What is Change Fatigue?
The definition of change fatigue is a general sense of weariness, indifference, or resistance toward organizational changes. It is typically a symptom of mismanaged change. Over time, change fatigue can significantly negatively impact employee morale, productivity, and retention and may ultimately hinder the organization’s ability to navigate future changes successfully.
Why is Change Fatigue in the Workplace Important to Understand?
The rate of business change is accelerating. All changes – even positive ones – come at an expense. Some examples of change costs include:
- Budget overruns and lost investments.
- Decrease productivity and work quality.
- Employee attrition and disengagement.
- Opportunity and turnover costs.
- Project delays and missed milestones.
Change fatigue results from poor management that impacts business and work culture. It can lead to employee job dissatisfaction, loss of creativity, and demoralization. Likewise, workers can suffer from mental and physical health issues.
For example, many employees experienced change fatigue during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, changes to the environment and conditions – like working from home and using new telecommunication services – led to higher levels of anxiety, burnout, and depression.
Additionally, workers experiencing change fatigue do not perform at their best. They are often unhappy, unproductive, and disengaged. Disengaged employees can cost employers 34% of their annual salary.
Effective change management deters fatigue, manages stress, and combat resistance. Companies that initiate transformations through management models can encourage positive behavior change and create a psychologically safe environment.
Identifying Change Fatigue Symptoms
Organizations can recognize change fatigue by looking for signs in their employees. Some change fatigue symptoms include the following:
- Being anxious about changes
- Complaining about change is more frequent and louder
- Disengaging, such as no longer asking questions
- Displaying negativity, skepticism, and cynicism
- Growing indifference about changes
- Increased absenteeism, sick leave, and turnover
- Resisting and pushing back on change
- Stressing about change
- Visibly tired employees
There is comfort in routine, and multiple disruptions can overwhelm workers. A study by Gartner showed that minor day-to-day modifications could cause 2.5 times more fatigue than significant transformational changes. So, companies and businesses implementing several changes quickly should be aware of common indications of change fatigue.
Understanding Resistance to Change
Change fatigue can stem from resistance. Resistance to change occurs when a person reacts to it as a threat. Neuroscience determined the following four resistance reaction behaviors/mindsets:
- Fight – “I’m afraid it won’t be done right. I need to push harder and do it my way!”
- Flight – “I’m afraid to get into a fight about this. I don’t have time to get all worked up about this.”
- Freeze – “I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. I don’t know what to do.”
- Fawn – “I’m afraid you won’t like me if we disagree. I need to fix this now!”
Management’s behaviors often lead to change resistance, and many of them are rooted in early authoritarian leadership models. Some examples include:
- Not being transparent.
- Motivating behaviors with punishments.
- Leveraging “because I said so” authority.
- Praising others for conformity.
Change leaders may be unable to shift the physiological response to change. But they can encourage reframing or how their team shows up.
Driving Change Management Success
Transformation progress relies on a comprehensive approach. Companies are more likely to achieve success when they take multiple approaches.
Top 5 factors most responsible for change outcomes:
- Clear, organization-wide ownership of and commitment to change across all levels of the organization.
- Ability to focus the organization on a prioritized set of changes.
- Sufficient resources and capabilities to execute changes.
- Clear accountability for specific actions during implementations.
- Continuous improvements during implementation and rapid action to devise alternate plans, if needed.
According to McKinsey and Company, entities that take 16 or fewer actions have a less than 20% average success rate compared to those that take around 24 actions and have a 78% rate.
Master the Process of Change: The Bicycle Model
Drawing on research by the Center for Creative Leadership, a top global leadership institute, successfully leading change requires aligning key elements. Think about change leadership as a bicycle.
Front Wheel = Leading Process
The front wheel controls the steering and direction. It represents a leader’s ability to initiate, strategize, and execute change.
Back Wheel = Leading People
The back wheel provides stability needed to travel to the destination. In addition, it represents the processes to include, influence, and guide others to success.
The Chain = System of Movement
The chain is the connection that propels through deliberate propulsion. The pedals turn the chain and represent how a leader must work with others to move forward. A leader connects the change message with people’s motivations to build broad organizational commitment.
Bike Rider = The Leader
The bike rider is the leader but also the mindset and intentionality of the person leading the change. The rider represents the commitment to keep the bike steady and balanced by adapting to the twists and turns of the journey.
The bicycle model demonstrates how hard and fast the bike moves depending primarily on its rider. Leaders must create a plan, identify action steps, and monitor progress. Their mindset and determination propel the transition process.
It also illustrates that they must work in tandem with others and multiple processes. Leading change requires communicating a vision and listening like a bike requires two pedals to move forward.
How Do Managers Help Employees with Change Fatigue?
Change fatigue prevention is a plan to handle weariness, indifference, or resistance to organizational transitions. Change fatigue will come if not addressed, especially during challenging times.
The three most significant barriers to leading change effectively are:
- First, the leader (and their relationship to change) – Leaders must step out of their comfort zone and develop change-ready mindsets and behaviors. But this can be difficult and uncomfortable.
- The people –Leading change is a team sport. Leaders need to enlist others as change ambassadors and advocates at every level of the organization.
