I don’t think change fatigue is well studied. In fact, a few weeks ago when a client mentioned that she thought change fatigue might be affecting her organization, I wondered — is it a thing? Yes, I have decided. It is. And it is different and must be distinguished from change resistance. I am not alone in these thoughts. Some preliminary internet research has revealed that though not well-studied, it is noticed.
In 2015, Ketchum conducted a survey among senior leadership executives and learned that 74% say change fatigue exists within their organization. Within those 39% say it is highly prevalent.
Change is not going away. It is critical to business success, and particularly prevalent in these challenging times here at home in Calgary.
Change resistance occurs when people perceive a threat to the status quo. It often occurs within the context of traditional command and control change initiatives. There is a struggle, the Ketchum survey reveals, with gaining input across business units. People who do not feel involved, or who do not understand the initiative and/or its vision, become disengaged and productivity decreases.
Change fatigue, on the other hand, occurs when there are many change initiatives happening at the same time, and they compete for the same resources. Or it occurs when there are a series of change initiatives collapsing one onto the other with no time in between for processing and assessment. People may buy into the change initiatives, but are affected by the stress of unacknowledged adoption challenges, and lack of time to process one change before moving on to the next. As frustration and exhaustion mount, employees may become disengaged.
Why is it important to distinguish the difference between change fatigue and change resistance? In both cases the organization loses valuable knowledge. The signs can look similar, increasing disengagement and apparent apathy. However, the support for each, while sharing some similarities, looks different.
Employees experiencing change resistance, and employees experiencing change fatigue, need a forum for providing input and sharing how the change initiatives are impacting them. With change resistance, uncertainty is a big factor. Discussions may focus on risk management and support. Helping them to visualize in a very concrete way the long term goals can be very helpful.
Change fatigue needs to be addressed more globally. Establish a community of workplace participants who are sharing similar experiences. Take time to celebrate successes before moving onto new initiatives. Provide resources to help employees deal with exhaustion and stress.