|6 Minutes

Is ‘Change Fatigue’ Crippling Today’s Digital Workforce?

Is ‘Change Fatigue’ Crippling Today’s Digital Workforce?

When it comes to workplace innovation, many forward-thinking businesses follow a simple mantra: “Change before you have to.” They pursue organizational or technological changes in order to stay ahead, rather than catch up – and they rely on their employees to adapt quickly to the new standards and structures they put in place.  

The pandemic threw a wrench into that neat and tidy outlook on innovation. Businesses had to change. And over the past nineteen months, they’ve implemented change on a scale that has weighed heavily on even the most or flexible? of employees.  

Not only have employees had their work routines completely upended – they’ve also had to adopt new technologies and adjust to new styles of communication, all while dealing with the inherent stress and uncertainty that the pandemic brought about. 

A friend who works for a finance company, for example, had to learn two entirely new communication tools during the early stages of the pandemic – as his team began using Microsoft Teams when they went remote, then switched to Slack, all while coworkers on other teams continued to use entirely different platforms.  

The most common hurdle for business leaders is one that too often goes unaddressed in the mad dash to press onward: change fatigue.  

We’re only now beginning to see the impact that this period of accelerated transformation has had on employees. In the coming months, a lot of businesses are going to learn a hard lesson: it’s impossible to move forward if employee wellbeing is what’s getting left behind.  

Change fatigue has consequences that extend far beyond business goals. 

According to a study by Untapped AI, 4 out of 5 employees have felt gripped by change fatigue in recent months. Change fatigue and employee burnout manifest in ways that can tangibly hinder a company’s success, from productivity declines due to disengagement, to increases in employee turnover.  

But change fatigue isn’t just a productivity killer or a roadblock to innovation. It’s a legitimate mental health issue.   

Mental Health America’s recently released their Mind the Workplace survey, which examined the connections between workplace stress, burnout, and employee mental health. The results painted a troubling picture of how post-pandemic working has affected employees: 

  • Nearly 83 percent of respondents reported feeling emotionally drained as a result of their work. 
  • Nearly 9 in 10 employees reported that their workplace stress affects their mental health. 
  • 1 in 4 employees are experiencing the more severe signs of burnout, including reduced professional efficacy and cynicism towards coworkers and their jobs. 

There are a number of factors, both societal and in the workplace, that have contributed to this decline in overall employee wellbeing – but change fatigue is undoubtedly one of the top contributors.  

And if companies continue to implement new technology and work practices without addressing employee wellbeing, workers will continue to feel unmoored in a sea of constant change.  

Digital transformation and change fatigue: slowing down to speed up 

At this stage, employers are not ignorant to the threat of change fatigue; a study by Dell Technologies revealed that 48% of businesses fear their teams are at risk of burnout from trying to adapt IT strategies to meet post-pandemic demands. 

Given the above statistics on employee mental health, those fears are more than warranted. If business leaders don’t take proactive steps to combat change fatigue, their efforts to implement further innovation will only exacerbate the impact on employee wellbeing. 

This isn’t to say that businesses shouldn’t adopt any new technology, or that they should throw out their plans for agile workspaces, returns to the office, and so on. Rather, these changes must be accompanied by strategic efforts to manage and improve employee wellbeing – including: 

1. Bringing employees in on the decision-making process. 

One of the symptoms of change fatigue is a feeling of powerlessness; employees are the ones charged with adapting to new technologies or ways of working, but they don’t have any control over what those changes are.  

Businesses can only benefit from giving employees a more active role in the decision-making process. Before implementing a new technology, for example, they can collect preliminary feedback from the employees who would be affected by this change. This process might uncover concerns or questions that would’ve otherwise become silent grievances as the employees have a new solution forced upon them. 

2. Proactively monitoring employee mental health. 

The occasional check-in or anonymous survey won’t paint an accurate picture of how employees are coping with stress, uncertainty, and other emotions that contribute to fatigue.  

Businesses have to get more proactive when it comes to employee wellbeing. Deploying engagement campaigns specifically geared towards mental health awareness will go a long way in making employees feel heard, and in giving leaders a more realistic understanding of how employees are feeling during periods of change.   

3. Making employee wellbeing a priority across departments. 

When it comes the topics of employee burnout and change fatigue, the lines between HR and IT get blurry. An HR department is typically responsible for monitoring employee wellbeing – but in an entirely digital work environment, they’ll have too many blind spots if they’re not working alongside the IT department.   

It’s crucial that employee wellbeing is seen as a joint strategy between HR and IT. The two departments must be able to share insights and agree on effective solutions to mitigate the impact of innovation and change on employees’ health. 

As companies continue to navigate the next phase of post-pandemic working, change fatigue should be seen as an urgent challenge – not an afterthought to be dealt with when the dust settles.   

Even if it requires decelerating certain plans, taking steps to make employees feel more secure and less stressed will only benefit the business in the long run. But don’t just look at it as a smart business decision – it’s also a responsibility to employees, as they’ve been the ones who have kept the lights on during this extended time of uncertainty.

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