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How to Spot Employees Suffering from Change Fatigue

One corp comms team in CEB's networks has a good way to spot where employee performance is slipping as a result of change management

Imagine a business unit or team that welcomes a new general manager either from another company or part of the business. Inevitably, the new boss makes a lot of changes. There are new objectives, new metrics to track, new tasks as a result of the new objectives, and new processes – not all of which are clear to whole swathes of the business unit’s staff.

Intelligent and conscientious as most employees are, they work harder than ever but only invite more pressure when their efforts don’t match up to what’s expected.

Typical of this scenario, as well, is that a lot of companies support their teams through these transitionary periods by having a kickoff session where the new processes and goals are explained, and then ask line managers to go back and explain to their teams what this means for individual goals and performance criteria

There is often little support or feedback mechanisms for managers if they can’t explain the changes to their teams or help with breaking big goals into individual tasks.

The Cost of Change-Related Stress

As change – and “change management projects” – become an increasingly common part of business life, more and more employees are going through something similar to the scenario above.

To be clear, change is a good thing and a necessary process that enables companies to grow. But even changes initiated by thoughtful, well-intentioned managers for the good of the business or team they manage, can be hard for employees to implement – particularly when multiple changes occur at once.

CEB data show that employees suffering from change-related stress perform 5% worse than the average employee. While 5% may not seem like a lot, for the average company it translates to $32.5 million lost for every $1 billion in revenue created.

How to Find Where Change Is Causing the Most Problems

Corporate communications teams are well placed to help make this near constant change more palatable for employees and help them be more productive throughout but, as the name of the function suggests, sitting in the corporate center, it can be hard to know which parts of the business are suffering with change fatigue.

The comms team at a Scandinavian pharma company in CEB’s network of communications professionals has a good process that helps them find those pockets of the organization that are suffering through change. They do three things.

  1. Focus on high-value parts of the business: They focus their listening and investigations in particular on those parts of the firm or regions that are targeted for growth and that aren’t hitting their performance goals.

  2. Use pre-existing channels to listen for employee challenges: Like any other, this company deploys engagement surveys, brand alignment surveys, and the like. The comms team inserted questions into pre-existing surveys to assess how employees are coping with change intiatives. Employees give their response to statements such as:

    • I have access to the right information to do my job effectively.

    • The communication between office and field-based staff works well.

    • I understand how my job is related to our strategy and “must win battles”.

  3. Conduct focus-groups with those who are struggling: Having pinpointed areas of the business whose performance is suffering, Communications conducts focus groups to understand the root causes of employee performance challenges. Arming themselves with high-level information from the survey data (see point 2) enables them to ask more detailed questions, and gain a deep understanding of the problems really facing employees.

    Finally, Communications brings this information about employee challenges to senior managers for resolution. And, by couching the information they bring to these managers in terms of how to make the company perform better, such as talking “obstacles to execution” or “barriers to performance” instead of talking about employees being “stressed,” they get leaders’ attention more focused on solving the issues.



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