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How to Help Change-Fatigued Employees

More interdependent workplaces make changes more disruptive for employees. Corporate comms teams can reduce the impact by helping employees adapt

Tired weary employee asleep at desk change disruptionThe Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote that, “progress is impossible without change.” This may be true but isn’t much help to employees at the world’s companies right now.

Large companies are bigger than they’ve ever been, require their employees to collaborate with more people than they ever have to accomplish any tasks, and collect and process triple the amount of information than they used to only recently.

Because these firms are trying to simultaneously compete in more markets than ever, they also need to be responsive and make changes quickly but, because of the far more interconnected nature of their ever-larger operations, this change can cause more upheaval than managers bargain for.

Change Can Be Hard

And a battery of psychological research shows that human beings (i.e., a firm’s employees) have an upper limit to their ability to process change. Each change takes time to process, as an employee reconfigures and rebuilds the connections, assumptions, and network of colleagues that helps them to do their job.

In many cases, organizations are changing so quickly and so fundamentally that employees are struggling to keep pace. It’s easy for senior managers, operating in their own silos with their own goals and objectives, to initiate what they see as necessary change throughout the relevant bits of a firm’s operations, but they tend to overlook other changes – initiated by other departments or functions – which employees must deal with simultaneously.

Employees end up faced with an overload and if they can’t fully process all the changes, then no one will see the benefits and objectives that caused all that change to be made in the first place.

How to Track Ongoing Change Initiatives at Your Company

It’s vital for companies to know when employees are over-exposed to change, and unable to fully implement what’s in the plan. Knowing this, helps managers understand and plan for the risk of failed implementation, and provide sufficient support (training, information, tools, manager guidance, etc.) to help employees cope.

Corporate comms teams can play an important role here. Some of the more forward-thinking teams in the world identify implementation risks by working with senior managers and change management teams to keep track of big change management projects at the corporate center. They use dashboards to identify:

  1. The most affected employees: Those employees due to experience a high-volume of change.

    Potential company responses include segmenting or delaying the implementation of some change initiatives, and providing additional support and resources to the most affected employees.

  2. Overlapping change objectives: Changes started in different parts of the company which have shared objectives.

    Potential responses include consolidating changes with shared objectives, and communicating them together in one coordinated communication exercise.

  3. Busy periods of change: Busy periods of the year when an unusually large number of changes are being planned.

    Potential responses include segmenting or delaying the implementation of some change initiatives, and providing additional support and resources to the most affected employees.

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