With everything we’ve experienced since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, we’ve grown accustomed to the rapid and sudden interruptions of our daily lives. But just because we’ve gotten used to the constant change, doesn’t mean it hasn’t adversely affected us. Change fatigue, the mental strain experienced after undergoing significant or extended periods of change, is a very real phenomenon.
Change fatigue can present itself through physical and/or mental burden, and a lower capacity for accepting further change. A person can only adapt and relearn habits so many times before they start to wear out. Naturally, change fatigue is also very common in the workplace, especially when undergoing Change Management initiatives. That’s why we’re here to help you recognize change fatigue in your team, understand the consequences of letting it go unchecked, and teach you techniques to beat it once and for all.
What Does Change Fatigue Look Like?
Change fatigue can present itself in numerous ways, but some common tells are increased stress and concerns about future change. Your team may be feeling anxious about what’s to come. Communicating with your team to build stronger trust can help reassure them that there won’t be any sudden changes. According to this Prosci article on recognizing change fatigue, some other symptoms of change fatigue can be burnout, low productivity, apathy, or even negativity towards a change initiative. These symptoms, while primarily having to do with the workplace, can also display themselves in people’s private lives. After all, it’s not so simple to forget work stress as soon as work hours are over, especially as many of us work from home. A healthy work life will translate to a healthy home life and vice versa. How can you spot change fatigue? Pay attention to your team’s mood and how they’re faring with their workload. As long as you remain conscientious of others, you’ll be able to see their signs of struggle.
Why Should You Act?
As previously mentioned, change fatigue can lead to some negative short-term and even long-term consequences for your team. Low morale is never good for productivity in general, and you don’t want to be adding avoidable mental strain onto your team members’ plates. Despite all the unpleasant symptoms of change fatigue listed above, the largest obstacle that change fatigue poses from a managerial perspective is change resistance. After having dealt with so much change that it’s worn you out, how would you react to someone telling you that there is a whole new change initiative to come? You may feel exhausted, frustrated, and most probably resistant to the whole idea. There are many stages of change, and it’s natural to feel different emotions. Change is an inevitable fact of life, so smoothing along the process will be beneficial to both you and your team members.
How Can You Beat Change Fatigue in Your Team?
1. Exercise Empathy
As much as the idea of robot workers fascinates us, people are not robots who can easily be reprogrammed to perform tasks differently. There is always a learning curve, and an amount of effort invested in changing one’s habits. Put yourself in your team members’ shoes and understand that it can take time for them to adjust to changes, both in accepting the idea of change, and in implementing it. Be mindful of the work they are putting in and their respective levels of adaptability.
2. Lead with a Positive Change Narrative
It’s important to be able to connect the dots to the bigger picture, including how the change relates to the vision and strategy, as well as, what it’s in for me, and what’s in it for us. Keep in mind that as a change leader (both formal and informal), you set the tone for the narrative of change. If you meet the change with a positive attitude and spread that shared narrative within your team, the change initiative will seem less daunting. Communicate with your team so that you can quickly spot any issues that arise and so that your team can feel better connected in their efforts towards change.
3. Be Proactive
Don’t wait to address problems once they start to present themselves; be proactive, not reactive, and find the small issues before they develop into bigger problems. Check out our resource on why people resist change to learn more on the steps you can take to become a more proactive leader. If your team is experiencing change fatigue, the issue most probably isn’t isolated—it correlates to many different aspects of the change initiative and can also be a result of changes taking place outside of the workplace. Pay close attention and proactively support your team members so that they are enabled to change. To read more on being proactive when it comes to change fatigue, check out one of our blogs on this specific topic.
4. Be Prepared to Change your Management Methods
While change fatigue has always existed, its effects have been exacerbated in the last few years due to the constant change as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. This McKinsey report examines how pandemic fatigue has altered the workplace we now find ourselves in. Most notably, they report a shift in workplace culture which intends to focus more on humanizing work practices. For example, hybrid work allows people to spend more time with their families. Methods of communication have needed revamping to consider people’s qualities as humans and not just workers. Employers have had to become more considerate towards people’s mental health and feelings in the workplace. To be an effective change leader, you also need to keep these aspects in mind when dealing with your team, especially when they’re dealing with change fatigue.
5. Power Through
As much as you may try your hardest to follow all the steps above and keep a positive attitude towards change, change can be tiresome and difficult to deal with. Sometimes, you just have to do your best and power through. This is not to say that you should take on too much at once but, holding on for that little bit longer to complete your change initiative or project will lead to good results in the end. If you decide to pursue change, pace yourself of course, but stick to it, and you will eventually reap the rewards.
Who Supports Leaders?
While a leader’s duty is to make sure their team is functioning smoothly, you have to take care of yourself before you can be prepared to take care of others. Although you may be the leader (whether formally or informally), you’re not expected to hold yourself up completely on your own. As much as your team relies on you, you rely on them to reflect the tones you set, and in turn, receive their support. Exhibiting your own vulnerabilities to your team can not only help you in overcoming them, but your openness can also create a stronger network for empathy. By humanizing yourself as a leader, your team will feel more comfortable coming to you with concerns and working beside you. By setting the right tone in your team, you help your team members, and consequently help yourself, through the culture of empathy and communication that you create.
Don’t forget that beyond your own team or organization, there also exists an entire network of change leaders. Work and online connections can be extremely helpful for finding support or answers to tricky questions. Leverage your change leader network of people who are open to helping each other through struggles and offering advice based on their own experiences. Leaders support their teams, but leaders can also support fellow leaders through their change journeys.
Change fatigue is real and quite common. Pay attention to how you and your team are faring when going through change, and act sooner rather than later to nip change fatigue in the bud before things spiral. Follow our tips on how to beat change fatigue and remember your change leader support system. Through this, you’ll be able to keep a steady pace as you make your way through the inevitable changes that are a part of today’s new normal.
Director People Engagement