Change Fatigue (Another Form Of Burn-Out)


Change fatigue is shown by people feeling overwhelmed, weary, saturated, burnout, exhausted, depleted, etc. This has a negative impact on your focus and ability to move things in the right direction.

How much change can a person absorb? Depends on the person and their state of health, the situation, context, environment, etc. Owing to the pandemic (starting in 2020)

"...The amount of change that the average employee can absorb without becoming fatigued in 2020 has been cut in half compared to 2019..."
Gartner as quoted by Dana Houston Jackson, 2021

Perfectionism and self-doubt can increase change fatigue as perfectionism makes projects difficult to start and self-doubt results in projects being difficult to finish.

Change Saturation

This occurs when your minds are working at full capacity; with everything feels harder to do. This can occur when there is too much change happening. It can be broken down into 2 variables, ie capability and disruption. Change saturation can occur when you do not have the capability to handle the disruption. You need to find ways to increase your capability to handle change and reduce disruption (including keeping 'an eye' on the number of change projects being undertaken, ie a portfolio view is required). One of our clients did a review and found that within a small section of the company, there were around 30 separate change projects occurring simultaneously; additionally, many of these overlapped.

Most people fail to understand how the change project has ramifications for others in their organisation.

Often, we try too hard, etc so that it is difficult to sustain momentum to do what matters most.

With change fatigue, the law of diminishing returns can apply. It means getting a smaller return for each extra amount of input and effort. In other words, more activity does not produce better or more results. In fact, when working harder does not work, ie the marginal rate of return diminishes.

You, also, need time to for your body (especially the brain) to recuperate, recharge and recover. Otherwise, fatigue will slow us down and make it harder for you to process information; your judgement is impaired.


Force and Speed 

Force and speed are the enemies of change, especially if already suffering from change saturation. The greater the scope and the speed of change, the greater the chance of resistance and fatigue. With force you need to explore easier options, ie how can you  do this differently so that it is easier?


You need to ask if there is a simple way of doing this? Sometimes you need to

- redefine the problem or challenge, like breaking it into smaller, more manageable chunks

- consider the minimum number of steps required to achieve the outcome you want, ie simplify? For example, only include steps to add value to the customer and what they will pay for; remove non-essential steps. This frees up resources to concentrate on more important inputs. Remember   

"...most geniuses prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities by exploiting unrecognised simplicities..."
Andy Benoit
as quoted by Dana Houston Jackson, 2021

NB Don't assume that the way you have done it in the past is the best option

Some misconceptions around change fatigue

- working longer and harder is the solution to everything, ie more billable hours; working after hours and during holidays, etc

- to be successful, you need to work harder

- focus should be on projects that are complicated and require more work as they are more rewarding

- working harder when fatigued is just as effective as when you are fresh

- burnout is a badge of honour, ie it is a measure of success and self-worth

- all work is of equal important and value

- working less is being lazy

- distrust of the easy is always justify, ie if it is easy, it is not the best option

- solving the task and being right is more important than relationships

- if you aren't feeling exhausted work-wise, you are not doing enough

- quantity, ie inputs (hours worked) is more important than quality or outputs (results obtained)

NB Many of these misconceptions are built into the concept of the 'Protestant Work Ethic' (sometimes called Calvinist or Puritan work ethic). It emphasises hard work, diligence, discipline and frugality are a result of a person's belief in the values as espoused by the Protestant faith. According to people like Max Weber in his book entitled 'The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism', this forms the basis for capitalism. This work ethic is strong in Anglo-Saxon based societies like America, United Kingdom, Australia, etc and some societies in Europe. It popularised the concept that hard work and sacrifice are a duty that benefit both the individual and society. (source: Wikipedia, 2021f).

Some language and statements used to support these misconceptions, ie

- 'need to work the extra mile'

- 'trivial things are easy, important things are hard'

- 'blood, sweat and tears'

- 'important things are hard earned'

- 'hard day's work'

- 'easy money'

- 'that's easy for you to say'

NB Maybe when you feel something is hard it is because we have not yet found an easier way to do it!!!!!!!!

Handling change fatigue

You can more than double the chance of handling change fatigue by having within the organisation

-  a sense of belonging (including cohesion and connection to a common, shared goal)

- widespread trust.

NB These 2 factors emphasise the importance of staff having ownership of the change.

Remember: resistance is personal and subjective, ie the root causes can be different for each individual. For example, what can motivate some staff can demotivate others.

Ways to handle fatigue

- don't do things today that you cannot recover from tomorrow, ie set upper and lower limits

- prioritise the important/urgent things to do first.

Small continuous steps in change can be more exhausting than the big bold moves. As the former involve 'grinding away' over time.

Need to be aware of the gap between daily operations and the change. Most staff will concentrate on the daily operations rather than the change. The greater the gap between the 2, the more chance of change fatigue.


- resistance is personal and subjective, ie the root causes can be different for each individual. For example, what can motivate some staff, can demotivate others.

- even though some changes are hard, it is better to look for opportunities that are simple, valuable, easier to do and fun; not more complex and harder.

- need to have more positivity than negativity. To have more positive thoughts, think about making the activity more enjoyable, ie how can you make the change into something they like to do so that everyone has an emotional connection.

- generally, people want to do the right thing and to be in control, ie they make the choice. This can be best done by asking questions rather than explaining experiences. Successful investor Warren Buffett looks for companies that are solving simple challenges and have a long-term future.   

- sleep deprivation (less than 7 hours a night) can be a major cause of change fatigue (for more details see section on sleep in this Knowledge Base)


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