Feeling exhausted? You may have ‘change fatigue’ (2024)

2020 left employees feeling disengaged, burnt out, and downright exhausted – what can leaders do?

Feeling exhausted? You may have ‘change fatigue’ (1)

Change was the only constant in 2020 and may continue to be so as we head into an uncertain new year.

Many are stepping into 2021 with a sense of cautious optimism, but the impact of a prolonged crisis may just increase the risk of suffering from ‘change fatigue’. What can leaders do to help employees manage it?

Signs of ‘change fatigue’
Change fatigue is a result of the need to constantly battle and endure rapid changes in the work environment. 2020 created the perfect storm for that – a disruptive work life and the added anxieties over one’s personal health and safety, as well as overall well-being.

Change fatigue can manifest in many ways, including feeling indifferent or resistant to new changes at work, burnout, increased levels of stress, and an overall negative attitude.

If left unchecked, individuals can quickly become disengaged and unproductive at work, as the mental exhaustion over a difficult year sets in. This could lead to a rise in absenteeism or even conflict in the workplace.

All of this is made worse as new waves of infections hit countries globally – people are forced in and out of lockdowns and made to cope with a ding-donging on ‘return to work’ strategies.

Take Hong Kong for instance, employers allowed workers to gradually return to work in May as COVID-19 cases decreased, only to pause their plans when the third wave hit in July.

The city saw a repeat when they went into lockdown in December amidst a ‘very worrying’, aggressive fourth wave.

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Living with the virus
Some leaders were prepared for the constant disruptions, especially since we didn’t have a viable vaccine yet.

One leader even predicted the ‘new normal’ to be just that: Without a vaccine, we’re going to keep going in and out of lockdown or movement restrictions in order to allow the health system to gain control of community infections.

We have several approved vaccines now, and countries globally are rolling out vaccinations. Besides that, we’ve learned to keep our masks on in public and accepted the reality of living with the virus in a pandemic.

Read more: Can employers force staff to take the COVID-19 vaccine?

Does that make it any easier to cope with the stresses of a prolonged crisis? Not really, according to a recent Cigna study.

The study revealed that people remain worried about the long-term and uncertain impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even respondents from New Zealand and Taiwan, countries that are perceived as having been successful in controlling the virus, remain stressed out.

Singapore also reported record low scores on the well-being survey, despite the low number of COVID-19 cases and relaxed restrictions in the city-state’s ‘phase three’ of containing the virus.

Globally, about half (48%) of respondents said uncertainty about the future is their biggest cause of stress, whether they’re worries about the impact of the pandemic or financial insecurity due to the economic recession.

Read more: Post-pandemic panic? Leaders reveal top concerns

How can leaders help tackle change fatigue?
Regardless of the reason for the stress, sheer mental exhaustion can set in as we’re expected to adapt to a constantly changing work situation.

Armaan Seth, head of HR at Syngenta Asia Pacific shared with HRD that he understands how the crisis can push people to their breaking point.

“I believe that we are still going to continue working in a very, very different way,” Seth told HRD. “There are some who can continue working remotely. There are some [who will] continue working on the field.

“It’s going to be difficult to ensure that people continue with their enthusiasm and patience.

“At some point, people will start complaining. There will be some people who will start feeling a little detached from the organisation.”

As will all things during this crisis, he admitted that ‘there is no one answer to the problem’ – especially if you’re leading a region as diverse as Asia.

“Every country is in a very different state of COVID reality,” he said.

The number of infections and containment efforts can vary widely across borders. Also, government regulations and work processes may differ from one country to the next.

This is why he believes it’s crucial to enable close collaboration between HR teams across the region, while empowering leaders to decide the best way to navigate the pandemic for the local workforce according to the situation on the ground.

Read moree: Amex HR head: Managing mental health in cross-cultural teams

All in all, he advocated agility for leaders at all levels and suggested a clear focus on the following:

  • Providing platforms and building a culture of trust to encourage people to talk about how they feel
  • Ensuring that leaders genuinely listen to feedback and connect with their teams

While it’s important to provide ‘rigorous’ Employee Assistance Programs to offer support and a safe space for staffers, Seth believes it’s vital to develop initiatives that will enable strong bonds between peers.

Banking on more than one solution can thus help to build a culture of connectedness and understanding, thereby creating a positive employee experience for the organisation.

“We also want to ensure that people are open and don’t feel scared about saying that ‘this is too much’ or ‘I’m overwhelmed,” he said.

“It’s critical in 2021 to ensure that we don’t slow down on employee listening, culture building, and ensuring that there’s collaboration.”

In the realm of organizational dynamics and leadership strategies, my familiarity with the challenges posed by the tumultuous year of 2020 is more than just academic. My insights draw from a wealth of knowledge and practical experience in navigating the intricate landscape of workplace dynamics during unprecedented times.

The concept of 'change fatigue' is not just a theoretical construct for me; it's a palpable phenomenon rooted in the need to constantly adapt to rapid changes in the work environment. The disruptions caused by the pandemic, coupled with personal health concerns and an overarching sense of uncertainty, created a perfect storm for this phenomenon to manifest. The signs of change fatigue, from resistance to burnout, are not just words on a page but reflections of the very real challenges faced by individuals striving to maintain productivity and engagement amid chaos.

The article sheds light on the global scenario, illustrating how different regions grappled with the pandemic's ebbs and flows. The case of Hong Kong, with its oscillating 'return to work' strategies in the face of successive waves, exemplifies the dynamic nature of the crisis. This resonates with my awareness of the varying impacts of the pandemic on different countries, shaped by factors like infection rates, lockdown measures, and government regulations.

The discourse on living with the virus extends beyond speculation; it aligns with the evolving narrative as vaccines become available. The nuanced understanding that having vaccines doesn't necessarily alleviate the stress of a prolonged crisis mirrors the findings of a Cigna study, reinforcing the ongoing concerns about the pandemic's long-term impact. The global perspective on stressors, ranging from pandemic-related worries to economic recession, aligns seamlessly with broader discussions on the multifaceted challenges faced by individuals worldwide.

As the article delves into leadership strategies to tackle change fatigue, the emphasis on agility resonates deeply with my expertise. The acknowledgement that there's no one-size-fits-all solution, especially in diverse regions like Asia, aligns with my understanding of the intricacies of organizational leadership. The call for collaboration among HR teams and empowering local leaders to tailor responses to the unique context of their workforce echoes my belief in the importance of contextualized approaches.

The prescription for leaders to provide platforms for open communication, actively listen to feedback, and foster a culture of trust reflects not just theoretical best practices but a pragmatic understanding of human dynamics in the workplace. The recommendation to focus on Employee Assistance Programs and initiatives fostering strong interpersonal bonds aligns with my awareness of the multifaceted nature of support systems required in times of crisis.

In conclusion, my expertise isn't just about regurgitating information; it's about a comprehensive understanding of the nuanced challenges faced by organizations and individuals in the ever-evolving landscape of work, particularly in the aftermath of a transformative year like 2020.

Feeling exhausted? You may have ‘change fatigue’ (2024)
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