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.

Hunkering Down & Cutting Back – Where is the fairness?

Here in Alberta we are confronting a new possible normal…in 2 to 3 years back to oil at $45/barrel? We are staring at a 7.9% unemployment rate – the highest since August 1995, and the natural resources/mining sector has been hard hit with losses of some 15,200 jobs in the past year. Wilma Slenders of Transcend Management Advisors Inc hosted a very interesting discussion with us recently, and we examined the behaviour and the reaction in the Calgary workplace to the depressing economic environment.

To set the context Wilma reminded us that as Milton Friedman asserted in 1970, that the sole purpose of a business is to make a profit for shareholders. While we may disagree that it is its sole purpose, without profitability businesses would not exist. At a recent Soul of the City event (hosted by Calgary Economic Development) discussion centred around the economic challenges and the fact that Calgary is not known for innovation. As the pressure increases, companies are hunkering down and cutting back. One would think that a natural reaction would be to innovate, however, a quick survey around the table did not reveal much evidence of innovation.


As the pressure increases in Alberta companies are hunkering down and cutting back.

So we talked lay-offs, using as the basis for our wide-ranging discussion several case studies which Wilma introduced. For me, there were a few significant takeaways.

Stress leads to poor decision making. Uncertainty leads to stress. We agreed that though it can be difficult, the worker who is able to take control of their own life will make better decisions and provide better support for their staff. We heard an example of the HR director who sees their name on the cut list and takes the bull by the horns to negotiate their package first before tackling the others. It takes courage! But it leads to certainty.

“Don’t take it personally” is a phrase which will never land well. The leader who anthropomorphizes “the company” and uses that as an excuse can never get away from sounding pejorative. It is personal.

The high performing team or individual can get isolated. When you are on sinking ship watching the captain load supplies onto a dinghy you know you can’t get on, it can test your spirit of generosity. Different business, and indeed different units of the same business, are having very different experiences in this downturn. Some are contracting and some are growing. When both are happening in the same company it is challenging. To keep staff motivated, managers must be transparent and open with the challenges they face.

Involve employees in the decision making. This can be good for keeping employees engaged, but it can also be dangerous – as it is not always possible to keep promises made even with the best of intentions. When the price of oil changes, everything changes.

Separate the people from the problem? This is a quote we use quite often in conflict resolution. One story shared tested this – the fellow who arrives at “the meeting” with the spreadsheet of metrics & performance statistics to make the cut decisions, looking around the room. Didn’t you bring your spreadsheet? he says to the others. No. We know who has to go. All decisions are made at some level on emotion and gut instinct. Every company facing cuts is facing complex decisions – laying off the high performer to save the job of the new parent? This is a problem that cannot be separated from the people.

There are no rules for this new normal. We struggle with a larger than ever and uncontrollable circle of concern. As we grapple to enlarge our circle of influence, our values will be tested, our security will be tested, and so will our conscience. Hang on, it is going to be quite the ride; it isn’t over yet.

Through Transcend Management Advisors Inc. Wilma Slenders provides professional objective guidance for growth and change. 

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.

Mediation can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues

Crucial Conversations. Difficult Conversations. Dreaded Conversations. Whatever we call them, there comes a time in the workplace when emotions run high and the going gets tough, and despite all the training and all the practice, conversations break down before they get to where they need to go. In the workplace, when it comes to issues around diversity, around mental health, illness and bereavement for example, emotions, fear of doing more harm, or fear of invading privacy and fear of lack of skills in dealing with the outcome may prevent the conversation from even beginning. Unfortunately, often in these situations, a crisis will ensue before a productive action step is taken.

My colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I collaborated with Morgan Craig-Broadwith of the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary Chapter) to demonstrate in front of a live audience a workplace mediation around a mental health issue.  In our simulated workplace environment, a Vice President has offered the opportunity to two vital workplace players to settle their differences with the help of a mediator. Performance has suffered, communication has broken down, rumours are circulating — in short the entire workplace is impacted by the behaviour of two key people.

Mount Royal University Continuing Studies videotaped the session, and we will post that when it is edited and polished.


A mediator can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues, empowering people to reach a resolution before a crisis.

The audience asked some good questions.

When is it appropriate to call a mediator? In the workplace, it can be particularly helpful to call a mediator when poor or no communication between two people in an interdependent working relationship has an impact on others around them and work productivity.

How often is a mediation successful?  The earlier the intervention, the  more likely the success.  Mediation is most successful when the process is voluntary; when the participants have the skills and wherewithal to speak and advocate for themselves; and are well informed about their rights. Mediation can be  mandated by an employer, and still a mediator can invite people to participate.  In fact, when mandated into a room, people have an opportunity to save face with colleagues.

What role does the mediator have to hold people to account who choose not to participate? The mediator’s role is only to facilitate the process, and to ask the difficult questions, not to provide or suggest solutions. A combination of conflict coaching and mediation ensures that participants have the opportunity to explore all their options both inside and outside the mediation process.

What information from the mediation does the mediator share with their client? At a minimum, the mediator will share information about the process and the timing.  The mediator will discuss information to be shared with the participants, and together they will agree on wording and who, if anyone, will receive the information.

What is the benefit of having two mediators? Two mediators have a greater opportunity to work together to hear all concerns. It is particularly helpful to hire two facilitators when dealing with a group larger than two.

Effective Case Management for Abilities Builds Workplace Fairness

Effective Case Management builds Workplace Fairness

The case manager invests in relationships to build trust.

Joanne McCusker shared stories and experiences with us about her work as an occupational health nurse with CalFrac Well Services with our Workplace Fairness lunch group.  I loved her opening theme – that she is all about prevention and appropriate protocol. Yes! That goes to Workplace Fairness.

