Managers are often aware when employees resist change. Resistance is usually a visible thing – people complain, tell negative stories, or get annoyed.
But change fatigue is hidden and managers often fail to recognise it. According to McMillan & Perron (2013), “staff experiencing change fatigue simply shut off and become withdrawn, taking no steps to address issues relating to change initiatives.”
Here are some factors that contribute to change fatigue:
- Perceived lack of control – employees feel they have no control over how the change is handled and become resigned to the process
- Unrealistically high expectations – managers have high levels of expectations for success, but employees are disillusioned by past failures
- Emotional exhaustion and burn-out – change is unrelenting and employees feel overwhelmed by it
Signs of change fatigue
Change fatigue is hard to notice, because dissent is not apparent. But here are some things to look out for:
- Passive acceptance of proposed changes – there is little debate, few questions, and people seem to just accept the inevitable. Managers might mistake this for people being ‘on-board’, but they are not
- People shut off and withdraw – they become unresponsive to communications and do not participate much during meetings. They show little interest or excitement about the change
- Disengagement – employees fail to engage in change processes and show little enthusiasm or motivation for them
- Increased absenteeism – employees take more time off from work
Effects of change fatigue
Change fatigue makes change more likely to fail because employees don’t support the processes or engage with the vision. Their apathy, disillusionment, feelings of powerlessness, and their disconnectedness from the change process present serious risks that make failure more likely. Change fatigue may even be a more serious problem than resistance because resistance is more apparent and, in that sense, easier to deal with. Change fatigue is a hidden killer.
How to overcome change fatigue
It would be easy to believe that change fatigue results from the frequency of change or how it’s managed. While these factors certainly play a part, the problem with this view is that it focuses on the organisational system and ignores the employee. It’s a systemic approach, and, while the system plays a part, it doesn’t play the only part. It may not even play the major part.
So, what else could be going on here? I suggest that internal change fitness strengths or limitations impact the person’s susceptibility to change fatigue. Helping employees build change fitness builds their resistance to change fatigue, and decreases their resistance to change.