Preventing organisational change fatigue
In the world of constant change and uncertainty, organisational change fatigue has become a chronic problem for many leaders.
Prior to the pandemic, many employees were already experiencing change fatigue, defined as feeling apathetic towards or overwhelmed by too many organisational changes in a row. But remote work and uncertainty of the pandemic had a significant impact on how people feel about change – in fact, employees’ ability to cope with change in 2020 was at 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
The human side of change
As humans, we inherently need stability and predictability to maintain a sense of status quo and organisational changes often directly challenge this status quo. When change is always occurring, employees can often begin to feel overwhelmed, their ability to adapt becomes depleted, and the loss of control and uncertainty skyrocket.
Any organisational change brings questions – we want to understand what this change means to us on a personal level, why is the change happening and what life after the change will look like. But too often, organisations communicate change initiatives in a superficial and overly optimistic way that doesn’t necessarily provide the information people need. It is therefore beneficial to create and communicate a simple summary of the change that outlines the questions most people would be asking – what it is and how will it impact employees on a personal level, why is it happening and the positive outcome it will create.
Letting people know what isn’t changing as well as what is changing can be very reassuring, as often, even a major change won’t have much impact on employees’ key priorities. Giving people as many choices as possible during the change can also reduce their discomfort and increase the chances of engagement and buy-in. Change leaders need to be prepared to give the same speech repeatedly and explain the particular initiative thoroughly, giving employees the opportunity to digest as well as voice their concerns.
It’s widely known that 70 percent of organisational change efforts fail, and that the primary reasons for that level of failure are lack of management support and employee buy-in. Too often, leaders simply encourage their employees to be resilient, placing the burden of finding ways to feel better solely on individuals – but change fatigue is not an individual issue and needs to be addressed at the team or organisation level.
To increase employees’ ability to absorb change, organisations need to transform how they lead change. According to Gartner’s research the best approach to reducing change fatigue is to focus on how employees experience change, not just the outcomes of changed behaviours. The two differentiators that help employees better absorb change were trust – the extent to which employees believe that key stakeholders have their interests in mind and do what they say are going to do - and team cohesion - he extent to which teams share a sense of belonging and connection, along with commitment to, and accountability for, a common goal.
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