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How to manage and overcome change fatigue during coronavirus

Published: Thursday 1st October 2020

Are your employees feeling disengaged, burned out, stressed, and meeting every day at work with cynicism? If so, then your workforce may be suffering from change fatigue.

Change fatigue is the sense of apathy or resignation people experience when dealing with what they perceive as too much organisational change. When businesses go through significant or repetitive change, staff often find themselves facing change fatigue. Sounds a bit like COVID-19 to you? In the world of work, companies are grappling with daily and rapid changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, further demanding the organisational transformation of human resource management.

Hallmarks of change fatigue

Although the research on quarantine fatigue is not comprehensive, there is extensive research on change fatigue. Here are some signs of what organisational change fatigue looks like…

xhausted, Tired, Lazy, sleepy Asian Business woman in black suit lying on white sofa. Change fatigue and stress concept.

Disengagement and lack of communication

Disengagement manifests itself through an apathy in your employees’ attitude to work and also through indifference. For instance, staff may arrive late to work and can’t wait to get out of the door as soon as ‘the bell goes’.

Burn out is a sign of change fatigue

Burn out is one of the most common signs of change fatigue. Overwhelmed by responsibilities, confused or overly stressed by constant changes that may have taken place, your employees may appear to lack energy for their tasks. As a result, absenteeism could start rising, followed by presenteeism, where your staff shows up to work but they don’t really do anything.

Increased levels of stress and confusion

As anxiety and stress increase in the workplace, it also happens that interpersonal conflicts and lack of concentration rise, tainting workplace relationships. Moreover, confusion result in your staff running around like ‘headless chickens’, rushing from one task to another whilst accomplishing the bare minimum.

angry female boss throwing papers away in front of two suprised employees. mobbing concept

Complaints rise whilst every workday is met with cynicism

Complaints rising is a strong sign of change fatigue with high levels of cynicism being the worst aspect of it. Once every new day or new task start being met with cynicism and resignation by your staff, then phrases such as “Don’t worry, it will all change again soon” and “here we go again” become common mantras.

So, how can employers and managers cope with a coming tsunami of stressed, disengaged and burnt out workers? Here are a few steps to follow to manage and overcome change fatigue during coronavirus.

Recognise and address change fatigue openly

Employers should recognise change fatigue and address it as soon as possible. Make sure that you have clearly defined your change problem and provide an appropriate platform to address it. Nothing can be more frustrating for your organisation than asking employees to make changes that they don’t understand. Unclear vision and irrational or confusing expectations can also lead to resistance, therefore change fatigue.

Fix what really matters

Group of men and women sitting in conference room and smiling. Office, work, team in a meeting.

Putting emphasis and effort in to resolving the causes of employee change fatigue is to be commended. But don’t waste time and effort addressing matters that don’t matter to your employees. Find out what actually concerns, stresses or frustrates them.

Acknowledge your employees’ feelings

Even if your employees are still coming into the office, their routine is highly likely to have drastically changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Acknowledge how much this is affecting them. Remind them that they are not weaker for finding change challenging, and that it makes them no less agile or adaptable for struggling through it. Communicate openly that as an employer you will continue to support them through these tough times.

So, how can you help your employees better embrace change?

It’s important not just to set expectations or simply make announcements. Explain why this change is necessary and how this is going to benefit them and the company. Management research shows that people will more positively respond to change even if they disagree with it, if they understand why it needs to be made. Transparency, honesty and clarity when communicating change are crucial in order to achieve a wide buy-in from the entire team.

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