Bangkok post> Jobs > Career guide

Employee engagement through times of change

Trends in Thailand are changing faster than ever before, be it in terms of the economy, business, politics or demographic trends. To keep pace, organisations have to take significant steps to remain competitive and deliver results.

While successful organisations often rely on a modest, continuous level of change, more challenging economic conditions in recent years have forced some to make substantial changes.

Times of change can cause employees to feel confused or unsure about how they will fit in after the change. It can be difficult for them to stay focused and productive. Maintaining employee engagement in the midst of organisational change is a key element in the success of a change initiative.

Aon Hewitt's employee engagement methodology and measurements demonstrate that engaged employees say good things about working at an organisation, have a desire to stay and be part of the organisation, and strive to give extra effort at work. Employee engagement becomes particularly important during times of change because a highly engaged workforce is more likely to embrace and drive the change while a disengaged workforce might cause resistance.

Transformational changes such as a merger and acquisition (M&A), strategy transformation and restructuring affect engagement even more. Yet many organisations struggle with effective strategies and actions to help improve engagement during the change.

Leaders need to tailor organisational efforts to the specific type of change employees face. Aside from involving employees in decisions and providing guidance on career paths — important in all change situations — the mechanisms for driving engagement vary depending on the type of change that is occurring.

For M&As, the visibility of senior leadership is key to keep employees engaged. They want to see and hear from their senior leaders to help them understand where the new organisation is heading and how the change affects them. It appears employees value skills development during M&As, where these skills and behaviours may be vital for the newly integrated business model.

Restructuring efforts usually result in redundancies, which affects employees in a personal and tangible way. Those who stay may still fear for their jobs, while at the same time may be required to take on the work of those who have left.

Employees in such situations can be engaged by observing co-workers who are making personal sacrifices for the organisation. They also need to know they can depend on others within a work group. The organisation and its leaders should also reinforce they are committed to the ongoing development of their employees.

Strategy transformations usually mean letting go of old behaviours and adopting new ones to compete in new markets and drive business value in a different way. Leaders can drive engagement during such a transformation by keeping an open, two-way dialogue. Employees want to feel as if they are working in an environment that still values their input and enables good decision-making even if core strategy has changed.

Driving employee engagement: Organisations need to assess, understand and take action as it undergoes transformation using a five-step plan:

First, define the type of change the organisation is experiencing and what is required from employees. Second, measure engagement and other work experiences throughout the change.  Third, tailor interventions that meet employees' engagement needs. Our analysis has identified five key themes that are important for employees undergoing change:

Connection: Employees want to have a personal connection to leaders and co-workers.

Career: The need for a clear career path showed up consistently in our analyses.

Capability: Leaders need to be able to communicate and handle tough questions while employees need to develop their skills.

Care: Leaders need to show their care and look after their employees during the difficult time, every moment is an engagement opportunity for leaders.

Communication: Leaders need to update what is going on and need to have a two-way communication to ensure employees understand the context.

Fourth, develop an action plan with clear timelines and accountabilities, followed by implementation. And finally, reinforce and ensure that they don't lose steam during the change process.

With change happening all around us, organisations that recognise the significant impact of employee engagement and take action to measure and manage it will come out ahead.

It may be challenging but not impossible to maintain high levels of engagement during change. Therefore, taking the first step in a change management strategy — measuring engagement and what drives it for the organisation — is important to help organisations manage effectively the opportunities and risks associated with most types of change and transformation.

Napas Sirivarangkul is a senior consultant with Aon Hewitt's Performance & Organisation Practice in Thailand. Aon Hewitt, a global leader in human resource solutions, has partnered with the Bangkok Post and the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration to conduct the Best Employers Asia 2015 programme, aimed at identifying the companies with the best practices in talent management. These are shared with participating organisations and results are benchmarked against other aspiring or recognised Best Employers in Thailand and Asia Pacific. The Best Employers Thailand 2015 award ceremony will be held in April 2015. For more information, contact or call 02-305-4744. See