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3 ways HR can mitigate rampant change fatigue

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Vanessa Akhtar
Vanessa Akhtar is a Managing Director at change management and strategy execution firm Kotter. She has a doctorate in Counseling & Performance Psychology from Boston University and is the co-author of Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results Despite Uncertain and Volatile Times.

Our increasingly complex and rapidly moving world has created the undeniable need for individuals and organizations to develop a strong change muscle. However, the non-stop pace we are experiencing has also created change fatigue—a phenomenon in which employees begin to feel a sense of exhaustion, passive resistance and apathy toward change—in many organizations. This increase in change fatigue is likely contributing to record-high levels of disengagement in the workplace.

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Change can often feel never-ending as if there’s always one more thing to adjust to around the corner. This constant cycle can trigger a natural Survive response by creating a sense of lack of control and continued energy drain. And yet, in today’s world, we don’t often have the luxury of maintaining the status quo.

See also: Employee engagement and the bottom line: HR can help make the business case

How can HR leaders help employees balance the need for change while also mitigating change fatigue? These three strategies are a useful starting point:

Connect the dots

It’s important to ensure that the “why” behind critical change initiatives is clearly communicated, so they aren’t seen as “change for the sake of change” or purely reactive. Employees need to understand how these changes will enable a better future—for them, for your customers and for the business. In addition, these initiatives need to be knitted together in a meaningful way to show how they are driving key strategic priorities and how disparate efforts may augment each other. If these efforts feel like just “one more thing,” people are more likely to start feeling overwhelmed and involuntarily forced to juggle an unmanageable number of priorities. You may also miss out on finding synergies between efforts, which can help preserve limited capacity and energy.

See also: How employee resource groups can impact the bottom line

Truly prioritize

When working with organizations, we often hear about the “top priorities” the business needs to drive. But, when we start digging deeper, everything is viewed as a priority. One common mistake is that leaders identify key priorities that are necessary to respond to both internal and external forces, but then miss the next step. In order to create space, focus and energy on these priorities, it’s essential to also identify what trade-offs you are making. What efforts need to be stopped completely? What can be paused or sequenced? Without clearly articulating what is getting deprioritized, HR leaders create significant barriers for employees to take meaningful actions toward what matters most. Instead, people have a consistent feeling of just trying to keep their heads above water, which will only exacerbate change fatigue.

See also: 5 ways HR can help soften the blow of return-to-office mandates

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And don’t just go through this exercise once. Of course, it’s critical to do this at the beginning of any significant initiative, but it’s also helpful to pause throughout. Assess whether or not your priorities are still where you need to focus your energy or if there have been shifts in the market that require a reprioritization. When this occurs, HR leaders need to clearly communicate why a pivot is needed and how this reprioritization will keep you on the right path forward.

Build and activate a network

Large-scale changes require many, many people to change how they are working. Leaders tend to depend on the same usual suspects to drive the effort, but it’s not realistic to rely on your go-to people or early adopters to maintain constant energy around the change. It’s natural for those who are most engaged and passionate at the beginning of a change effort to begin to feel their urgency waning over time.

It’s therefore critical to build an expanded network of people who are bought into the direction you’re moving and are ready to jump in and help. Creating this network allows people to tap in and tap out as their energy allows—giving space to recharge or focus on other priorities when needed. Building a bench that can provide relief not only has the benefit of protecting individuals against burnout and change fatigue, but it also creates the opportunity for more people with diverse perspectives to come up with creative solutions that will move you into the future.

There’s no evidence to suggest that our world is going to slow down or get less complex. This makes the risk of change fatigue that much higher as leaders continue to ask their people to adapt to the ever-evolving market, customer needs, and employee needs. Intentionally connecting the dots across efforts, pairing prioritization with decisions around trade-offs, and engaging a broader network of people will all help mitigate this risk and set your organization up to win.