified 10 different elements or factors that constitute Emotional Salary. 

Emotional salary is subjective and fluid, so any change that occurs in our working environment is likely to have an immediate impact on our Emotional Salary, either positively or negatively. By focusing on and prioritizing the Emotional Salary of employees when implementing change initiatives, leaders and organizations can not only lessen employee resistance to change, but also use it as an opportunity to increase employee motivation and engagement. Our Emotional Salary Barometer can also be used to track the impact of change initiatives on employees by measuring their Emotional Salary before and after the change is implemented.

So what can you do as a leader to support your employees’ Emotional Salary during periods of change?

The 10 factors of Emotional Salary and Organizational Change


By exploring each of the 10 factors of Emotional Salary and how they are impacted by organizational change, we can identify some practical steps that leaders can take to reduce resistance to change and support employees in times of change and uncertainty.

Autonomy: the freedom to manage working style, projects and time


It can be difficult for leaders to get the balance right when it comes to autonomy in times of change. Autonomy refers to a perceived sense of freedom of how we manage our working style, projects and time and it has a huge impact on our motivation at work. Employees with more perceived  autonomy tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction and wellbeing. This is why it is important to ensure that you involve your team in the change and review with them how they can adapt their work, working style, projects and time according to what’s important for them, while supporting them throughout the change process.  

Belonging: feeling connected, appreciated and valued at work


Belonging refers to feeling “seen” at work. It increases employee commitment as it is about feeling that you belong to something that is larger than yourself and it serves as a mirror to recognize your own self in relation to others. It is a powerful factor because when it is high  employees feel an increase in their sense of worth and impact within a system. This is why they are more likely to put in more discretionary effort which is valuable in times of change and uncertainty. Transparent and frequent communication with your team about the change is vital to foster a sense of belonging. It is important for leaders to have a clear understanding of how each team member is likely to be impacted by the change and to demonstrate to each of them how valuable they are to the organization, both now and in the post-change future. Giving your team the time and space to discuss and explore the change together will foster a sense of connection, which will be key for the success of the change and  employee wellbeing in challenging times.

Creativity: the exploration, development and expression of original ideas


The objective of many change initiatives is to enhance the status quo and to innovate and improve. So, if there is one thing we need in times of change and uncertainty, it’s an openness to creativity. Often those who are closer to the front line have greater insights into how change can be structured most effectively, but they need to feel empowered and encouraged to exercise their creative muscle. The ideal solution is to provide the team the reason and objective for the change and to allow them to co-create how the change can be implemented in the team. If this is not possible, then encouraging them to come up with suggestions as to how processes and procedures can be improved as part of the change process is important. Ensure that there are regular opportunities for the team to share, stories, resources and insights in relation to the change which will encourage them to look at issues from different perspectives.

Direction: being able to co-create a fulfilling career path


Change programs, particularly those that involve changes in roles or responsibilities, are likely to leave employees wondering about how their career development opportunities are going to be affected, causing uncertainty and a feeling of uneasiness and stress. It is essential that as a leader you communicate openly and clearly to every member of your team what the impact of the change is likely to have on their careers and why. Talk to them about how the change will offer them opportunities to continue to develop flexibly and in line with their career goals. It is also beneficial to explore how any new tasks, systems or responsibilities as a result of the change will contribute to their career development.

Enjoyment: having fun and authentic social interactions at work


If there is one thing that can keep us going in difficult times, it’s humour and connection.  During periods of change and uncertainty, when we are likely to be working under more stress and pressure, we often feel like we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves at work because there is no time or space for it. Having fun at work is good for us and is associated with enhanced work performance, satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, health, and coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout, stress, and work withdrawal.There is often a tendency to put fun or social events on hold until after the change has been implemented. But connection, fun and humour can be a great stress reducer, as long as it is appropriate in the circumstances. 

Put your attention and intention in these times on providing opportunities for your team to disconnect from work and connect with each other on a personal level. Explore what games, competitions or challenges you could hold in the team and encourage them to think about how they can incorporate more fun and enjoyment into their work as part of the change. If all the focus and talk at work is on the change and nothing else, it is likely to negatively impact employee wellbeing and contribute to burnout.

