Continuous change is common today. Organizations everywhere are stepping up their change management processes, engaging key people, and implementing successful initiatives. But what happens when too many project changes begin to take a physical and emotional toll on your people?
Change saturation versus change fatigue
Change saturation occurs in organizations when disruptive changes exceed your capacity to adopt them. Your organization is likely saturated when turmoil becomes the norm, projects can’t be prioritized easily, bottlenecks begin to slow progress, and project outcomes begin to suffer.
When the organization suffers from change saturation, employees begin to suffer too, exhibiting signs of change fatigue on both personal and professional levels. It’s easy to see why. Change is everywhere, bombarding them from all directions. New technology, organizational restructuring, political upheaval, complex regulatory requirements, global corporate expansion, ongoing digitalization, and much more. On top of that, the level of connectivity we work with today creates an always-on mentality that can wear people down.
Changes pressuring your mission and strategy today
Although everyone feels the impacts of change, Prosci Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking research shows that individuals in certain functional areas experience more change saturation than others. For example, roles in operations, customer service, sales, human resources and, of course, the change management office see more than their fair share of change initiatives.
Of these roles, middle managers and front-line employees experience the greatest levels of change saturation. Middle managers often implement changes and tend to feel the impacts first. And because changes cascade through organizations from the top down, front-line employees tend to bear the cumulative effects of constant change more than any other role.
Detecting the signs
How will you know when your people are fatigued? The ADKAR Model shows us that individuals react to change in predictable ways, including how they exhibit fatigue from change saturation.
Here’s what to look for:
Noise – More frequent and louder complaints about changes
Apathy – Growing indifference about project changes, with some completely disengaging; employees stop asking questions
Burnout – employees are visibly tired
Stress – people seem anxious about changes
Resistance – some push back on change with more energy while others don't resist at all
Negativity – cynicism prevails
Skepticism – individuals express doubt about change success
When your people exhibit the signs above, organizations also suffer. For example, change-fatigued employees tend to produce less, take more time off, and even quit their jobs more frequently. Morale begins to erode across the organization, and employees lose their focus on business basics.
Addressing change fatigue in individuals
Actively working to avoid change saturation from projects in your organization is ideal. But when you can’t avoid it, catching fatigue early enables you to offer relief and avoid the long-term negative impacts on individuals, projects and organizations.
No matter which approach you choose, being proactive is the key:
Gather feedback directly from employees and managers on how they are perceiving change and the level they perceive.
Conduct satisfaction surveys, interviews, and small-group sessions to ask individuals about the amount of change they’re experiencing and how they’re reacting to it.
Actively manage project resource allocation and scheduling, and use mapping tools and enterprise management tools to gauge employee fatigue.
Use assessments to measure the amount of change and the impact it is having on individuals and their groups.
Evaluate the type and number of change efforts underway to understand potential impacts on individuals. Teams can also include this information in regular reporting.
Assess the amount of time available to handle change at the employee level.
Measure success rates of change efforts over time, considering the amount of change happening in the organization.
Conduct comparative observations to evaluate the amount of change taking place and the level of discontent people are exhibiting in different parts of the organization.
Avoid change saturation with better change management
Given the pressures on organizations today, change saturation at the project level may be inevitable, at least until your organization can develop a more mature capability to manage the increasing pace and volume of change. Until then, the most effective step you can take to mitigate change fatigue is to proactively manage your organization’s change portfolio. That will provide the perspective you need to identify, document and streamline the many changes affecting your organization and people—and combat change fatigue before it sets in.
Need help managing your change portfolio? The Prosci Change Portfolio Toolkit offers a suite of resources that enable you to map out change projects, identify change-saturated groups, and more.
Founded in 1994, Prosci is a global leader in change management. We enable organizations around the world to achieve change outcomes and grow change capability through change management solutions based on holistic, research-based, easy-to-use tools, methodologies and services.