by Ian Saunders, Antony Aitken, Ray Charlton and David Flatman

Change fatigue

Change fatigue occurs when people are exhausted or demotivated by too much disruption and upheaval.

This may be caused by pressure from others – an excess of change which you or others experience as imposed from above. Or it may be caused by trying too hard and attempting more change than you can cope with.

You may be aware of your change fatigue and not know what to do about it. Sometimes your change fatigue is obvious to other people before you are aware of it yourself: they see your energy and performance falling. You may become anxious about the uncertainty which change brings. If you continually feel out of control and unable to affect the change, the stress will build up and you may become ill.

If you have not dealt with your sense of loss as things change, you may get stuck in The change curve, unable to move on. Trying hard will simply make you more tired.

It’s important for you to pay attention to change fatigue. If you ignore it, you risk going into burn-out.

Helping yourself with change fatigue

If you are feeling the effects of change fatigue, you need to do something about it or you will not be able to effectively lead others to change.

So what can you do about it?

You can start with where you are, and ask yourself:

  • How tired am I?
  • How jaded am I?
  • How weary am I?
  • How exhausted am I?
  • How burned out am I?
  • What is my energy level?
  • What state am I in?
  • Am I the last one to notice or to admit it?

One of the paradoxes of change is that you need to accept where you are in order to move somewhere different. So get clear about your current state, and then look at what you would prefer instead, and what getting that would mean to you.

  • How would you prefer to feel?
  • What is most important to you?
  • How well do you understand what’s required?
  • What influence do you have?
  • What can you do to maintain your energy and well-being?
  • What, specifically, is upsetting you?
  • What have you lost or will you lose because of the change?
  • How can you acknowledge that loss?

Above all, be honest with yourself: it’s important and healthy for you to acknowledge what’s happening to you.

It usually helps to tell a supportive person – a colleague, mentor or coach whom you can trust – about it. Externalising what you are feeling by speaking about it and seeking to explain it to another person can be a great way to gain clarity.

Fed up with change? Want some stability?

When you’re thinking ‘Stop the world, I want to get off’ probably the last advice you are willing to listen to is ‘the only certainty is change’. You can’t wait to settle back into the familiar routine. Yet as the speed of change increases, the likelihood of lasting stability lessens. What can you do about it?

First and foremost, take responsibility for yourself. How you feel is down to you. It is an inside job, not an outside job. Notice how you react to the things going on around you, and then acknowledge that it is not the things outside that are causing your feelings, but what you think they mean and the way you react to that meaning. As so often in this topic, we have come back to the point that it is perceptions that count – in this case, your perceptions.

So what would be a helpful meaning to make of events you are experiencing?

What would be a more useful way to react to what you are experiencing?

Below are some questions that make a good starting point.

Begin with what you value most. Ask yourself:

  • What do I care about?
  • What is of greatest importance to me?
  • What will I seek to preserve?
  • What does that do for me?
  • How do I feel when I’m in touch with what is most important?

Find stable patterns in simple routines. Discover:

  • What everyday activities will I be able to maintain?
  • How will I look after my physical, social, mental and spiritual wellbeing repeatedly in practical, reliable ways?
  • What positive actions can I take, to breathe, sleep, exercise, relax, stay alert and be curious?

Seek the essentials. Identify and pursue:

  • What is the purpose in each activity and process?
  • What is the added value?
  • Can this be provided in some simpler way? What do others need?

Challenge the change:

  • Is this change necessary now?
  • Has the previous change been seen through to a sensible stage?
  • What will be sustained from the past as the change takes effect?

Helping others with change fatigue

Followers can become weary from too much change.

  • The change may have been imposed upon them.
  • They may not understand the purpose or value of the change.
  • They may be unable to keep up with the pace of change.
  • Their experience of actual or expected loss may not have been acknowledged or respected.

When too many changes come in quick succession or from too many directions at once, people may experience shock and disbelief, reacting with inactivity, anger, resistance, resignation, hostility or sabotage.

Key point

It is a curse of change that its leaders and initiators often appreciate its purpose and benefits, and may even enthuse about its advantages, while those they seek to mobilise in support of it are quite unable to grasp any sense or value in it – on the contrary, they perceive it as a threat. This may explain why so many energetic and well-intentioned actions by change leaders run into the sand.

So what can you do?

As a leader and a manager, you need to sort out your own change fatigue first.


All individuals are different!

Then ask yourself

  • Does this change make sense to me?
  • What do I believe about the change which makes it worthwhile?
  • What am I being, saying and doing which may be causing others to be wearied by the change?
  • How can I change my behaviour to help others to not get change fatigue?
  • Think about the implications of The change curve.