The Steps to Overcome Change Fatigue at Work

The Steps to Overcome Change Fatigue at Work
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More Organizational Change?
Leaders shouldn’t be surprised when they face skepticism and change fatigue at work.  Sure, most organizations are in a constant state of change and people must adapt to thrive, but change management simulation data show that most change efforts are more apt to fail than to succeed.  That is why acknowledging failed change efforts from the past is a critical ingredient to combatting change fatigue at work.

What is Change Fatigue?
We define change fatigue at work as when employees become exhausted from being faced with too many changes at once — regardless of whether the chances are successful or not.

How Common is Change Fatigue?
A recent study by the Katzenbach Center found about 65% of leaders, managers, and employees have experienced some form of change fatigue.  Similarly, almost 75% of our change management consulting clients report having experienced some form of change fatigue in the last year.   So from our perspective, change fatigue seems as common as organizational change itself.

What is the Impact of Change Fatigue?
All organizational changes, even positive ones, come at a mental and emotional cost.  Similar to having too many strategic priorities, when leaders ask their employees to change too much too fast, employees often hedge to determine if the change has staying power before investing in it.  And ongoing change fatigue can result in employee disengagement, decreased performance, and increased employee attrition — especially of high performers.

How to Overcome Change Fatigue at Work
Change leaders need to re-set expectations and prepare the workforce to better cope with change fatigue.  Why?  Because change is here to stay, and your workforce must sign up for and support the change for it to be successful.

  1. Acknowledge Feelings and Apologize for Past Failures
    Before you can begin to inspire your workforce with your new vision for change, you need to acknowledge the pain and appreciate the frustrations of past failures. Our experience has shown that employees value the honesty and understanding of their leaders.  When you recognize how much this costs your workforce, they are more likely to trust what you say next.

    Express your regret and apologize for past disappointments.  Take responsibility for what went wrong and pledge not to make the same mistakes.  Be specific about why things went awry.

    Was it a lack of resources? An environment of fear or aversion to risk?  Was it that the strategy was misunderstood or misaligned with performance incentives?  Were there too many changes at once resulting in fundamental disconnects and confusion?

  2. Describe in Detail How this Change Plan Differs
    Now it’s time to describe how your current plan addresses all previous reasons for failure. You need to convince employees that you have analyzed past change management failures objectively (similar to a project postmortem) and that you have learned from them.  Explain the system you will put in place to monitor the change initiative all along the way and to make course adjustments as needed to keep on track.

    Then be crystal clear about how important this new change initiative is compared to other priorities and why.

  3. Regularly Evaluate Progress
    Measure progress and team health on a regular basis. Ask them how they think the change is going, what obstacles they are facing, and what fixes they need.  You want to raise any concerns and address them before something sabotages the whole effort.

    Make sure your change leaders focus on creating a change culture where people can provide candid feedback about concerns without negative repercussions.  Without a high level of psychological safety, issues are likely to fester.

The Bottom Line
Don’t expect to win your employees over to a new change initiative until you have gained their trust that this time will be different.  Show that you have learned from the past.  Then put the safeguards in place that are required to create transparency, accountability, and momentum.

To learn more about how to combat change fatigue, download 5 Science-Backed Lenses to Better Evaluate and Lead Change

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