New research shows employees are struggling to cope with change. Can employers do something to tackle it?
Job insecurity, pandemic-related stress and worries about the economy have dropped employees’ capacity to absorb change by 50 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to Gartner.
At a time when more change is precisely what organisations need in order to reset, the amount of change employees can absorb without fatigue – negative reactions to change such as burnout, frustration, or apathy – has plummeted significantly, says Jessica Knight, vice president in the Gartner HR practice.
Day-to-day changes are the most damaging when it comes to change fatigue.
To improve employee’s ability to adapt to change, organisations need to ensure that employees are actively involved in change decisions, according to Gartner.
Engagement, trust and team cohesion
Organisations that use an open source approach to change management were found to increase the probability of change success by 23 per cent points. In an open source environment, employees actively participate in shaping change decisions, they create personal change implementation plans, and talk openly about the change, says Gartner.
Two other factors that influence employees’ change capacity are trust and team cohesion. The extent to which employees believe that key organisational stakeholders have their interests in mind and do what they say they are going to do impacts their ability to absorb change. Employees who report low trust have a reduced ability to absorb change. As against this, those with high trust have an average capacity for change that is 2.6 times greater.
“Trust and team cohesion each represent a significant opportunity for HR leaders because they’re factors that can be influenced across the entire workforce,” says Knight.
“While trust and team cohesion are particularly relevant right now when many employees are remote and dispersed, the impact of improving trust and team cohesion is similar even in more typical circumstances.”
A human-centered approach
Dr Shari Read, Corporate Educator and Practice Lead in Human-Centred Transformation, QUTeX Professional and Executive Education says a human-centered approach to change and transformation can contribute towards reducing change fatigue.
The human-centered approach means you ensure that any changes made to organisations – the way the organisations interact with the communities – are based on understanding what people in that community, the stakeholders, need. “Are our businesses, organisations and institutions geared to meet those needs?.”
The pandemic has led to radical changes in the way organisations operate.
When you are talking about radical, system-wide changes, we need to start from a perspective of empathy, says Read. It’s important to understand how the changes impact the end user as well as the internal stakeholders, the employees. Read suggests five steps leaders can take to reduce employee change fatigue:
- Pause – Leaders should have their own vision but they should stop and think about what they are trying to achieve. What are the signposts? They should start with the end in mind.
- Listen – Now that you have got a sense of what you are trying to achieve, go and listen to your team. Listen, listen and listen more. Collect stories and understand pain points.
- Empower – Ask your employees to recognise and act upon pain points. Enable and empower your team to come up with solutions. When employees are involved in the process, they are more receptive to change.
- Co-create and collaborate – Co-create and collaborate a vision with your team. The key to this is understanding the difference between cooperation and collaboration. When you collaborate, you work together on a shared goal and there is mutual benefit but when you cooperate, just one party benefits. As against this, when you co-create, you work together on an idea and an outcome emerges. Co-creation and collaboration brings diversity of thoughts, perspectives and understanding, leading to a value-based outcome.
- Reiterate – This is about building an effective feedback loop. Pay attention and reflect on feedback with the intention of optimising it. Building that reflective practice and feedback loop into your process of reiteration helps to ensure your organisation becomes a responsive organisation.
The best approach to managing change and reducing change fatigue, according to Gartner, is to focus on how employees experience change, not just the outcomes of changed behaviours.
“Empowering different levels of leaders and teams to shape the change experience ensures small-scale changes get attention; it also builds greater cohesion by enabling teams to define the desired experience for changes they are implementing,” says Knight.