Is Change Fatigue a thing?

I don’t think it is well studied. In fact, a few weeks ago when a client mentioned that she thought change fatigue might be affecting her organization, I wondered — is it a thing? Yes, I have decided. It is. And it is different and must be distinguished from change resistance. I am not alone in these thoughts. Some preliminary internet research has revealed that though not well-studied, it is noticed.

In 2015, Ketchum conducted a survey among senior leadership executives and learned that 74% say change fatigue exists within their organization. Within those 39% say it is highly prevalent.

Change is not going away. It is critical to business success, and particularly prevalent in these challenging times here at home in Calgary.


Multiple, persistent, unpredictable changes lead to workplace stress and fatigue.

Change resistance occurs when people perceive a threat to the status quo. It often occurs within the context of traditional command and control change initiatives. There is a struggle, the Ketchum survey reveals, with gaining input across business units. People who do not feel involved, or who do not understand the initiative and/or its vision, become disengaged and productivity decreases.

Change fatigue, on the other hand, occurs when there are many change initiatives happening at the same time, and they compete for the same resources. Or it occurs when there are a series of change initiatives collapsing one onto the other with no time in between for processing and assessment. People may buy into the change initiatives, but are affected by the stress of unacknowledged adoption challenges, and lack of time to process one change before moving on to the next. As frustration and exhaustion  mount, employees may become disengaged.

Why is it important to distinguish the difference between change fatigue and change resistance?  In both cases the organization loses valuable knowledge. The signs can look similar, increasing disengagement and apparent apathy. However, the support for each, while sharing some similarities, looks different.

Employees experiencing change resistance, and employees experiencing change fatigue, need a forum for providing input and sharing how the change initiatives are impacting them. With change resistance, uncertainty is a big factor. Discussions may focus on risk management and support. Helping them to visualize in a very concrete way the long term goals can be very helpful.

Change fatigue needs to be addressed more globally. Establish a community of workplace participants who are sharing similar experiences. Take time to celebrate successes before moving onto new initiatives. Provide resources to help employees deal with exhaustion and stress.

The impacts of workplace bullying run deep and wide

We had a great conversation last week at our Workplace Fairness Lunch facilitated by Wendy Giuffre and Marilynn Balfour of Wendy Ellen Inc. We had many different participant perspectives on the subject or workplace bullying coming from the organizational viewpoint, the HR viewpoint, and an Ombuds veiwpoint.   Experience as the witness and the target also provided valuable insight.


Workplace bullying impacts the entire organization.

In Canada, harassment is very well defined as a violation of human rights, protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Workplace bullying is less clearly defined, and is addressed under occupational health and safety. In 2009, the Ontario government introduced Bill 168, an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which places clear obligations on employers to keep workplaces free of bullying.  The Government of Alberta provides resources and services to address workplace bullying though has stopped short of enshrining employer obligations in legislation.

Bullying is psychological harassment affecting an individual’s dignity, psychological or physical well-being.  The test for workplace bullying usually include 2 measures: if the acts are repeated over a period of time, and if the acts are targeted. Acts of bullying can include spreading rumours, intimidation, social isolation, offensive jokes, belittling or inappropriately changing of work rules or tasks.  Some of the acts are obvious, and some are more covert. 1 in 6 people have reported being bullied at work and many of the perpetrators, up to 80%, are bosses with good connections in the halls of power. Targets themselves are shown in research to be confident and intelligent individuals with a strong ethic, but who also are vulnerable.

There are certainly psychological as well as physical impacts to those being bullied. Pat Ferris, a Calgary psychologist who has worked extensively with workplace bullying targets, observes that targets use language similar to those who have experienced domestic abuse to describe the impact. Impact can include shock, anger, panic and anxiety, sleeplessness as well as physical symptoms such as headaches and loss of appetite. One participant at our recent lunch asked a great question about this – What are the psychological and physiological impacts for the bully? We have many assumptions about the intents, actions and motivations of a bully. It is difficult to be sympathetic.

Many questions surfaced from our luncheon participants: How can parties build self-awareness and help bullies understand the impact on others and themselves? How do you help a leader understand the negative impact of their behaviour and motivate them to change their behaviour? Coaching has been used to build awareness. One recommended strategy is to ask questions of the leader around their impacted sphere of influence. Research demonstrates that a great stressor for bullies is a perceived lack of control and lack of self-confidence.

