Will workers be stuck on the ‘Change Curve’ as they return to the office?

Richard Holmes discusses the importance of the Change Curve.

When businesses look to adapt to a situation, they implement new processes, systems and structures and the only way of making sure these transitions are successful is employee engagement.  

Quite often, however, employers find that despite all the training and business-led improvements, their people remain resistant or unhappy to change.

This has been the case throughout the pandemic.

Unfortunately, with the switches in direction over the past year, it’s been difficult to keep employees engaged with many of them feeling forgotten. This has led to a drop in the wellbeing levels across the UK, with 66% of workers wanting their employer to provide more wellbeing support over the next few months.

Shifting deadlines causing unrest

This Future of Work report found that one in five (21%) workers haven’t been told how they will be working when they return to the office and with more than half (51%) worried about the return to work, shifting deadlines have created anxiety and unrest.

Currently, employees are stuck in limbo. They are unable to move through the process when it comes to accepting and adapting to new ways of working.


A powerful way for employers to understand what their employees are going through is reflected in the Change Curve Model. Most workers have been unable to move along the path due to the pandemic. This is having an impact on productivity, engagement and wellbeing.  

Employees stuck on the Change Curve

To summarise, the model lists five stages people go through during change: 1) shock, denial, 2) doubt and uncertainty, 3) resignation, 4) acceptance or letting go and 5) problem solving and moving forward.

After the initial ‘shock’ of being confronted with a change, people often resist engaging, as if trying to prove that the change is either unreal or unnecessary. They then move onto expressing doubt.

The following stage is what shapes the curve. Think of it as U-shaped; with the resignation stage the trough of the ‘U’. How long employees stay here determines the width of the U curve, how long it takes to start to accept the situation and ultimately, how long it takes to adapt.

With constant adjustments, from lockdowns to lifting of restrictions and being told we are returning to the office for the date to be pushed back time and time again, employees have been locked in a constant state of fear and confusion, stretching out their time in resignation.

They are not given enough time to accept the changes and are finding it difficult to commit to the pace the workplace is moving.

As more employees struggle to move along on the Change Curve, they will only find it harder to adapt. This is echoed in the relatively small positive effect that flexible working (31%) and wellbeing (29%) is having on improving engagement levels of employees with their employers.

Moving along the Change Curve, for progression and wellbeing

How businesses react to change, especially when things have been constantly altering, is important. During the first two stages of the Curve Change Model, communication is critical. It is best to communicate often, whilst also trying not to overwhelm employees.

Workers should have access to more information if they need it, and employers need to take the time to answer any questions they may have.


With 60% of employers seeing the positive impact of employee wellbeing and it raising productivity by 31%, if employers communicate well and listen to employees about their preferences, it will strengthen the employee’s trust in the business they work for and they can move along the curve.

Building this trust through communication will bring greater certainty of what the future holds. These factors, along with other actions employees want, such as flexible working and wellbeing support at work, will start to have a positive effect.

Pushing past the third stage and moving on is where the real challenge is. Those who arrive at the problem-solving stage the quickest adapt by acknowledging they have little control over their circumstances, but they can control their response to it. They focus on what they can do to move on.

To help the employees struggling to adapt in the same way, use those who adapt quickly as an example. Their efforts are focused on: recognising the importance of talking to others; they think about the short term and deal with things that they’re certain about (focusing on the here and now, rather than future); and they create time to plan how and when to move on.

Here, businesses need to support those employees by carrying out the above: communicate well with employees, determine what they are doing in the short term, be vocal about any uncertainties, and make time to plan how they will move forward with their employees.

Understanding the journey that employees have been taking during the past 18 months is crucial to making the right decisions when going forward.

There has been a great shock to the system and fear of the unknown keeps employees stuck at the start of the Change Curve. The adaptation needed during the pandemic has not been like transitioning to a new job.

To push past this, businesses have to look at ways they can help their employees progress and feel comfortable with the changes that are happening. From there, we will see a rise in productivity and better engagement, strengthening wellbeing company-wide.


About the author

Richard Holmes is Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health.



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