New research shows employees are struggling to cope with change. Can employers do something to tackle it? Job insecurity, pandemic-related stress and worries about the economy have dropped employees’ capacity to absorb change by 50 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.

At a time when more change is precisely what organisations need in order to reset, the amount of change employees can absorb without fatigue – negative reactions to change such as burnout, frustration or apathy – has plummeted significantly.

Day-to-day changes are the most damaging when it comes to change fatigue. 

To improve employee’s ability to adapt to change, organisations need to ensure that employees are actively involved in change decisions. 

Engagement, Trust & Team Cohesion

Organisations that use an open source approach to change management were found to increase the probability of change success by 23%. In an open source environment, employees actively participate in shaping change decisions, they create personal change implementation plans and talk openly about the change.

Two other factors that influence employees’ change capacity are trust and team cohesion. The extent to which employees believe that key organisational stakeholders have their interests in mind and do what they say they are going to do impacts their ability to absorb change. Employees who report low trust have a reduced ability to absorb change. As against this, those with high trust have an average capacity for change that is 2.6 times greater.

A human-centered approach

A human-centered approach to change and transformation can contribute towards reducing change fatigue which means that any changes made to organisations – the way the organisations interact with the communities – are based on understanding what people in that community, the stakeholders, need.

The pandemic has led to radical changes in the way organisations operate. When you are talking about radical, system-wide changes, we need to start from a perspective of empathy. It’s important to understand how the changes impact the end user as well as the internal stakeholders, the employees.

Five steps leaders can take to reduce employee change fatigue:

Pause – Leaders should have their own vision but they should stop and think about what they are trying to achieve. What are the signposts? They should start with the end in mind. 

Listen – Now that you have got a sense of what you are trying to achieve, go and listen to your team. Listen, listen and listen more. Collect stories and understand pain points. 

Empower – Start telling people to act upon those pain points. Ask them to notice the pain points and bring their solutions to you. Enable and empower your team to come up with solutions. When they are involved in 

Co-create and collaborate – Co-create and collaborate a vision with your team. The key to this is understanding the difference between cooperation and collaboration. When you collaborate, you work together on a shared goal and there is mutual benefit but when you cooperate, just one party benefits. As against this, when you co-create, you work together on an idea and an outcome emerges. Co-creation and collaboration brings diversity of thoughts, perspectives and understanding, leading to a value-based outcome. 

Reiterate – This is about building an effective feedback loop. Pay attention and reflect on feedback with the intention of optimising it. Building that reflective practice and feedback loop into your process of reiteration helps to ensure your organisation becomes a responsive organisation. 

The best approach to managing change and reducing change fatigue is to focus on how employees experience change, not just the outcomes of changed behaviours. Empowering different levels of leaders and teams to shape the change experience ensures small-scale changes get attention; it also builds greater cohesion by enabling teams to define the desired experience for changes they are implementing.