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How to spot and combat change fatigue in the workplace

Last updated

15 February 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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Change is a constant in business, with your company navigating through economic shifts, innovations, and market trends. These factors reshape how you operate and the services or products you provide. 

Amidst this whirlwind of change, it's crucial to consider its effect on your staff. As your employees adapt to these shifts, they may grapple with change fatigue over time. 

While it's common for employers to expect dynamic responses from their teams, the most influential business leaders are those who can spot and address change fatigue proactively. Keep reading to explore ways to steer clear of change fatigue.

What is change fatigue?

Broadly, fatigue is weariness, lack of energy, or tiredness. 

Change fatigue refers to the adverse effects of an ever-changing workplace, such as when there are too many project changes or operational shifts to keep up with. These stressors have measurable physical and emotional impacts on your people, reducing productivity and increasing turnover and absenteeism.

Generally speaking, employees find comfort in structure, processes, and guidance for managing their job responsibilities. 

However, ongoing changes can make your teams feel like they're undervalued or guessing their way through projects. 

Change saturation vs. change fatigue

Change saturation describes disruptive changes that are too excessive to adopt from an organizational standpoint. Change saturation is more likely when stress and turmoil become commonplace—projects become disorganized, and operational bottlenecks start impacting daily workflows.

While change saturation describes the adverse effects of change on an organization, change fatigue refers to the toll these changes take on people, negatively affecting individuals on personal, professional, emotional, and physical levels. 

How to spot signs and symptoms of change fatigue

Learn to spot signs and potential symptoms of change fatigue among your staff by monitoring employee satisfaction. Here are some additional indicators to stay in tune with:

  • Stress: Watch for employees exhibiting work-related stress and anxiety in response to changes. Hallmarks include rising absenteeism, declining performance, and other behavioral changes.

  • Rising complaints: Ask managers to flag when fielding more complaints or concerns than usual regarding changes.

  • Burnout: Take note when your team looks physically tired.

  • Negativity: Gauge team morale and know that growing negativity or increasing cynical remarks can be a red flag for change fatigue. 

  • Apathy: Observe whether employees are becoming indifferent to change, which can show up as posing fewer questions, interacting less with team members, and withdrawing.

  • Resistance: Notice if change initiatives begin taking longer than usual to implement or if pushback changes. For instance, some team members might be more opposed to change than usual, while others stop challenging altogether.

  • Skepticism: You may start fielding growing doubts and concerns about workplace changes, including skepticism about change generating meaningful outcomes.

  • Attrition: Growing turnover rates, especially a sudden, steep increase, may signal change fatigue.

Roles most vulnerable to change fatigue

While anyone within your organization can experience change fatigue, some roles are more likely to be adversely affected than others. 

Some functional roles experience more change saturation, leading to a quicker onset of change fatigue, in particular:

  • Customer service and front-line positions

  • Operations

  • Human resources

  • Mid-level managers

  • Change managers

Strategies for overcoming change fatigue

If you suspect your team is experiencing change fatigue, there are strategies for overcoming it. Being proactive is ideal. However, you can seek to remedy any existing change fatigue with the following solutions:

  • Collect employee feedback about how they perceive changes in your company. Optimally, do this in intervals before change fatigue sets in.

  • Conduct and analyze staff satisfaction surveys, prompting responses to gauge how they respond to change.

  • Add resources and support to existing projects to reduce stress.

  • Track the type and frequency of change efforts to understand who they impact and how.

  • Reassess the time needed to manage change at the individual level.

  • Measure your company changes and their success rates. Conduct a “lessons learned” (post-mortem) session after any change initiative.  

  • Conduct a comparative analysis to assess discontent and change across different parts of the organization.

How to prevent change fatigue

Preventing change fatigue starts with anticipating its causes. The proper assessment tools, resources, change management plan, communication plan, preparedness training, and change management tools can help. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Foster a psychologically safe work environment by keeping your staff well-informed and prepared during a change initiative.

  • Address large and small changes with equal commitment.

  • Communicate the purpose of changes transparently and often.

  • Develop robust feedback initiatives and loops designed to monitor team sentiments constantly.

  • Ensure you have sufficient resources for the change initiative and no one group or function is overburdened. Rotate responsibilities and activities if necessary to provide relief. 

  • Pull new resources to help with the change initiative that wouldn’t usually be involved.  Treat it as a developmental opportunity.  

  • Train direct supervisors to identify change fatigue and provide healthy resources for addressing it.

  • Weigh the change results with the potential cost of change fatigue before adopting new processes.

FAQs

What does change fatigue look like?

You might be experiencing change fatigue if you have less enthusiasm for new work initiatives or struggle to cope with evolving demands. Your productivity and job satisfaction may decline, along with feelings of frustration or disengagement. Physical fatigue and stress-related health issues may arise. Your personal relationships might feel strained, and your communication ability may dwindle.

What is change fatigue in healthcare?

Change fatigue in healthcare refers to the weariness and decreased resilience experienced by healthcare professionals when faced with a continuous onslaught of , initiatives, or restructuring. The relentless pace of process, technology, and policy changes can lead to burnout, stress, and reduced job satisfaction among healthcare workers. This phenomenon hampers their ability to adapt, engage, and maintain optimal performance, ultimately impacting patient care and organizational effectiveness. Recognizing and mitigating change fatigue is crucial for sustaining a positive work environment, ensuring healthcare providers' well-being, and maintaining the quality and safety of patient care.

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