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Mana & Dignity

In June, I spoke about preserving mana and dignity, alongside the Harkness Henry employment team.  The topic was navigating restructure, redeployment, and redundancy.  For those who were unable to attend here is a summary of what I shared. 

Imagine that you’ve been working in your job for a while. You enjoy your work, know how to do it well, and take pride in the results you produce. And then one day things change.

An employee’s work is their livelihood.  It is their source of income and for many it is intrinsically linked with their identity.  Dignity is fundamental to well-being and to a human and an organisation thriving. And since many of us spend most of our waking hours at work, work is a major source of dignity in our lives.

Dignity is fundamentally a social phenomenon that arises through interaction.  It involves recognition and trust, as well as autonomy and self-mastery.   

Dignity doesn’t directly translate from the word ‘Mana’.  Mana is the status or presence of an individual.  While Mana is inherited, individuals can acquire, increase or lose mana through a single action or actions against them.  

When referring to ‘preserving ones mana’, I am also referring to showing dignity to that person through the interactions you have with them.  Tikanga can assist to protect a person’s mana during the restructure or change process. 

In a workplace, dignified work relationships are where people carefully avoid taking advantage of the inherent vulnerability of the employment relationship and power dynamics in organisations.  An example of showing dignity is saying hello and how are you today, or what work do you have on today before launching into what it is you want to say or the list off the work you would like to delegate.  

Respecting Mana and Dignity is a voluntary act that acknowledges that although the employee is there to serve their employer and their customers, they are first and foremost a human being with mana or dignity and the autonomy to decide how they will perform her job.  

How does dignity and mana show up during a restructure? 

As an HR practitioner, I work across the full gambit of HR and the employment journey.  From recruitment and onboarding through to succession and separation, alongside developing systems and strategies with retention and business evolution being the main objectives.  

After years of reading case law and listening to employees or candidates talk about their employers, what I would like to share is that for your business and people to thrive following a restructure or change process, preserving dignity and respecting mana is key. 

Dignity and mana must be respected consistently throughout the restructure journey and should reflect the cultural diversity of your workplace.  It is not just something you do at the beginning and end but skip in the middle.  Your team will feel that their dignity and mana is being preserved and respected when they are being genuinely listened to and taken seriously regardless of their position – and feel they can disagree respectfully and be heard, without fear of reprisal.

When working through restructure and your change process how you behave and conduct yourself as the employer is important.  This can significantly mitigate the risk of an employee raising a personal grievance and generally disputing your reasons for change and decisions.    Meaning, incorporating tikanga, respectful communication and body language along with providing sufficient time and space for your employees to participate and contribute meaningfully during consultation stages, can make all the difference. 

Headlines about Today FM earlier this year, serve a timely reminder of what can happen when dignity has not been preserved and one’s mana is undermined.  The restructure was presented as a ‘fait au complet’ on the first interaction because the reasons were purely financial, the CEO was presenting it on behalf of the Board, and the opportunity for consultation was short.  Like 12-24 hours short. Yet they had 3 months to wind up.    

The employees of Today FM were not given the opportunity to be respectfully heard, their mana was tarnished and there was minimal opportunity for the team to decide their fate for themselves.   I sometimes refer to their approach being the slash and dash method.  

An interesting stat from Adecco’s 2022 research into the future of the global workforce is that Gen Z, (those born after 1996), are 2.5 more likely to leave their job for another when others around them in the workplace are leaving when compared to baby boomers, (those born before 1965).  Meaning the younger generations are influenced more by their community around them than older generations, and employers will need to have stronger relationships and connections with their people. 

Ways to strengthen dignity during a restructure and business change

You have your reasons for change, whether it be financial, operational or for sale clarified.  If not, then you may want to review a recent article about defining reasons for restructure the Harkness Henry employment team published.  


With your reasons clear, now you consider your contextyour people, your culture, and your overall business strategy.  This will inform ‘how’ you go about engaging with your team during consultation, decision making and implementation. After all they are at the heart of this process and are those who are being affected by the changes proposed. 