Joanne shared the timeline and the tasks and protocols for medical leaves and the return to work. Here are my takeaways:

  1. Determine the appropriate route early in the process.  We discussed two examples – one is the leave request which stems from an interpersonal problem.  The interpersonal problem can be a real barrier to a return to health if it is not addressed through the appropriate channels.   Another example is the concurrence of disciplinary issues.  There must be two distinct streams to handle discipline and health.
  2. Invest in relationships with the staff member and the employer to build trust.  This means also that the case manager must really be on it, having the conversations with the doctors as required and open honest conversations and regular follow ups with the staff and the manager.
  3. Doctor’s notes are particularly important for longer term leaves, say after 3 or 4 days, and should address fitness to work.  The doctor’s note which addresses functional limitations will enable the caregiver to assess the treatment and help the negotiation with the return to work in practical, meaningful way.
  4. A good return-to-work meeting will address:
  • A clear plan with goals and timelines
  • A schedule o f updates for recovery and re-integration
  • Confidentiality and a communications plan for co-workers and others
  • Potential interpersonal conflicts
  • Human Rights issues

Women on the Rigs: A Diversity Success Story from Savanna Energy

Through strategic and practical diversity initiatives Savanna Energy is gradually introducing and retaining female well hands. This initiative has required support throughout the organization from the CEO down, and open frank conversations with all staff, including the women who chose to work in a strongly dominated and tough male environment.

This initiative is driven by a tough job market and a desire to increase the worker pool. It is not without its challenges. The rigs are a working environment which require mental toughness, physical toughness, and a sense of humour. It is a fast paced environment too which presents rewarding challenges.

At a Workplace Fairness luncheon diversity coordinator Laura Koronko shared the strategies and best practices Savanna has used to ensure successful hiring and retaining female rig hands.

Education is key, and has focused at Savanna on unveiling and addressing typical assumptions. “Women can’t physically do the work.” “Girls don’t want this job. It is out in the cold.” “We will need to provide female change rooms.”

The assumptions are perpetuated by both men and women, so the education must focus on the rig hands, managers, and the hires themselves. Many of the assumptions have proved without foundation. For example, there are women who see and act on a job opportunity which will mean an improvement for their families, and the change-rooms have not proved to be an issue.

That said, we learned that one reason for Savanna’s success is their willingness to tackle the training in frank language. Women need to be aware of the cultural environment they are stepping into before they are hired and be ready for sexist terminology (nipple up, nipple down) which is not going to change. A sense of humour definitely helps, and specific coaching on appropriate behaviour (for example, not wearing g-strings to work) is critical.

Savanna has developed strategies for overcoming resistance. A mentorship program sets new hires up with experienced female rig hands. When a rig manager objects the diversity group will send in an experienced and proven hand to win him over.

Interestingly, some of the greatest challenges Savanna has faced is with wives. The company gets calls from men who do not want their husbands staying in hotels with women. It is ultimately the rig manager’s call though. “If I bring a woman on this rig, I will lose 3 long-term guys.” This is the rare exception.

With support throughout the organization from the C-suite down, Savanna is slowly meeting with success and changing the profile of the rig crew. They are even learning about some of the benefits coming straight from the rigs: a cleaner work environment and less foul language. Is this perpetuating yet another stereotype? Perhaps, but it is one that is enabling Savanna Energy to expand their job pool and introduce women to a way of life which can be both rewarding and lucrative.

Listening Hygiene and Rituals

My job is to listen. When I am working it is probably the single most important part of my job.  People talk to me, and it is my job to hear them, and then to provide evidence that I hear them. This can be very freeing because people do not always want solutions or advice.  Active listening, often, is enough to help people gain clarity for good decisions.

Connected by Conversation

One day in June I was rushing to get out of the house to travel to Edmonton.  Tripping back and forth between car and office in a mad attempt to get organized, I was pulled up short when the phone rang. Ignore? Answer?  I chose to look more closely at the call display and noted positive sign of my offspring.  “Hello?” “Mom? I need to talk.”

First response (internal): Not now.  I have a long drive in front of me, and I am sure already that I will be late for that dinner, and I know I have forgotten something, but I haven’t quite figured out what it is…

The Second and more appropriate response required relying on my listening hygiene.

I have been testing a new theory recently. I have noticed a parallel between good sleep hygiene and what I will call listening hygiene.  For me sleep hygiene is about managing or executing on a daily basis a few key things at bed time:

  • external stimulation
  • internal stimulation
  • ritual

Listening hygiene is similar.  Listening Hygiene is developing and practicing routines and rituals which you can count on for self-managing internal and external stimulation, and for preparing yourself to listen.

Upon hearing my daughter’s voice, I slowly sat down in a chair and placed a free palm on my desk, carefully regulating my breathing as I did so. “What’s up?” As I focussed on my palm channeling thoughts into my desk, my voice became calm and moderated, and I began to set aside my proverbial shopping list. It is akin to counting to 10 when you are angry, exercising your brain’s cerebral cortex and allowing yourself to channel rational thoughts rather than emotional ones.

Effective listening hygiene, like sleep hygiene, requires self-awareness and practice. When you are listening effectively, it is all you are doing; it requires suspension of your agenda and total trust that the speaker is doing the best they can with what they know.

You need a routine and a ritual you can rely on even in times of stress.  As I heard my daughter say that she does not plan to return to school in September, it was only practice and awareness that saved me from jumping to judgement and unwarranted conclusions.  Good listening hygiene will work for you when you most need it, and your relationships will benefit.