- The processes – Poor planning and decision-making can hinder change. Leaders must allocate sufficient resources (time, money, and talent) to execute the change.
Ideally, managers encourage commitment to change and collaboration in their direct reports. As a result, employees trust their managers and understand the reason for the change. Commitment also stems from communication.
Change leaders steer the process and give employees direction. They initiate, strategize, and execute change effectively. Managers can help employees deal with change fatigue by taking the following steps.
7 Methods to Minimize Change Fatigue
1. Communicate the Vision and Goals
Leaders must make a case for change. Then, they should motivate employees by connecting them to a shared purpose. This connects people to their feelings and emotions. It appeals to people’s attitudes, beliefs, and values through enthusiasm and inspiration. For instance, a shared purpose could be to focus on how the change will serve others.
2. Build a Culture of Change
Culture is a living thing that is active and ever-changing. The root of “culture” comes from “to cultivate.” Just like a garden, culture is something that starts as seeds and then grows roots and plants. The “Schein Model of Culture” suggests that there are three distinct levels of organizational cultures:
- Values are the seeds that drive behaviors
- Mindsets are the roots that underlie everything
- Behaviors are the plant or visible parts of culture
A culture of change can thrive when mindsets and behaviors align with core values. For instance, building adaptability and resilience skills support organizational change. Leaders can encourage these skills through training and development resources, engagement, positive emotions, and recognizing accomplishments.
3. Promote Self-Care & Well-Being
Change fatigue can be physical and mental. Businesses supporting proper work-life balance, self-care, and well-being can prevent employee burnout. Managers can foster good habits, respect people’s time, and encourage mindfulness.
For example, employees should take adequate breaks and practice mindfulness exercises at work. Managers can schedule walking meetings if possible. And remote workers should maintain set log-on times and communicate boundaries.
4. Develop a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset believes that dedication and hard work can develop and improve basic abilities. As a result, employees with a growth mindset can achieve long-term goals and break through problems without exhausting themselves emotionally. Essentially, they exert less mental energy when combating change.
Managers can help others develop a growth mindset by:
- Acknowledging and embracing imperfection.
- Replacing negative words and thoughts with positive ones.
- Cultivating self-acceptance and self-approval.
- Valuing the process over the results.
- Being realistic about expectations.
For instance, leaders must take ownership of their attitude toward change to influence others. Making mistakes in front of others shows that it’s okay for direct reports to learn from theirs instead of internalizing the action as failure or weakness. An experiment from the Kellogg School of Management found that the group that shared an embarrassing moment generated 26% more ideas than those that shared proud ones.
5. Manage Stakeholder Expectations
Teams won’t always meet the needs of all stakeholders, but the key to stakeholder management is about support through the process and allowing them to shape the outcome.
Managers must also address concerns. They need to be transparent with information and focus on the facts since logic helps drive decisions. Facts and figures speak to people’s intellect and rationality.
For example, leaders can send daily emails to keep them in the loop about meeting milestones. They can also share task updates so shareholders know if teams fall behind or struggle with hurdles.
6. Training & Development Applications
Training programs relating to change management can help organizations succeed. Learning and development (L&D) teams can use applications designed to bring employees’ skills up to speed or improve their outcomes.
L&D classes and courses can:
- Improve adaptability and other power skills.
- Build leadership’s change management skills.
- Overcome resistance to change.
- Aid in communicating the transformational process.
Overall, training and development application drive change management success. For instance, a workshop on overcoming resistance to change in the workplace can help leaders take charge of employees’ reactions to organizational transitions.
7. Celebrate Success
Identifying and celebrating successes reinforce change commitment. Additionally, applauding achievements increases morale and builds support. Managers can use typical meetings to acknowledge small successes and organize more significant celebrations for major milestones.
Public acknowledgment is especially beneficial for the recognized employee and the whole team. Likewise, involving stakeholders makes them aware of these successes.
Final Thoughts on the Importance of Managing Change Fatigue for Learning Leaders
- Change fatigue is most often the result of mismanaged transitions.
- Therefore, it is essential to the bottom line and employees’ well-being to prevent change fatigue.
- Individuals can present different change fatigue symptoms, but leaders can recognize the common signs to deter adverse outcomes.
- The key drivers of successful change management are measurable goals, communication, accountability, sufficient resources, and flexibility.
- The more actions organizations take, the more likely they are to be successful.
One of the most critical factors for change management success is cultivating an adaptable climate and culture. Employees are less likely to struggle with change fatigue in work environments catering to development and transformation.
Likewise, resources, including change-positive leadership, encourage transformation and behavior change. Change management success starts from the top. Leaders and managers need the tools and know-how to drive organizational changes.
Additional Resources for Learning Leaders
The best way to keep leadership and teams on the same page during changes is by developing fatigue management skills with training and development opportunities. Expert-led classes cover theory and neuroscience and provide opportunities to practice skills.
Some change fatigue prevention classes include the following:
- Communicate Powerfully Around Change
- Master the Process of Change
- Overcome Resistance to Change
- Transform Conflict into Collaboration
Additionally, cohort-based training allows participants to give and hear feedback in a supportive environment with their peers.