The diagram below, is a useful tool that guides our planning mahi here at Stapleton Consulting.  Defining your context and the parameters you are working within is key before developing your change plan and executing a compliant and respectful restructure.  





At the top, your true north, is your reason or purpose for change.  This will guide you and keep you focused on what you are working towards.  The sides keep you on the straight and narrow. On the left you have the relevant policies, employment agreement terms and legislation or case law precedence you must fulfil.  On the right side, you have your values and the core behaviours you must demonstrate during the process.  This is where you can specify that preserving dignity and respecting mana will be a core requirement.  If one of your values is ‘reliable’ or ‘integrity’ for example, then you will put this here, along with tikanga to incorporate.  

Then at the bottom, is who has the authority for the key decisions that may need to be made.  For those who have delegated authorities, you can be clear before you start who makes what decisions.

Inside the box is the place to identify the mahi and map out the restructure process.  The ‘how’ must fall within the parameters you have outlined.  For example, how is your change process going to consistently respect the mana of all involved, including your decision makers? 

As you build out and develop the ‘how’ or prepare the initial business case and gather information to support your reasons, you are being an architect, designing the key messages and the story around your reasons for change.  

Your key messages will be the common thread linking everything together.   How will these be delivered and what tikanga will need to be relied upon to assist you to demonstrate respect of one’s mana? 

Once you have your process and key interactions identified, the next step is visualising how the process can play out before it has happened.  Now by this I am not meaning orchestrate a pre-determined outcome.  But you need to be aware of how your plan will affect your team and where you may be at risk of falling outside the lines.   Think of it like your game plan with all the “What if’s” relating the different employee groups.

For those who may require board approval or executive sign off, the game plan tool is a great starting point for brainstorming before you put your fingers to the keyboard to write that initial change proposal.  

Ways to incorporate and strengthen dignity during a restructure and business change

Given that we spend so much time at work, here are some here are tips and ideas you can incorporate into your restructure or change process.  These can go some way to strengthen a person’s mana and dignity:

  • Consider the cultural differences of your workforce and their employment journey to date
  • Acknowledge the efforts and successes when presenting the business case and your decision in both a group setting and a one-on-one
  • Be open about the challenges and opportunities you are facing (or have faced) that have led you to consider a restructure (bearing in mind confidentiality).
  • Be honest about the difficult decisions ahead for you and those affected, and this may require you to be more vulnerable than you would usually.  Use your team values to guide you here. 
  • Ask those involved to be respectful, open, and flexible of everyone involved, including the decision makers.  
  • Promptly ask those affected to share additional information or options that you haven’t already considered.  You don’t have to have all the right answers.
  • Create safe spaces and different ways for those to directly and indirectly affected to contribute during consultation (e.g. drop-in sessions, email, group brainstorming or info sessions)  
  • Share feedback and contributions received, and comment on how this could be influencing your views prior to making a decision

Now in practice when attempting to preserve dignity it may quickly be perceived as disingenuous and fake.  More so if you haven’t done any of this in past.  

Many change processes over the years have relied heavily on the written communications given to employees and written feedback from employees during consultation.  This general approach has been quite transactional one in my opinion.    

As an HR practitioner it was drilled into me early in my career – “whatever you say and do, have a written record of it”.  But I do question if this has made us lazy.

No matter how you attempt to show dignity and respect mana during your process, consistently and intentionally doing the little things that put the employee and your team at the centre but also align with your culture, value and strategy will make a difference in how much you are trusted and respected, as well as the mana you have as their leader.  

Tēnā koutou, for taking the time to extend your professional expertise to include the importance of showing dignity and respecting mana during a restructure or change process. 

This article has been adapted from a presentation Catherine Stapleton, and contains general advice only. Should you have a challenging change process coming up that needs an impartial and objective person like Catherine to help you navigate, then please get in touch for a chat.