Apathy. Frustration. Employee Burnout. Attrition. In an era of seemingly continuous transformation, businesses are increasingly at risk of change fatigue impacting employee well-being and harming organizational outcomes.  

A Korn Ferry survey found that 38% of professionals say they either recently have or are planning on leaving their job without another one lined up. What motivates people to risk jumping ship without a safety net? An earlier survey provides some clues: 89% of professionals say they are suffering from burnout, with more than a third (38%) saying they are burned out to a great extent. The top reason they are feeling this way is an increased workload/not enough resources (64%), followed by responding to continual change (20%). 

Continuous transformation is here to stay, as organizations race to keep pace with technological advancements, market shifts, and evolving customer preferences. But to make this “new normal” sustainable, we need to acknowledge and proactively address the fact that the relentless pursuit of change can lead to employee burnout and diminished effectiveness through change fatigue.   

Below, we explore how to recognize the symptoms of change fatigue, uncover the factors driving this condition, and share some ways to fight change fatigue in your organization.  

Symptoms of Change Fatigue  

Organizational change fatigue is a condition where your workforce becomes apathetic, disengaged, physically and mentally tired, and frustrated by continuous change. Leaders attempting to drive a change program may notice the people involved appear to lack excitement and be cynical about the need for change. Change fatigue differs from change aversion/change resistance, which is usually driven by fear and insecurity, but the outcomes are similar. Change fatigue tends to snowball and evolve into active resistance, staff attrition, and (ultimately) project failure.  

Leaders and managers need to be aware of the symptoms. Capterra found that common effects of change fatigue for employees include: 

  • Looking for a new job (54%) 
  • Tiredness/stress (48%) 
  • Less enjoyment of job (38%) 
  • Less trusting of the employer (37%) 
  • Lower productivity (32%)

What Is Driving Change Fatigue?  

Organizations are responding to constant disruption and rapid technological advancement—just look at the hair-raising pace of GenAI adoption—by attempting to establish a culture of continuous transformation. In this environment, the task of transformation is never truly “done.” There is always another project to launch, another change to land. The pace of change also increases the rapidity of obsolescence; a change program that wrapped up only 18 months ago may already feel out-of-date. We are also witnessing a significant shift to what is known as the Project Economy and project-driven organizational structures, where business value is generated by successfully completing project after project.  

Most individuals can cope with a certain amount of change by drawing upon their mental and physical reserves during times of disruption – an adaptive system known as surge capacity. But this capacity becomes exhausted by continuous change. The risks go well beyond disengagement and cynicism around the need for change. In the worst-case scenario, change fatigue will evolve into active resistance, dangerous levels of burnout, and employee attrition.   

That being said, there are ways to minimize the risks. Let’s examine four ways to help fight change fatigue in your organization.  

1 Reignite Engagement With a Sense of Purpose  

A disgruntled employee interrupts you in a meeting to ask why the business needs yet another change initiativeHow will you answer them?  

Cultivating a sense of purpose is one of your most effective levers in combating change fatigue. Creating purpose-driven ideas that resonate with key players will inspire others to follow, naturally. To quote Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison: “A strong sense of purpose—who we are, what we value, what defines us, and who we want to become in the most challenging times—drives us forward, even when we are feeling the most fatigued.”  

One of the six organizing principles from Korn Ferry’s latest research into building change-ready organizations is “Anchor on Purpose”. This involves emphasizing the “why” behind your actions and aligning your activities with your purpose instead of becoming fixated on “what” is done. 

Create a sense of purpose by giving every employee a clear line of sight into the part they personally play in helping your business fulfill its purpose. Communicate well to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of the reasons for the change and exactly how the work they are doing will help the team and business achieve goals.   

2 Pace, Rest, and Celebrate Wins  

Thanks to the Agile movement, words like “sprint” have entered the lexicon and are deeply associated with transformation and other change projects. But a sprint with no breaks and no end in sight will inevitably collapse.   

Instead, pace yourself and your team with the discipline of a long-distance runner. Think strategically about the timing of change initiatives and who will be on the project team. Don’t make the mistake of immediately reallocating employees to a new project after completing a previous one.  

Celebrate success after the completion of each project stage and set aside time to recover, reset, and rebuild cohesion within the team.

Leadership & Professional Development

Help your people exceed their potential, so they can unlock yours

3 Nurture Adaptability and Resilience  

Korn Ferry’s research into the employee experience found that employees need “access to the right tools to get the work done.” But what kinds of tools are needed? Employees tasked with managing an ongoing series of change initiatives not only need technology solutions for efficient project management; they also need support and training to cultivate critical attributes like adaptability and resilience.  

Offer training and coaching to your people at all levels to build the mindsets, skills, and confidence to maintain high levels of performance in an environment of continuous change. Embrace research-based practices that will improve situational adaptability, build resilience and self-awareness, reduce the impact of disruptive change on their performance, and manage ambiguity. At the same time, review your recruitment processes to ensure you are attracting, identifying, and hiring adaptable and resilient talent.  

At a higher level, drive an adaptive organizational culture by aligning purpose, culture, and business strategy. Be proactive by anticipating problems and continually adapting and elevating the culture to meet new challenges, then stay adaptive by putting in place the right talent to drive the culture you want. Assess, upskill, reskill, develop, and recruit with change readiness as a priority.   

4 Take the Movement-Making Approach to Change Management 

Teams that thrive in an atmosphere of continuous transformation execute on the change initiative not because they are told to, but because they want to. This requires the support of a core group with the power to influence others. Winning organizations drive change top to bottom, bottom up, and peer to peer.  

Research shows that if you can get the right 10% of people to come around to your way of thinking wholeheartedly, you can influence the other 90% to hit a tipping point. Work to attract, not overpower your employees by identifying and empowering others to build momentum and drive the transformation themselves.  

Lead at the Speed of Change 

The new normal of constant change offers the prospect of rapid value generation through business transformation, but only if the specter of change fatigue can be anticipated and addressed.  

The right leadership development solution partner will know how to identify the symptoms of change fatigue and help you overcome this challenge by reigniting engagement, creating a sense of purpose, nurturing adaptability, and building resilience in your team.

Our experts at Korn Ferry help you develop the leaders you need now and in the future at every level, so you see change at every level too—transforming your entire organization. Contact us today and discover how to lead at the speed of change.