Self-Control Fatigue

Change can wear people out.

When people are not in control of what is happening in the workplace, they wear out. Having survived multiple strategic changes in my corporate life — including leveraged buyouts, new presidents, new bosses, new programs, and new jobs — the one constant in all these changes was the energy needed to survive, and perhaps thrive, in the waves of change.

When looking at people’s behavior at work, I attempt to assess how much they are changing their core behavior to fit into the events of the workplace. It is hard enough to modify your behavior when you know the score, when you know how you should act at work. Imagine the energy needed when the rules change, when changes in management bring about changes in the culture, and fitting in becomes just that much harder.

People resist change for a list of reasons. A long list.

Perhaps fatigue is one of the reasons that most leaders overlook.

I know a leader who is blind to the issue. He pushes constant change to his process, to the way things are organized, to the way the work gets done. With each change, productivity drops. When the latest change does not work, there is another change. The more things change, the more productivity drops, and the more frustrated this leader gets. Some of the crew are unsure what they are supposed to do, so they ask each other rather than ask the boss, and then they just muddle through as a group. Some have stopped working, holding off on conforming to the latest change in direction, thinking the boss will swing back the other way.

The video makes a strong point about change fatigue.

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For process change to be successful, a team must take breaks from the change. Make the change, and then let things settle down until the team assimilates it. That lets the team decide whether the change has worked. In most cases, they will find that the changes in the process have made things run more smoothly. That break in the change lets the team think about what to do next, and what needs to change next. It also gives the group a chance to catch their breath, recharge, and think.

Overthinking is another sign that there is too much change going on in an organization. Let's go back to that organization I mentioned above, where people get confused about what the boss wants them to do. They spend energy thinking about what path they should take, fearful of doing the wrong thing and equally fearful of asking the boss what he really wants them to do. More than once I have witnessed employees talking almost to the point of argument about what they should do. Their only point of agreement is always not to approach the boss.

In the video clip below, if you can get past the jumpy edits and wild google eyes of Ze Frank, you may pick up on some of the exhaustion that comes from over-thinking, and from the confusion of constantly changing conditions.

Moreover, Ze Frank's comments about humor, and how we laugh at someone else when they are distraught, highlights another part of the problem of fatigue. Some people break down and cry when they reach a breaking point and can't take any more. Others break out in laughter — sometimes inappropriate laughter. The gallows humor that we hear on the warehouse floor when another process change comes about is sometimes a signal that there is too much change going on. Think about it — when was the last time you made a snarky remark about the way the company changes process more than you change your underwear? Did your co-workers laugh? Did you?

Felling some change fatigue? I would bet on it.

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