Inspiration: having a sense of possibility and gaining new insights


Imagine that in a room that is dark, you discover a door that you hadn’t seen before and it gives you light, a new perspective and a new sense of possibility. This is a good metaphor of what Inspiration does for you. Research shows that inspiration increases our progress towards goals, so ensuring that your team remain inspired throughout the change process is likely to impact positively on the success of the change. In challenging times or times of uncertainty, it can be difficult for us to focus on the positive and find inspiration, because we feel so overwhelmed by what is happening around us that is beyond our control. During these times of change if you have even one person in your team who is approaching change with negativity, this can permeate throughout the whole team, and make it difficult for others to see the change from a positive perspective. This is due to the psychological principle of negativity bias, which means that we put more of our attention on the bad things that are happening around us. You could say that unfortunately we are attracted to the negative!

Your role as leader is to focus on the options and possibilities that the change will bring. Share positive and inspiring stories and talk about how the change links to organizational and team values. Take time to explore how the change will impact what is important to each team member and how it will positively link with their personal values.

Mastery: working towards achieving true excellence in your work


Personal mastery positively influences organizational performance directly and indirectly through organizational learning and innovation, as well as having a positive impact on intrinsic motivation. Often change initiatives are focused on efficiency and need employees to learn and understand new systems, processes and ways of working. But when we are working in new or difficult situations, it can take all our energy to survive and do the basics, that any thoughts of excellence or mastery go out of the window. As a leader it is essential that you give your team the time and space to do their best work, and praise them for doing so, particularly when working in new or difficult situations when it may take them considerably longer. Be careful of situations where your employees may not have the opportunity to work towards mastery in what they do because of the pressure that they are under. Be patient with your team, and ensure that when they are pursuing excellence, you communicate to them that it is recognized and valued, even when mistakes are made.

Personal Growth: gaining self-awareness and developing as a human being


Personal growth is one of the most important characteristics of modern leadership. As well as being better leaders, employees who are committed to personal growth are likely to be more engaged, more motivated and more productive than those who are not. Times of change are often a great opportunity for personal growth because we tend to learn more about ourselves when we are thrust out of our comfort zones. During these times people can learn to be more curious, humble, more grateful, more fair, or more open-minded, for example. However, this can also be stressful for many people and it can take time for people to recognize the opportunities available for personal growth. This is why deliberate intervention and awareness of those strengths that make us better human beings is crucial. Change can also lead to fear and distrust, which obviously do not bring out the best in people. When we are focusing on responding and adapting rapidly, there is also a danger that reflection and learning from mistakes is lost. Organizations and leaders especially must be aware of the importance and value of personal growth in times of uncertainty and give employees the opportunity to develop as human beings.

You can encourage a focus on personal growth by leading by example and creating a culture within the team that supports the development of self-awareness and positive traits. Ask your team members to think about the opportunities the change will give them to grow as a person, both from their interactions with others and in what they do at work on a day to day basis.

Professional Growth: developing your professional talents, skills and abilities


In periods of organizational change, it is not uncommon for formal learning to be put on hold until the change has been integrated or to bombard employees with courses to learn new systems and procedures, expecting them to be proficient immediately. Professional growth during change is vital, but if formal learning is put on hold there is a real risk that employees perceive that their opportunities for professional growth have disappeared. When expectations of employees’ learning and professional growth are too high, the danger is that they will feel overwhelmed. 

The role of the leader in this situation it to get the balance right. Encourage your team members to recognize, record and share with colleagues any on-the-job learning. Think about how you can get creative in relation to any new skills or abilities that the team need to develop because of the change. Remind your team that the change is a great opportunity to develop new skills, but ensure that they feel they have adequate support and training available to them in order to do so. 

Purpose: feeling that your work has meaning and you are contributing to something bigger


Having a clear sense of purpose increases motivation, productivity, morale and job satisfaction and it is essential in times of change. It is important for employees to feel that the organization is contributing positively on a personal, organizational and societal level. It is imperative that employees have the opportunity to discuss the reason behind any change, how it links to the organizational and team purpose, and how their role and impact on organzational goals will be impacted. 

As a leader you should focus on what the change will mean for the team and organizational purpose. It is a good idea to create a team purpose statement specifically for the change process, or revisit the team’s existing purpose statement with the change in mind. Explore with all team members how their role will be impacted by the change and how they can align elements of personal purpose with that of the team and organization.

What you need to remember


The important thing to remember is that Emotional Salary is subjective and fluid. This means that any change, however small, has the potential to impact it, positively or negatively. One of the most valuable things you can do for your team as a leader is to understand what is important to each of your team members in terms of their Emotional Salary and take this into account not only in times of change, but in your day to day leadership.

If you’d like to find out more about how our tools, training and resources on Emotional Salary can support your team or organization through change, or whether our Leaders Certification Program is right for you, then you can get in touch with us here.


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