The Importance of Participative Work Design when Restructuring an Organisation

Change and uncertainty resulting from organisational restructuring can be frightening and highly stressful.  However, it can also be an opportunity for both the organisation and the individual if a participative work design approach is adopted.

A change of staff and circumstances can provide the opportunity to search for efficiencies and work creatively to refine and enhance systems and processes to value add to current outputs from the organisation.  For individuals, opportunities may include improved career paths and more variety and increased satisfaction associated with new and more challenging work, provided relevant training and support are made available.

To help staff and managers deal with the challenges presented by this situation, provide as much information as possible about what is happening, what is negotiable and what is not.  Provide staff and managers with defined boundaries and budgets within which they can work participatively.  It is important to build into your process a number of ways for staff to raise concerns, to vent their anger and frustration and acknowledge their fears.

Some staff will be energised by the amount of change and relish the opportunities it presents, while others will be traumatised, fearful and very stressed requiring significant leave and support.  This support can be in the form of both internal and external counselling services, problem resolution processes, Employee Assistance Schemes or the opportunity to negotiate reduced hours.

Once staff have accepted the change, they need to work through structured participative processes to identify the functions that their particular work unit is responsible for and how they fit into the overall operation of the organisation.  Job Descriptions and selection criteria will need to be written and the new positions put through job evaluation processes to ensure consistency of capability and responsibility across levels.

Training will need to be available to upskill people to take advantage of the changed structures and new ways of working.  Managers will also need training and support to help them assist staff by raising awareness of opportunities and helping them to deal with stress and uncertainty – while trying to maintain required levels of output.

To encourage effective participative work design, senior managers need to present a clear policy statement of support based on agreement with Unions.  Unions also need to be involved in negotiating job redesign processes and work organisation, promoting a culture that encourages input from all staff equally.  Mechanisms need to be set up to allow for regular consultation on issues of concern to staff and to encourage vulnerable members of staff to participate.

Managers need to provide a variety of methods of participation to staff, including both group discussion and one-on-one interviews.  Trained facilitators can provide the necessary skills to work effectively in a participative manner through an agreed structured process to achieve the required outcome.

Provision of positive feedback from management, follow through on reasons for decisions about organisational restructuring and participative work design (taking into account views from all staff), will assist the organisation to benefit from its changed circumstances and move forward creatively to achieve the required efficiencies.

 

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About Joan Bulcock

Joan has worked as a Management Consultant since January 1995, mainly in the field of selection and recruitment. Prior to this she was an Internal Consultant with the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the Organisation and Personal Development Section. For several years, Joan was Manager of the Staff Development and Training function for The Australian Bureau of Statistics in Queensland. Joan has also worked as a tutor and lecturer at Griffith University, with the Faculty of Commerce and Administration, in the School of Organisation Behaviour and Human Resource Management.