How CIOs Can Overcome Change Fatigue Within their Organization


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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Change fatigue can be a serious threat to the success of your digital transformation. How can you avoid falling victim to this?

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How CIOs Can Overcome Change Fatigue Within their Organization
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What's the secret to a successful digital transformation? It's not all about the technology. It's also about ensuring that the people using it know how it works and how it affects their day-to-day activities. In turn, this helps build confidence and adoption of any new digital tools.

This process is known as change management, and it's an essential part of any IT project. One aspect of this that you can't overlook is ensuring people remain engaged with the project and don’t fall victim to something called change fatigue, as this can greatly harm your chances of success.

Why you need to tackle change fatigue

Change fatigue can come about when employees are asked to make several large-scale adaptations to the way they work within a short space of time. This might be organizational restructures such as a shakeups of team make-up and who they report to, or being expected to adopt a complex new software application for critical processes.

Regardless of exactly what's changing, it's important you keep it manageable. All employees have a limit for how much change they're willing or able to absorb in any given period, and once you go past this, they’ll quickly start losing interest. If managed badly, this apathy can quickly lead to frustration or burnout.

This can lead to new tools not being embraced and digital transformation projects failing. But it can also have wider knock-on effects, such as higher staff turnover rates and lower productivity.

This should be another reminder that in today's environment, CIOs need to be worried about a lot more than just their technology solutions. Digital tools impact every area of the business, so a good CIO needs to be part tech guru, part finance officer and part HR leader to be successful.

The reasons behind change fatigue

Change fatigue happens when too many project changes are imposed on employees in quick succession. The physical and mental impacts of being forced to learn new ways of doing things and get out of long ingrained habits can quickly build up. If employees are seeing what feels like continuous change, they stop believing they'll ever see final results.

This is set to become an even more pressing issue as the global economy continues to recover from the shocks brought about by the pandemic. In many cases, sudden, enforced upheavals in the way businesses operate have exhausted people's capacity to adapt to change, and this can leave them feeling drained and unwilling to entertain the prospect of further transformations.

Indeed, according to Gartner, employees' ability to absorb change dropped by half compared with pre-pandemic norms, so any future large-scale projects will have to be approached extremely carefully to avoid overstressing your workforce.

How to spot fatigued employees

The good news is that as long as you know what to look for, you should be able to spot signs of change fatigue early. Staying on top of this can allow you to take swift action to re-engage employees and make any adjustments to your process to bring people back on board.

Prosci notes that individuals tend to react to change in predictable ways. Its ADKAR model, standing for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement, picks out a few common reactions that can indicate people are suffering from change fatigue.

Some of the signals to be aware of include:

  • Apathy: Have your employees stopped asking questions about the change? You shouldn't mistake a lack of queries for satisfaction - it's more likely to indicate a lack of engagement.
  • Complaints: Has the number or volume of negative comments increased recently? Don't just look at direct feedback to the dev team - be sure to find out what employees are saying to each other.
  • Stress: Do people seem anxious about changes, or appear visibly tired? This can be an indication of potential burnout.
  • Resistance: Has the amount of pushback about new systems increased? On the other hand, is the amount of resistance less than you expected? This could be another indicator of apathy.
  • Negativity: Are people still expressing doubts or skepticism about the value of the project? Even if they're not actively opposing the plans, a high degree of cynicism about the tools or goals involved may lead to low adoption rates.

The two key factors that are vital for successful change

Tackling change fatigue needs a multifaceted approach that covers both the technical aspects of introducing employees to new digital technology and the human aspects. When it comes to the latter, Gartner notes there are two key factors in particular that every business must take note of to facilitate an effective digital transformation.


According to Gartner, employees who have a high level of trust in key stakeholders are 2.6 times more able to deal with change than those who don't. This requires leaders, managers, coworkers and HR teams to demonstrate they have employees' interests in mind, and deliver on what they have promised.

Team cohesion

Ensuring that teams share a sense of belonging and connection is also vital in successful change management. This means everyone working together towards a common goal they are committed to and accountable for. Gartner notes this environment increases people's capacity to cope with change by 1.8 times.

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