Resistance to change or ‘change fatigue’?

To many individuals change brings uncertainty, fear and potential worries about the future. It can even represent a threat to the individual’s comfort zone, a threat to a status quo, and therefore a threat to a peaceful current state. On the flip side, other individuals are more excited about the prospect of change. They are able to navigate the different emotions whilst keeping a positive perspective and continuing progress towards the desired outcomes. However, if an individual feels deceived about the desired change outcomes, or realises that the change didn’t really meet their expectations, this second category of individuals can easily shift to the first and can make them more sceptical in the future. We see this ‘change fatigue’ regularly.

The symptoms of resistance to change and change fatigue can appear similar. Often they are represented in the form of employee complaints, avoidance of taking on new assignments, poor communication and, consequently, a lack of adoption of new processes. This can make it challenging for organisations to identify if they are facing change resistance or fatigue.

It is important to understand that resistance to change is a typical human reaction to organisational change, which takes the form of a healthy and sincere challenge of the reasons for change and chances of success. Change fatigue is more a result of historical changes that have accumulated and created a general sense of apathy or passive resignation – this can be generally associated with stress and exhaustion as a result of decreased organisational commitment.

The first step towards overcoming change fatigue is fully understanding its cause, the historical changes that the organisation has been through that have contributed to this perception and how they were led. The absence of continuous communication can impact the trust that the teams have in their organisation and can consequently lead to less and less contribution and engagement.

In order to protect the teams from change fatigue, it is important to adopt a clear, robust change management strategy that prioritises:

  • Communicating clearly and continuously: This first stage of any change project or initiative is key in its success. It starts with sharing the change vision, the expected outcomes, and the roadmap of how you will get there. This helps not only to create clarity, but also to ensure you have full commitment from the team as well as continuous feedback to act upon.
  • Recognising contributions: This can be a great, rewarding way to recognise and champion employees’ contributions to the change journey. It helps to highlight that they are key stakeholders in leading the change process and that their insights are valued and taken into consideration.
  • Avoiding over-promising: It is important to visualise the outcome of the change while embarking on it. It can be tempting to embellish its impact and how teams can benefit from it, however, it is crucial to be realistic and not over-promise outcomes. Over-promising might initially get the teams joining and contributing but there is a risk that trust can be broken when the promises aren’t met and can create more resistance to further changes in the future.

In adopting a change management approach that fully encompasses your employee’s perception of change, it can significantly improve progress towards the desired outcome and ensure that any future change initiatives are set up for success from the offset.