Transformation of all kinds continues to be high on the agenda for businesses in 2023, from digital transformation to refining ways of working to boost employee health and happiness. Yet the very act of change, and particularly change on other people’s terms, is starting to become a disruptive and unwelcome part of the business landscape for an increasing number of employees.
According to Gartner’s report on the top HR trends for 2023, change fatigue and the effect that near-constant disruption is having on employees is something HR leaders are increasingly concerned about. 53% of HR leaders said it was their top priority for 2023, while 45% said their employees are fatigued from all the change.
And they’re right to be concerned. The report suggests that employees are growing more resistant to change, with fewer than half of employees happy to change how they work now compared to the number who would have been happy with employer-initiated change in 2016. With many business and digital transformation projects planned for the year ahead, this growing resistance to change has the potential to cause a great deal of disruption.
If you’re planning a digital transformation project in the coming months, the good news is that the way you manage change can make your employees less anxious and more empowered about your transformation initiatives. Here we cover some of the basics before getting into the steps you can take to mitigate change fatigue.
What is Business Transformation?
Business transformation is a fundamental change to a business or organisation to improve its overall performance in the face of shifts in the market environment.
The scope of business transformation is broad and strategic, with a seismic shift rather than an incremental change in how the business or organisation runs. Business transformation initiatives can take several years to complete, with changes to technology, personnel and processes that are intended to make the business more effective and efficient.
Given the size and impact of this type of undertaking, a business transformation comes from the top down, and is typically driven by the CEO or board of directors. It could include switching to a new business model, implementing ways to unlock the potential of employees or making a wholesale strategic pivot.
What is Digital Transformation?
Digital transformation is the large-scale adoption of digital technology in a business to fundamentally change how it operates. Most business transformation initiatives involve some form of digital investment, as new technology is often required to create new processes. However, a digital transformation is a stand-alone effort designed to create value by rewiring the organisation.
As well as adopting new technologies, digital transformation also demands cultural change. It requires businesses and organisations to walk away from long-standing business processes and become comfortable innovating and experimenting with new practices.
Although challenging the status quo in this way can be uncomfortable for employees, deploying tech at scale is often necessary to create long-term value, reduce costs and improve customer experiences.
Examples of digital transformation include the transition from legacy datacentres to cloud structures that can provide the agility, scalability and resilience that organisations now need. Artificial intelligence and automation are two other technologies that commonly form part of a data transformation. They can free up employees to do higher-value work and help businesses deliver better services to their customers.
What is Change Fatigue?
Change fatigue occurs when employees are left feeling tired and overwhelmed by a constant stream of organisational changes.
Navigating uncertainty is not something most people can do easily. Our natural reaction is to run from discomfort, but in a workplace scenario, that’s not possible. Instead, employees are left feeling anxious and out of control, which can create resistance to the changes that come along.
According to a Gartner study, uncertainty around working arrangements and transformation initiatives have left employees 50% less able to cope with change than they were pre-pandemic. And interestingly, it’s the changes that impact our day-to-day lives - such as getting a new manager or moving to a new team - rather than larger organisational changes, that are having the biggest impact.
Regardless of the causes of change fatigue, it needs to be managed very carefully by management teams. Apathy, burnout and frustration are common symptoms of changes caused by new processes and technologies. This can harm an employee’s performance and impact their ability to make decisions, solve problems and communicate effectively. It can also have a negative impact on staff retention.
How to Address and Minimise Change Fatigue
Define a Change Management Strategy
Change management is the process of leading employees, teams and entire organisations through change. A change management strategy is your outline or plan of the specific methods you’ll use to prepare for and implement those changes to mitigate the impact they’ll have on your business.
One approach to this is a top-down change strategy, with guidance coming from the leaders and management teams. But what happens if your senior execs are not equipped to lead the change? That’s where an open-source change strategy, which allows employees to contribute to change decisions, can be effective.
In an open-source change strategy, employees are empowered to talk openly about change and even determine how it is implemented. According to Gartner’s 2023 HR priorities report, there are multiple benefits associated with this approach, including:
- A 14 times increase in the likelihood of change success
- A 29% reduction in the risk of change fatigue
- A 19% increase in an employee’s intent to stay
- Employees that are 1.5 times more likely to change
During times of change, it’s good practice to communicate with your team as much as possible. But remember that communication is a two-way street. Be transparent with the information you have but also take the time to listen to and understand the concerns of each member of your team. Respecting their emotions, scheduling regular check-ins and asking how they are professionally and personally can help you show that you care.
It’s also good practice to communicate early. Change can be scary, but bringing employees on the change journey as early as possible gives them time to mentally prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. In an open-source change strategy, they can also contribute to decisions along the way.
Invest in Team Rituals and Company Culture
Interestingly, the Gartner study identified two factors that make teams more willing to accept change: trust and team cohesion. Employees who have higher trust and believe that an organisation’s leaders have their interests at heart are 2.6 times more likely to accept change. And those with greater team cohesion are 1.8 times more willing to work through those changes to achieve a collective goal.
Introducing team rituals and investing in company culture can help to build both trust and team cohesion and make employees more accepting of change. These rituals can be as simple as a weekly team lunch or taking 10 minutes at the start of each meeting to discuss how everyone is feeling personally. As well as building those all-important team connections, rituals can reduce anxiety and help employees feel more in control.
Guiding Your Teams on the Change Journey
If you’re embarking on a digital transformation project in 2023, remember that change fatigue is real and that effective change is grounded in the employee experience. Despite the challenges change can bring, with the right tools and an effective change management strategy, you can take effective steps to combat the anxiety and prepare your employees to face what comes next together.
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