The Psychology of Change For a Burned-Out Workforce

The last two and one half years have brought about a great amount of change globally in personal routines and the secular/workplace ecosystem.  According to Gallup’s 2021 Work Experience Communication Survey, 7 in 10 employees feel burned out at work at least sometimes.  According to the same report; “Almost half of the world’s workers felt the burden of stress, working women in the U.S. and Canada region were among the most stressed employees globally.”  

Leaders are endeavoring to either repairing the damage done to their firms by the pandemic, looking for entirely new opportunities, or restructuring the fundamentals of their mission statement.  Success is dependent upon the willingness of leaders and team members to adapt to the unavoidable circumstances of change in order to survive, let alone thrive.  We are creatures of habit, enjoying stability with a sense of security in our everyday lives.  When disruptions occur, we are sometimes forced to recalibrate for success or face the consequences of refusing to do so due to a rigid mindset.  For corporate leaders, the uphill battle will be to facilitate fruitful change whilst promoting positivity throughout the organization.  The challenge is to change without unnecessarily adding stress to an already burned-out workforce.

Change is necessary to remain relevant, especially in business.  To be a successful competitor, innovation with a bit of risk is needed, which by definition requires change. It is human nature to only enjoy changes that we can control.  However, when forced upon us, there is sometimes an initial involuntary defensive stance that arises towards the change.  This can result in behaviors that are personally and organizationally detrimental.  Hence the reason leaders need to stay ahead of the curve regarding their teams cognitive, physiological and emotional responses to the change.

Empathy

Leaders need to truly understand and empathize with the reasons for pushback to the proposed change.  Change can be emotionally exhausting.  That said, if there are numerous changes in play simultaneously it can become overwhelming, especially for an already burned-out team. Leaders will need to minimize the number of concurrent changes and realize the volume/impact while keeping their finger on the pulse of the teams holistic behavioral characteristics and patterns.  It may take some time, but ultimately leadership has to understand what some call the ‘Change Threshold’.  This is important, as it allows leaders to move at a sustainable pace, ensuring the entire team is on board with no one holding on for dear life when the train pulls out of the station. Doing so will also contribute to lower attrition rates.

Communication

Too, leaders should communicate effectively to ensure the team understand the purpose for the change and the benefits. The communication style of leadership has to be persuasive, enthusiastic and comforting.  Changes that are communicated in an easy to understand way helps team members grasp the information, actualize it and modify needed behaviors for success. If it is a major change, it is all the more important to connect with your team in a familial way.  They need to know their leadership care and are in this with them, not just throwing mandates over the proverbial wall.

There is an apropos saying that ‘repetition is the mother of retention’.  That said, consistent and repetitive communication regarding the change and your concern for the teams well-being is a must.  Be assured that even if you are repeating the same message for the fifth, sixth or even seventh time, there will always be a light bulb coming on for someone for the first time.

The Individual Factor

Consider appropriately reward individual behaviors that promote a positive outlook (give careful thought to what the reward should be, as certain rewards can be viewed differently by different people).  Also, employ positive peer pressure with a cheerleader mentality (that’s right, get those pom-poms out).  Essentially, each team member needs to feel they are an intricate part of the change, and that it will only be truly successful with their involvement. 

It is necessary for leaders to understand the unique differences that impact each team member.  Of course, it would be impossible (and impractical) to accommodate each and every persons circumstances perfectly.  However, having an understanding of the variety of situations team members face will go a long way towards devising an effective strategic and tactical resolution that will meet the majority of them mid-way at the very least.  Productive compromise on both sides is key.  

Provide a new and meaningful emotional attachment to the new way of doing things (a.k.a. The Change).  Maybe it benefits them directly, or perhaps someone they are fond of (hence the familial approach mentioned above). Whatever the personal impact proves to be, the advantages need to be clearly understood.

In Summary

Although difficult, change is happening much more frequently and at lightning speeds.  The stresses imposed upon individuals, at greater levels now than ever before, can impede change.  Accompanying these factors is the burden on leaders and teams to adapt to new styles of working and new strategies.  Understanding the phycology of change management is a core characteristic for success in todays competitive environment and well worth the effort.

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