Organizational Change Management in an Era of Change Fatigue

One of the most difficult challenges in organizational change management (OCM) is navigating employee resistance. Even in the best of times, it can be hard to develop a plan that thoroughly addresses all the reasons people might be wary of change, no matter what benefits that change may bring about.

And it’s safe to say we aren’t living in the best of times. The last two years have seen swiftly rising levels of burnout, and workers across the board are feeling tired, worried, and stressed. The pandemic plays a role, of course, but there’s more to it than that. In 2018, a Gallup poll discovered that nearly two-thirds of workers said they struggled with feelings of burnout, stress, and fatigue.

It’s important, then, to fully acknowledge both of these truths: first, employees are exhausted and tired of change; and second, change is vital for the health and success of your organization.

How can you hope to reconcile both?

Understand How Change Causes Stress

When it comes to change, there’s often a disconnect between leaders and associates. For leaders, change is often quite welcome. New technology means better performance and processes, and that can help your organization be more effective. It can also help the people you lead—those who benefit most from these new tools are often the workers who use them.

So why the resistance?

To really grasp what causes change fatigue, it’s important to fully understand how change causes stress for your workers. A study in the Journal of Business and Psychology discovered that employees experience the most stress when a change impacts them directly. When an engaged, efficient employee is suddenly asked to change how they work, it can lead to feelings of doubt, frustration, and unhappiness.

In fact, change can be so stressful for employees that it’s a leading driver of job dissatisfaction. Those negative feelings impact work-life balance, cause workers to feel more distrustful on the job, and can even lead to an increase in bad habits like smoking.

None of this is meant to frighten you off or suggest you shouldn’t make changes. To facilitate lasting change, however, it’s important to understand the problem and what workers are feeling.

Successful Change Management Must Center on People

Here’s a question for you: If people are so burned out on change, what’s fueling the Great Resignation? After all, what bigger disruption could there be to a job than to start a new one entirely?

While there’s no single answer as to why so many people are seeking new jobs, one intriguing clue can be found in the Businessolver State of Workplace Empathy survey, which discovered that 93% of respondents would choose to stay at an empathetic company, while 82% would leave their position to work with a more empathetic organization.

Empathy matters. A lot. Successful organizational change management begins by understanding the people it affects. If you don’t understand their concerns or the things that they value, you won’t be able to help bring them along.

Protecting Your Team from Unnecessary Change

Iteration can be a wonderful thing. Through trial and refinement you can initiate a system of continuous improvement that makes your processes better.

But for workers, constant change comes with a cumulative cost, and an iterative approach can lead to the very problems we’ve been discussing. Good organizational leaders must have the discernment to identify which changes are truly necessary and will be most beneficial rather than introducing constant, unpredictable change.

This is where a partner can help. When you enlist outside expertise, someone with long experience helping other organizations manage change, you can build a more effective implementation plan that takes a human-centered approach. That won’t just ensure better implementation; it will help your people adapt and move forward, leading to better results.

Enable transformation possible by putting your people first:

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