There is a high financial cost for an organization – in turnover, productivity and absenteeism. (You can explore this further with the cost-of-conflict tool on our website.) Even faced with the numbers from the calculator, organizations may be skeptical about the high financial impact. At the organizational level there is often a gap in the culture as perceived by management and by employees. With best intentions, an organization may set out to establish values of collaboration and transparency. However, if that same organization has a structure strongly rooted in hierarchies it may create a disconnect between what employees are experiencing and what the organization is hoping to create. This can become a stressor for employees. The contradictions and uncertainty of such an environment create a perfect petri dish for inappropriate workplace behaviour, including bullying.

Wendy and Marilynn had some good suggestions for addressing bullying in the workplace.

What the corporations can do:

  • Create policies and respectful practices
  • Increase awareness through education
  • Educate leaders to identify signs
  • Provide resources for targets, including counseling
  • Investigate complaints in a timely and impartial manner
  • Improve leadership capability and competence

What individuals can do:

  • Be courageous – intervene if a witness
  • Understand what bullying is
  • Understand why people are targets and the impact
  • Listen to the targets
  • Petition for an anti-bullying policy in your workplace

If you are a target:

  • Keep a diary, recording specifics of date, time and events
  • Continue to do your job to the best of your ability
  • Seek support from your Employee Assistance Provider, your manager, or your union.

Though we ran out of time, Wendy and Marilynn provided some links to news articles about bullying cases in Canada and the US. They illustrate the very real impact, and the risks employers take if they do not treat bullying seriously.

Score your workplace health

You can see through the mask to your workplace health by using our Workplace Health Score Card.

A workplace is like an organism. As humans, our health is often affected by the choices we make regarding diet, exercise, stress and generally the way we choose to live our lives. Poor diet, excessive stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and destructive behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse can often lead to poor health. The same can be said of a workplace’s health. Often workplaces exhibit behaviours which are indicative of poor conflict management, leading to unfair decisions, a high turnover rate, and unproductive workplaces.


You can see through the mask to your workplace health by using our Workplace Health Score Card.

At the top end, the Holistic Constructive organization is proactive in the management of workplace conflict. Structural measures, such as an ombuds office, are in place to provide a breadth of options for employees seeking to resolve interpersonal conflicts. Also, all staff are empowered through training and support to help address concerns.

At the bottom end, Active Destructive, behaviours actively discourage constructive and proactive conflict management. Even structures within an organization can prevent employees from seeking support when it is most needed.

Take a moment to complete the scorecard, and let us know what you think!

To learn more about Workplace Health, you may wish to read this article published by the HRIA on the Six Levels of Workplace Health.

Levels and Layers

Len Nanjad is a fascinating guy. We were fortunate enough to lunch with him the other day at one of our regular monthly luncheon events, and I walked away with my head swirling with ideas.  From my particularly conflict-centric view of the world, I know that clarifying roles and responsibilities is one of the most important things we can do to mitigate team conflict.

Len had some very interesting things to say about roles and responsibilities. Did you know that within the Roman Catholic Church, that very complex multi-national organization, there are only 7 layers of management? And that, says Len, is the optimal number. What is magic about the number 7, you wonder? It is nothing to do with the Catholic Church, and everything to do with the levels of complexity of different jobs.

I like the coffee shop analogy. Your barista has to remember your order and execute it in a timely and efficient fashion so you can get out of there and head to your next meeting. Your barista’s boss has to order the milk and the coffee beans and ensure the equipment is working.  The owner of the coffee shop has to pay the barista, and the manager, and the rent on the space, and ensure everyone has a job to wake up to the next morning. There are 3 levels of complexity in this example.

any moment now . . . .

So as Len pointed out to us, in a hierarchy everyone has work, and work is a thinking process. Depending how much you have to think about, you are in a different level of complexity. Another way to think about it is to consider about how many levels of responsibility you have accountability for.

I am really getting into the swing of this now, and I have visions in my head of all these corporate structures: columns, pyramids, and matrices. But from a very practical point of view, once you understand levels and layers, you can identify a few common places where conflict and problems start. For one, too many layers of management dealing with a single level of complexity (a Jam-Up) is built into 38% of all designs. I can see that it causes inefficiencies. Two, a system can be designed with no workers for one identified level of complexity (a Gap). This is a dangerous situation found in 18% of organizations, according to Len.

Yikes. I can see ensuing stress that leads to conflict. You see it in government a lot – too many layers of management, resulting in frustrated employees and low empowerment. This is a situation that seems to occur with the thrust to collective decision-making. I guess taken to an extreme, it becomes the downside of collaboration?

