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Disruptive Change Is Hitting Leaders and Managers Hardest

Disruptive Change Is Hitting Leaders and Managers Hardest

by Heather Barrett and Andy Kemp

Seven in 10 U.S. workers reported disruptive change within their organization in the last year, according to a nationally representative Gallup survey of 18,665 employees. Twenty percent of respondents cited a large or very large extent of change. These changes range from restructuring efforts to shifting return-to-office expectations to new leadership and more.

While difficulties often affect frontline workers, in the current business landscape, it’s leaders and managers who are experiencing the most change. Leaders and managers are 56% more likely to experience extensive disruptive change in their organization than individual contributors.


Organizations are not just changing; jobs within those organizations are transforming too. Leaders and managers are more likely to experience extensive disruptive change in their roles. Over half of managers state their organization has restructured teams, while nearly half say they’ve had to make budget cuts. This means more work with tighter budgets and new teams working in different ways.

Previous Gallup reporting found that managers today are more likely than non-managers to be disengaged at work, burnt out, looking for a new job or feeling like their organization doesn’t care about their wellbeing. Leading hybrid teams adds pressure if managers are inexperienced or untrained in coaching teams in a hybrid work environment.

These changes strain interpersonal relationships. Employees reporting extensive disruptive change are 67% more likely to cite an issue with a leader or manager.

The Effect of Change

Many of the disruptions that employees cite result from leadership decisions intended to benefit the organization long term. However, change can be unsettling and tumultuous. Not all organizations successfully manage change, and that is evident in the data.

Employees who report experiencing disruptive change are less engaged and less connected to their organization’s culture. They are also more likely to be burnt out and to leave their employer.


Employee engagement is particularly important to watch because it is a proxy for an individual’s capacity for change. When an employee is engaged at work, they are committed, ready to receive direction, optimistic about the future and motivated to give extra effort when challenges arise. In other words, they are “change ready.” When engagement drops, employees are more likely to exit or “quiet quit” than to step up to new challenges.

How Can Leaders See the Benefits of Change Faster?

Many organizations underwent significant restructuring in 2023, and the disruption of those changes may linger for many months to come. But there are ways to speed up the pace of adjusting to change. Gallup has found two aspects of leadership that make a significant difference in how people feel change: trust and communication.

Among those employees who cited significant disruption last year, those who strongly agreed that they trusted the leadership of their organization were 4.5 times as likely to be engaged and 62% less likely to feel burned out at work.

Among those same disrupted employees, those who strongly agreed their leaders communicate effectively with the rest of their organization saw similar benefits. They were 4.3 times as likely to be engaged and 65% less likely to feel frequently burned out at work.


Leaders can build trust by allowing people to feel heard through informal conversations and structured formats such as listening strategies, internal communication forums and other opportunities to share their experiences. If there’s action to take in response, leaders build trust by following through and responding to feedback.

Many leaders might feel wary of communicating before they can speak clearly and confidently about the changes to come. Even so, leaders often need to communicate much more frequently about what they know with certainty and what may yet be unknown. In the absence of communication, employees run the risk of filling the void with narratives that may or may not reflect the reality of the change.

Why else would leaders not communicate enough? Leaders often feel like they are constantly talking about change because they are closest to it. For this reason, internal communication strategy as part of a change strategy is often overlooked, even in large organizations. Leaders must remember that while change-related topics may be on the agenda for most of their meetings, not all employees are in these conversations. Messaging must circulate throughout the organization.

Manager conversations are the “last mile” of effective change communication. Communication channels can deliver the organizational vision for the future, but it’s a manager’s role to help each team member personalize that change so that everyone can answer the question, “What does this change mean for me?”

Treat disruptive change as another opportunity to create a thriving workplace.


Heather Barrett is a Senior Consultant at Gallup.

Andy Kemp is a Researcher and Analyst at Gallup.

Ryan Pendell contributed to this article.

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