Change

How to manage change fatigue in your team

Coping with organisational change following a defined event is one thing. We know that a new leader, a merger, a new location or a sudden crisis can all lead to stress, fear and change resistance.

But persistent, continuous change, even for change-embracers, can cause a dispiriting, unsettling, frustrated hamster-in-a-wheel feeling.

No matter how much you try to adapt to new or modified processes, technologies or partnerships, you don’t ever quite achieve that feeling of control or stability you may crave. What’s more, it’s may not always clear to you why the changes are necessary.

As the volume, complexity and rate of change increases, our comfort with adapting to change is stretched. It seems to be the reality for most of us in mid-2024.

According to a recent Gartner report, Top 5 priorities for HR Leaders’, 77% of HR leaders say their employees are feeling fatigued. And 82% of HR leaders say their managers aren’t equipped to lead change.

Clearly, if employees are feeling disempowered and skeptical due to continuous change, and their managers can’t help them, it doesn’t bode well for engagement, retention or business.

As the Gartner report suggests, we’ve moved into an era where a ‘change fatigue strategy’ should become an inherent part of any change plan. Organisations must plan for change fatigue risks and build fatigue management into their plan to drive successful transformation.

Really? Yes, definitely. The volume and pace of change, magnified by AI weaving its way into multiple aspects of our working lives, are clearly jeopardising employee wellbeing, productivity and motivation.

Change fatigue at its worst means overwhelm, disillusionment, disengagement and burnout. It means negativity, cynicism, poor quality work, increased conflict, exhaustion and increased (possibly long-term) absence.

 

Are you ready to tackle change fatigue?

Quite apart from being able to identify which aspects of change your various teams might be negatively affected by, and quite apart from predicting how long it might take for the different personalities in your team to transition, adjust to and accept those changes, a huge question remains: do your leaders feel able to manage the growing sense of change fatigue that’s creeping in?

The Gartner report suggests that a mere 8% of HR leaders are confident in a plan to actively manage change fatigue. In our view at Insights, if that 8% is a pan-industry barometer, there’s an urgent need to understand our people better than ever. To do that, and to reduce the likelihood of eventual stress-related absence and total burnout of valued team members, we need to increase our awareness of how different people react to change and pay closer attention to our interpersonal skills - as colleagues, managers and leaders.

Emotions during change are complex, dynamic, contextual and personal; no two people will react the same. In addition to fear of the unknown, concerns about relevance or the usefulness of their skillset, many people might worry about the extra workload caused by the practicalities of change.

And they’d be right to. Increased workload is a massive concern.

But readiness for change is about being people-centric, not process-centric. We need to look harder at how our team members think, how they make their decisions, and how they view their options. Change triggers a range of responses, each influenced by our individual perspectives and experiences.

In people who tend to resist many types of workplace change, it’s usually because of:

  • self-interest: people fear the effect that change will have on them
  • lack of trust: people fear that management don’t have their best interests at heart
  • different opinions: people think that change initiators aren’t resolving a problem in the right way
  • low tolerance: people may feel they cannot change or handle a transition
 

Five ways to manage change fatigue and mitigate its impact

A precursor: emotionally intelligent organisational leaders will share a compelling vision to the entire organisation for introducing continual changes. They effectively communicate to all departments the ‘why’ and not just the ‘what’ of each change. They equip managers and team leaders to offer practical and individual support at each stage to their own team members.

As managers and team leaders, there are important steps we can take. Already tasked with organising and overseeing the implementation of multiple, parallel changes, it follows that finding the headspace and structured diary time to consider and deal with the personal impact on colleagues may seem unachievable. But if we’re in serious danger of losing talented contributors to overwhelm, disillusionment, disengagement and burnout caused by continuous change, what choice do we have?

1. Develop more empathy …and communicate!
Empathetic leadership means creating open conversations and building trust and psychological safety, so that colleagues feel able to express what the imposed changes mean for them and their perceived ability to give their best. If we understand and value others’ concerns and comfort levels, and create spaces to communicate productively about the changes, rather than bemoan their existence, we’ve taken the first steps towards a more optimistic growth and adaptability mindset.

2. Understand individual preferences (and attitudes to change).
Different things can mentally drain different personality types. A more introverted colleague might need more quiet time alone, away from busy/loud team meetings and brainstorms, to process the detail and nuances of incoming changes and decide how they can most efficiently respond while staying ‘in control’.
More extraverted characters may crave collaboration opportunities to discuss how the proposed changes will affect different parts of the team and how to work together to understand and implement the changes. There’s no right or wrong here. It’s about respecting difference and leaning into your own self-awareness as a manager to choose how to respond. (To find out more about understanding difference and increasing self-awareness and other-awareness, read about Insights Discovery.)

3. Identify change ambassadors.

If you can find them, these people are your advocates for new ways of working. Give them a platform and ensure they participate in forums about the changes so that their voices can be heard. Encourage them to share and celebrate progress and positive outcomes related to each new change.

4. Equip your team fairly.
Employees may feel very unprepared to handle continuous forced changes. As their manager, encourage strategic organisational investment in providing quality training, resources and equipment - tools that can help people adapt and excel in an ever-changing environment. Without this investment, your own workload is in danger of increasing as you struggle to help people implement the required changes.

5. Stagger the changes where possible.
Timing is everything. If possible, introduce multiple changes in measured doses. Make the case upwards for giving employees a chance to acclimatise. It’ll create less interruption to achieving team goals and ideally create more prepared, productive employees.

To understand more about types of change and how to work with the four Insights colour energies to respond to change, click here to discover the Insights Thriving Through Change programme. It is designed for organisations that have experienced Insights Discovery and are ready to support their people through that next step of thriving through change.