Dealing with upheaval - managing change in a era of change fatigue

How can businesses implement valuable and often vital change at a time when employees are suffering from change fatigue

Aleksandra Hertelendi, principal consultant, LHH UK & Ireland & Burak Koyuncu PhD, Workforce Solutions director, LHH UK & Ireland
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* This is a reprint of an article that was originally published in Recruiter Magazine 

Businesses have been going through turbulent times. So how do you implement change in an era of ‘change fatigue’?

‘The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.’ When Peter Drucker said these words, he could not have envisaged the world as we find it in 2021, though its relevance is undeniable.

The upheaval and rapid organisational change that many businesses experienced last year has fundamentally changed how businesses implement change and how employees react to it. Businesses had no choice but to drastically change their day-to-day processes overnight, catching many off-guard. Now, a year on, organisations have had time to adapt to these initially rushed alterations and find ways to make procedures run smoothly; whether that be remotely, with reduced workforces or modified daily practices.

However, constant changes to a business’s structure and processes can have wide-ranging implications for its employees. Research conducted by Gartner towards the end of 2020 found that an employee’s capacity to ‘absorb’ change without becoming fatigued has fallen by 50% compared to 2019. Change fatigue manifests itself in many different forms with these ranging from burnout and mental exhaustion, through to indifference and active resistance to change.

They are finding the sheer amount of people applying for jobs extremely challenging

A key outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the constant incremental changes that individuals have experienced both in their personal and professional lives. From working from home, on/off lockdowns, restricted mobility and a more blended work/personal life, this build-up of little changes has overloaded many, resulting in employees ‘turning off’ to valuable business change. For instance, 24% of fatigued employees are more likely to intentionally behave in ways that work against changes the organisation is trying to implement, and a further 19% are more likely to leave. This is a bad combination for those businesses at a point where they need to implement further changes, and when employees’ acceptance of change is at its lowest.

All sectors have been altered by the effects of the pandemic and the recruitment industry is no different. We’ve heard from recruiters, and organisations that recruit, on both the positive and negative impacts the pandemic has had. For example, video interviews are seen as efficient and allow similar interactions as face-to-face meetings, as well as saving time, effort and organisation for recruiters.

However, they are finding the sheer amount of people applying for jobs extremely challenging. This has tremendously increased over the past year and has resulted in a less inclusive approach as not all companies have decided to apply applicant tracking systems (ATS) to their full extent. This means many recruiters are still reading through every single CV before inviting people for interview, which can at times be overwhelming, especially where there is not the resource to track each application. Subsequently, in those organisations where ATS is used to the full extent, the diversity – or lack thereof – of the applicants is what generates extra work, and additional rounds. In turn, these issues can make a process that previously had a human touch very inhuman.

Despite this, rising levels of unemployment can also present an opportunity for the recruitment sector, and businesses must be open to the organisational changes needed to be successful in keeping businesses profitable as well as finding candidates appropriate roles efficiently. As such, it is important for employees of such companies to be engaged and open to change – despite suffering from the inevitable change fatigue brought on from the past year.

With employees unable to absorb change as effectively as before, how can leaders successfully introduce change in 2021?

Consider bringing in additional resources to support the change

Employee wellbeing has never been more paramount, with many still remote working, and the impact of a third national lockdown causing rising levels of isolation. In this current climate businesses should continue to dedicate resources, time and flexibility to reduce the impact of necessary changes. More than ever before, it’s important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of our employees and imagine the load that they are already experiencing. It is vital to understand employees’ limits and, where necessary, possibly introduce more positive changes when employees cannot take any more on. For example, the introduction of freelancers or secondees to help manage the process.

With the number of people out of work in the UK continuing to rise, recruiters have a big role to play in the post-pandemic world and this puts enormous pressure on recruiters as employees themselves. It can be emotionally draining for recruiters to speak with those worst affected by the pandemic day-in, day-out, and therefore employers must do what they can to ensure their own wellbeing is prioritised.

Encourage employee contribution

Leaders should challenge themselves and ask whether the introduction of certain changes are actually needed and consider how they could be introduced in a way that’s least disruptive to employees. Empowering employees to co-create and continuously encouraging a two-way communication is essential for reducing the cognitive load that change can bring. Remember, employees communicating with candidates daily know the common issues being faced and should be encouraged to share their ideas with management on processes they feel should be implemented  to support clients as well as their own organisations.

Focus on support and inclusion

Remote working has highlighted the importance of support and inclusion on employee productivity, and their acceptance of change. Communication is key to this and with reduced physical face time, employees need to feel like they are being heard. Leaders need to be able to tune in to what is being both said and not said, and be very intentional and purposeful in their communication. Offer employees training on positive remote working practices, tips for onboarding remotely and the opportunities that working from home presents. When employees feel comfortable in executing their daily tasks, positive results will follow both for their own levels of engagement and the business as a whole.

Communicate with purpose

Clear 360 channels of communication are essential. What has changed is that employees are less forgiving if words don’t follow action, or if either part of the messaging is exclusive to any groups. With unemployment levels rising to 5% in January 2021, recruiters are presented with an opportunity to help candidates find a role at a time when it may otherwise feel impossible. Clear messaging and objectives for employees mean that they will know exactly what is expected of them to support clients, ultimately leading to increased levels of engagement and job satisfaction.

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