LEADERSHIP

Communication: Managing Amid Change

Greek philosopher Heraclitus said the only thing constant is change. Although he never managed a diagnostic laboratory, his words certainly apply to the lab environment.

Like other facets of healthcare, the lab industry faces change all the time. Among the major catalysts are mergers and acquisitions, facility closings and relocations, new technologies, new processes, and new leadership.

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up, let alone keep staff apprised when a situation is in flux. Nevertheless, it’s essential to communicate with staff during these times.

Uncertainty and rumors breed fear and negativity. In the short-term, productivity may suffer as a result. Over the longer term, you may lose staff members. But business reasons aside, when change impacts people lives, letting them know what’s happening is simply the right thing to do.

The Case for Transparency
Granted, there are times when confidentiality is required. However, even then it is often possible to share some initial information, while indicating that you will provide updates as things unfold.

Here are various situations and suggestions for how to handle each.

Merger or acquisition. Once talks begin regarding a merger or acquisition, word quickly gets out. It doesn’t matter whether your lab is a small, standalone entity or part of a larger company. Media coverage – by the actual media and on social media—is likely, as is talk among those in the industry and members of the community. It’s better that your staff hears the news from you, rather than secondhand.

It doesn’t have to be a formal, detailed announcement—especially at the early stage. For example: “We’re having preliminary conversations about merging with (or acquiring) another diagnostics company. The discussion is at the very early stages and we’ll only move forward if it makes sense. I wanted you to know because there are bound to be rumors. If you have any questions, now or at any time, please feel free to ask. I also promise to let you know as soon as any decisions are made.”

Continue to provide updates as necessary. At some point, information about redundancy and possible layoffs may become available. Don’t avoid discussing these matters. Employees will appreciate that you are forthcoming, even when the news may create personal hardship.

Facility closing. If your facility is closing, perhaps as a result of a merger or acquisition, you should let staff know as soon as possible. Again, you want to let them know before they hear it elsewhere.

Your approach will depend on how the closing impacts staff members. Does it mean they won’t have jobs? Does it mean they will still have jobs, but a longer commute? It helps to look at the situation from their point of view. What would you want to know if you were in their shoes? Think through this carefully, get answers to the questions, and then share the news while addressing staff concerns.

Facility relocation. If you’re moving operations to another facility, and the move is local, there may be no impact on staff. On the other hand, if any geographical distance is involved, the impact could be significant.

Here again, examine the situation in the context of what you would want to know. Get answers to any open questions, and then share the news.

One additional piece of advice with regard to facility relocation: Even if the move is a significant one, in that it would require a much longer commute or even a move on the part of current staff, don’t make assumptions. People frequently relocate for jobs, and some staff members may be open to the idea. With this in mind, consider whether your lab would contribute toward employee relocation.

Legal Implications When Layoffs Are Involved
It’s important to note that when a facility closing, merger or acquisition leads to mass layoffs, it may trigger legal obligations under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which mandates transparency under certain circumstances.

The federal law requires that companies with more than 100 employees provide 60 calendar day written advance notice when 50 or more employees at a single location are affected. There are exceptions to the rule, such as when a closing is related to unforeseeable business circumstances, along with other stipulations. More information about WARN is available at the U.S. Department of Labor website.

WARN is a federal law. Some states have their own layoff notice laws. The California law, for example, applies to employers with 75 or more employees where 50 or more employees are to be laid off. If you haven’t already, familiarize yourself with the requirements of the states in which you conduct business.

When It’s Full Steam Ahead
Of course, not all change involves the same kind of upheaval as a merger, acquisition, facility closing or facility relocation. More often than not, change is the result of new technologies and/or processes or new leadership.

This may seem like business as usual if you’ve been in management for a while; but for some staff members, such change can be extremely stressful.

Once again, communication is essential. Here are suggestions for dealing with these situations.

New technologies and/or processes. Ensure that staff knows why the new technology and/or process is necessary. For example, if it’s mandated by law, say so. If the old technology is no longer supported, say so.

At the same time, focus on the benefits of the change. Will your lab become more efficient? More profitable? Will the change have a positive impact on your lab’s ability to serve patients? From a big picture standpoint, what does the change mean? For example, if the new technology or process will help save lives, let staff members know. This kind of information will encourage get buy-in and generate enthusiasm.

New leadership. People come and go at labs and in other workplaces. It’s a fact of life. At the same time, relationships formed at work contribute greatly to the employment experience.

How important is the employee/boss relationship? Gallup research finds that one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager.

If a change in leadership is planned at your lab, help everyone get off on the right foot by briefing staff members, ideally before the new leader starts.

Effective, timely communication during times of change won’t address every issue related to a transition. It will, however, make it easier for your lab to move forward.

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