A report titled, 2023 HR Top Priorities by Gartner identifies ‘Change Fatigue and Work Friction’ as two of the main reasons for employee attrition.
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With regards to change fatigue, all we need to do is think of the past few years, 2019 to the present day, we can look to nothing short of global economic chaos that has catalyzed the ruin of individual lives.
Examples of Change Giving Rise to Fatigue
From both economic and psychological perspectives. People are just plain fatigued when experiencing evidence of the financial collapse of large banking institutions, the closure of retail shops in metropolitan cities, the rise of crime, and the threats of personal insolvency brought about by record inflation.
Categories of Work Friction
Work friction too, can be equally challenging. Work friction is defined as the often inevitable conflict and tension that occurs when people are joined together to work on a project and/or work task collaboratively. HR Online Australia (Australian HR Institute), relayed research depicting these four work friction categories:
- poorly designed work tasks, activities and relationships,
- overwhelmed work teams,
- inaccessible or bottlenecked resources, and
- rigid and inflexible processes and procedures.
These two factors: change exhaustion and work conflict as stand alone conditions can present unique challenges. However, taken together, they can present an insurmountable no win environment where nothing seems to give. Maybe this is how many workers feel?
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Gartner surveyed 460 leaders in the human resources field. The findings were stark. Employees stressed that ‘change fatigue’ or societal upheaval related to the push to digitize every aspect of one’s working and private life, economic uncertainty and societal polarization rising from political tensions are overwhelming.
Change Fatigue and Work Conflict Statistics
What does this have to do with work, you might ask?
Feelings of exhaustion and tiredness as a way of leaking into one’s professional life. Such that this lethargy can foster conflict and work friction in the workplace (even when working from home). Not only does the foreboding sense of weariness lower productivity, it can also cause formerly content workers to leave.
- Just 43% of employees experiencing higher than average fatigue from change intend to stay with their employer, while
- Almost three-fourths (74%) of employees with lower levels of exhaustion plan to stay put, finally,
- Remote workers are 40% more likely to experience high levels of work friction.
What implications do these findings have for top flight human resources professionals, change agents, executives and business owners?
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To answer this question, we can think about the greatest change agent of all time, Machiavelli. He wrote “there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” (Machiavelli, 1532, chapter VI).”
Change is something that most people abhor.
Oxford Corp provides statistics to show:
- 62% of people are hesitant, resistant or weary of operating outside of their comfort zone, while
- 38% of people feel confident to perform outside of their comfort zone.
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Purpose of Change Agents
Based upon this information, one wonders if corporate executives and small business leaders effectively employed change agents during what many argue is the greatest era of transformation of all times? Change that was largely ushered in by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic.
Change agents can be hired or contracted as consultants to:
- implement innovative technologies,
- marshal leadership changes,
- facilitate mergers and acquisitions,
- assist with corporate re-branding or crisis intervention, and
- spearhead new divisions, departments, and functions
We’d like to add to this list. Change agents can be used to help C-Suite executives, front line managers and employees adapt to unprecedented and unforeseen societal change. But the hiring of change agents don’t automatically result in a conflict free work environment.
70% of Change Initiatives Fail
In fact, ZBW in the Journal of Applied Leadership and Management presented research showing that 70% of most change initiatives fail. Why? Researchers Nikolaou, Gouras, Vakola and Bourantas (2007) argued that projects to support organizational change often emphasize the effectiveness and study of the global macroscopic organizational factors more so than the microscopic person-focused issues.
This gets us back to the primary gist of this article. Right now, people are probably overwhelmed with the force-fed era of monumental change that can cause work conflict. As business owners, managers and team leads, the last thing we want our staff to feel is fatigued. It lowers employee productivity, morale; increases discontentment, and most importantly it threatens our bottom line.
When employees feel this way, they may experience feelings such that they’ve hit a wall and felt completely, done. Some feel as though they can’t handle a situation one second longer.
Symptoms related to Employee Burnout
These overwhelming feelings of fatigue and exhaustion can lead to burnout. Burnout is a combination of both physical and emotional responses. It starts out as a mental reaction to being overburdened with life or overworked – or in some states of distress, and it evolves into a physical response where they feel tired, loss of appetite, or suffering from other outward signs.
Often, burnout is associated with the workplace. Routine tasks, schedules, meetings and even the colleagues of whom one interacts can contribute to burnout if these experiences are intensely negative, continual and unending.
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But burnout isn’t only something that affects your employee’s professional life. It can also be something they experience in their personal world, too. Staff may experience exhaustion related to home schooling, carpooling the kids, after-school sports, caretaking of children or even elderly parents, and meeting the constant demands of a significant other.
Remote employees, freelancers gig workers and entrepreneurs may be tasked with household chores, cooking, and shopping, in addition to working full-time. Why? Because it is perceived by others as being most convenient for them to do so. Is it fair? No, but life happens.
Tips for Organizations to Help Employees Manage Change
If you notice any of these things happening or you begin to hear these complaints among your staff: insomnia or exhaustion, nausea, irritability, back pain, and muscle tension; it’s time to take a closer examination of your organization to see if there are areas that can be addressed to alleviate them.
Suggestions given to organizations include:
- Hire and train for improved agility,
- Encourage and reward employee responsiveness by removing needless bottlenecks,
- Analyze work flows where organizations inadvertently make employees work around rigid systems to complete tasks,
- Consider adding soft skills such as empathy and resilience to key performance metrics,
- Celebrate small wins,
- Engage employees authentically by positively identifying the exact trait shown for which is admirable,
- Set and respect boundaries,
- Support re-skilling and upskilling to meet the ever changing demands of the marketplace,
- Use culture, leadership and personal responsibility intentionally to build a greater sense of belonging among the staff and company.
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Tips for Individual Workers to Help Respond to Change
Suggestions given to individuals to take personal responsibility for their well-being include:
- Create a necessary buffer between yourself and anything toxic that can be avoided. If that’s an unruly relative or toxic coworker, set some space between the two of you to give yourself a break from the turmoil.
- Find a support team to help you alleviate some of the stress you’re experiencing. For example, ask your family for help maintaining the house or find a fellow parent to split carpooling duties with you.
- See what can be done to take a step back and take on fewer responsibilities. It may be that you need to work fewer hours, take on one less client, or even change business models entirely.