So many things to think about. If you would like to read more, reach out to Len Nanjad at Core International. There are interesting articles and videos on his website.


Give up Judgment; Dump the need for revenge; and Get Curious

There is a paradigm shift that is required to instill  hope and achieve better decision making.

Marc Lavoie, an independent Leadership Coach and HR Consultant has long been a support of the work we are doing for Workplace Fairness, and when he spoke to our luncheon group on October 23 he provided some tools for helping us shift from blame to accountability and from judgment to curiosity.

HR Consultant, Leadership Coach, Training Specialist, and deep thinker.

HR Consultant, Leadership Coach, Training Specialist, and deep thinker.

To read about the  7 Living Principles of Enlightened Leadership here: Lavoie Culture of Enlightened Leadership.

A Conflict Experiment

A Conflict Experiment – October 15, 2015
in the +15 between Gulf Canada Square and Bankers Hall
7:30 -10:30 am

Got Workplace Conflict?  You are not the only one.  To mark Conflict Resolution day on October 15th, The Workplace Fairness Institute will host an event in the +15. Stop by our table in Gulf Canada Square on your way to work and take part in our experiment to explore the causes of and solutions to workplace conflict through our highly interactive display.

“I often work between meetings in common areas of the downtown core.  I hear many employee conversations focused on conflict in the workplace and wonder how much time is spent on these issues and the resulting inefficiencies in organizational performance” comments Don Frehlich, an employee in Calgary.

Conflict Resolution Day was started in 2005 by the Association for Conflict Resolution in the United States to raise public awareness of creative and peaceful means of resolving conflict and now groups around the world hold events to mark Conflict Resolution Day.  Conflict Resolution Day is held on the third Thursday in October every year.

Conflict Resolution Day was started in 2005 by the Association for Conflict Resolution in the United States.

Conflict Resolution Day was started in 2005 by the Association for Conflict Resolution in the United States.

The Workplace Fairness Institute (WFI) is a Canadian company focused on affecting organizational culture through collaboration, communication and proactivity in managing conflict. Workplace Fairness recognizes that equity of concern and respect for each employee when managing conflict influences employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, change management, productive working relationships, efficiency and innovation, health and wellness and the organization’s reputation.

Rather than adopting traditional approaches to solving workplace complaints, such as taking disciplinary action or hoping the issue will simply go away, the WFI offers employers and employees a way forward. Their goal is to prevent existing workplace fairness issues from triggering a costly fall out that affects productivity, employee engagement and company culture.  It’s a sentiment echoed by Blaine Donais, President and Founder of WFI: “Businesses can’t afford to let workplace fairness issues create long-standing problems within their organization: the WFI is here to get employers and employees on the same page when it comes to mutual respect, trust and productivity.”

Michelle Phaneuf and Marjorie Munroe of the Workplace Fairiness Institute. Photo Credit Monique de St. Croix.

Michelle Phaneuf and Marjorie Munroe of the Workplace Fairiness Institute. Photo Credit Monique de St. Croix.

The HR Department and the Business Communications Department have a lot to learn from each other

Glenna Cross is a Master Communicator and Communication and Search Consultant.  Her dream is to see the HR department and the Communication Department work together as strategic partners.  Both departments have a focus on employee engagement and are champions for employees within an organization.  While most of their functions are separate, many overlap, particularly in the area of change management, leadership support and connecting with employees. This can be a cause for misunderstanding and sometimes even conflict.
Sometimes the Communications department may be viewed as taking direction from HR to “get the message out”, “make it pretty” or otherwise execute specific communications tactics, as well as addressing risk management by ensuring issues do not explode in the media.  However, the best relationships see HR engaging with Communications as strategic business and thought partners who can provide insight, advice and counsel and sound strategy (in addition to the execution of that strategy) to move the needle on employee communications and employee engagement.
At Glenna’s presentation for the Workplace Fairness group, she asked
How can organizations develop a functional, successful partnership between HR and Communications’?
Some thoughts from the group;
  • HR/Communications should report into the same line of command within the organizational structure.
  • Each department should have a leader at a similar level. Both departments need to work at building relationships with each other. Mutual respect is key.
  • Develop a common goal and understanding – practice common goal setting .
  • Develop a RACI chart to ensure roles and responsibilities of each department are clear.
  • Examine the physical location of the departments – how far apart are they in the building?
Building strong working relationships is a focus of our work at the Workplace Fairness Institute.  Teams who take extra effort and maintain an on-going commitment to collaborate generate innovative and creative results.