How management can prevent the downside of change

How management can prevent the downside of change

Preventing the downside of change

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:

  1. Dramatically reduce the amount of ‘quality time’ that healthcare professionals have with the patients
  2. Reduce health care outcomes
  3. Increase mistakes
  4. Increase offset and long term cost and
  5. Increase work stress and
  6. Increase staff turnover which can lead to a deskilling of the workforce

Cost efficiencies

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?


Cost efficiencies


New research

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

  1. Reduce the stress experienced by the staff brought about by such changes
  2. Increase job satisfaction and
  3. 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.

Driving staff

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.

Trust Management

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

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Disclaimer: This is a research review, expert interpretation and briefing. As such it contains other studies, expert comment and practitioner advice. It is not a copy of the original study – which is referenced. The original study should be consulted and referenced in all cases. This research briefing is for informational and educational purposes only. We do not accept any liability for the use to which this review and briefing is put or for it or the research accuracy, reliability or validity. This briefing as an original work in its own right and is copyright © Oxcognita LLC 2024. Any use made of this briefing is entirely at your own risk.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page