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What causes Change Fatigue?

When it comes to Change Fatigue, there's some interesting research around. From studies of nurses to deep dives into organisation, there's a lot of data to review. And Change Fatigue is certainly not going away or reducing as our world becomes more uncertain and unpredictable.

Do Frequent Changes cause Change Fatigue?

Now most people will attribute fatigue to a high number of changes happening within an organisation.

In 2022, the average employee experienced 10 planned organizational changes (a steep increase from an average of two organizational changes in 2016) and nine day-to-day changes*.

At Timbs and Co, we feel like those numbers are underselling it big-time from our client work!

But the high number of changes isn't the biggest factor. Disruptive change is more than twice as impactful on the level of change fatigue an employee might experience than high volume change. Like water dripping away at a stone, it's the small, daily, highly disruptive changes that are most likely to result in this feeling of change fatigue and (in our experience) are least likely to be identified, managed and supported.

Consider this in the context of an organisation. In a single day, it really is the smaller, almost business-as-usual changes that can be most disruptive through poor management and scant communication. They can lead to high frustration and loss of productivity. The 'basic' IT update that runs at the same time as the payroll needs to be processed, the printer upgrade that happens during the crucial production window, the site closure announced the day of a vital public meeting.

A graph showing the maximum impact of change volume and change disruption on change fatigue. The horizontal axis shows the drivers of volume and disruption, the vertical axis shows a scale of 0-100%. There are two points of data shown. The first is the Volume of Changes which is measures as having a maximum impact of 24%, the second is the disruption of changes which is measured as having a 58% impact.
Source: 2022 Gartner Workforce Change Fatigue Survey

Large Scale Changes must be the cause of Change Fatigue then?

The other type of change that we often think of as causing major fatigue is big, transformative changes then? That must be what is bringing about the sense of exhaustion and overwhelm!

Surprisingly, they contribute but aren't the major player here.

Large-scale, infrequent changes aren’t as likely to cause change fatigue, it's when they combine with the day to day smaller disruption that they become most damaging. The day-to-day changes, such as leadership, job role and process changes, combine with the large scale changes to increase that dreaded disruption and lead to prolonged periods of disturbed work patterns, increasing fatigue.

In 2022, the average employee experienced 10 planned organizational changes (up from two in 2016) and nine day-to-day changes.

Failed Changes

No organisation is free from a history of some kind of failure when it comes to change. Constant futile changes create frustration, a sense of chaos and undermines employee confidence in how future changes will be managed.

Employees become weary of change and lack confidence in their leaders ability to lead an effective change effort. They become unwilling to commit to future changes. In 2016, 74% of employees surveyed were willing to support organizational change; today, only 38% say the same.*

Sudden & Unplanned Changes

This type of change has been most prevalent in recent years and is a primary cause of much Change Fatigue. With businesses responding to rapidly introduced legislation, new market forces, pandemic, financial crisis and natural disasters, it's often been necessary to change rapidly to preserve the organisation.

A cartoon style picture on a yellow background of a business man in a suit with his hands on his head staring out into a field. The field include holes cut in the ground and from each hole another businessman's hand can be seen reaching out for help.

But that means the disruption and frequency, the uncertainty and unpredictability are all high, leading to high Change Fatigue. And this type of change can often be done poorly, with little proper strategy or follow through making employees anxious and puzzled as to what's coming, and what's the long term plan.

What does it all mean for Change Fatigue?

Reducing Change Fatigue needs an approach that considers:

  • Being conscious of the big and small changes that teams and leaders are asked to make at around the same time which means:

    • Limiting how disruptive even the small changes can be

    • Make an effort to limit how often you implement minor changes

    • Adapting your Enterprise Change reporting/assessing thresholds to see the right types of change

  • Sudden and unplanned change is more prevalent than ever so:

    • Create an environment where unexpected change is expected

    • Build leadership skills for leading in ambiguity (ask us how!)

    • Support your teams to understand their own responses to uncertainty (we can help!)

By taking a conscious approach to managing smaller disruptive change (rather than only focusing on the big stuff) and building better adaptive capacity, you can reduce Change Fatigue for your leaders, teams and individuals.

Curious about what Change Fatigue might be costing your business, your leaders or your teams? Find out more here.

Or perhaps you'd like to know more about what you can do to manage and support your people, and reduce the cost of Change Fatigue today.

*2022 Gartner Workforce Change Fatigue Survey


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