COVID-19 has had a significant impact on business globally. Whether directly or indirectly, the impact has predominately resulted in drastic cost-cutting measures with notable large-scale retrenchments. Unfortunately, our greatest ‘expense’ is often our Human Capital. This has had a significant impact on the South African economy, adding to an already strained economy and remarkable unemployment rate.

Indirect impacts have necessitated the need for almost every business to review their current organisational structures and determine a course of action to streamline structures, functions and processes with a view to effectively respond to market changes with the required level of speed. In fact, during these exponential times, it would be irresponsible for businesses not to restructure, reorganise and re-energise their businesses. The consequence of not doing this could very easily result in a business becoming irrelevant.

However, at times of rapid change such as these, our employees are greatly impacted in several ways. Added to this is the stress and trauma that COVID-19 has brought about for individuals across the world as we have lost our centre of control to lock-down policies that dictate shifts in our ‘norms’ on our behalf.   

Whilst the debate may be whether these times of uncertainty are the responsibility of an employer, it is evident, that if we wish to drive productivity and return to optimal operating standards, then employers will need to consider the emotional state of their employees.

The most important facet of organisational change is to ensure that your customers, your suppliers, your stakeholders, including your employees, stay loyal to the brand as the shift in organisational structure unfolds. Without this support, any organisational change, whether positive or difficult may inadvertently, add to the organisational instabilities that triggered a restructure in the first instance.

Companies can do this in a myriad of ways. Most relevant is outstanding communication. Consistently, broadly, and with brutal honesty, so that the changes are understood, and therefore supported.

Outplacement support for exiting employees is crucial. If the commitment to “charity begins at home” is sincere then BEE and Skills Development budgets typically spent on external programmes, can be channelled to supporting exiting employees to reskill, realign to market demands or establish small businesses as an alternative to formal employment. 

Not working in your current role, shouldn’t necessarily equate to an unemployment statistic. However, the process of realigning skills, experience, exposure and expectations, often needs us to support the employee through the change process.

Equally important, yet often forgotten, is the support required for those employees who are remaining within the organisation. Whilst these employees may retain their positions or roles, they are equally impacted by the retrenchment process. We often refer to these employees as “survivors”. The impact that the retrenchment process has on the remaining employees can often result in resentment, distrust, instability, uncertainty and ultimately a sharp decline in productivity.

Designing and implementing an organisational change programme aimed at creating and maintaining, if not increasing, high performing teams is essential for continued business functionality and success. Simultaneously, creating a change-agile and adaptable workforce and business that allows you to respond to market changes with ease.

The reality is that every single business has had to question their agility, their market relevance and their operating model. If we wish to build organisational resilience, then it is critical to provide a robust change support system for employees to ensure that the collective commitment to change, becomes the organisational ethos.