The perils of change saturation: Four tips to better manage change

Change management processes are always easier when employees feel valued.

By Tom Marsicano, CEO of and Change

The world is in a state of unprecedented change. Regardless of geography, culture or industry, change fatigue – or change saturation, as practitioners of the Prosci change management methodology call it – is becoming increasingly prevalent.

In 2019, Prosci released its Best Practices in Change Management report, and even before the pandemic hit, the study revealed that the amount of change is expected to continue to increase across all sectors. Digital transformation, new leadership, mergers and acquisitions and other substantial forms of change are becoming the norm as organisations evolve. But when too much change happens at once, or is mismanaged, change saturation kicks in.

The report’s survey of almost 2,000 people across 85 countries showed that 72 percent of organisations were nearing, at, or past the point of change saturation. The worst affected sectors, interestingly enough, were utilities, banking, telecommunications, education and finance.

Simply put, the people working within an organisation have only so much capacity for change at any given moment, and when this capacity is reached, resistance skyrockets, making it increasingly difficult to implement the change.

Change was already increasing prior to the pandemic, but Covid-19 has compounded this already complicated landscape.

According to US mental health provider Ginger, in 2020, 69 percent of employees said the pandemic was the most stressful point of their entire professional career. People were dealing with the challenges of working from home, managing childcare, learning new digital ways of working and health issues. Naturally, this meant their capacity for change was becoming severely limited, meaning that dealing with further change was increasingly difficult.

Tech consultancy Gartner said that employees could only deal with around half the amount of change in 2020, showcasing the very real effects of change fatigue.

Best practice tips

So how can businesses manage a portfolio of change when employees have simply had enough?

Prosci best practice recommendations for managing saturation are:

  • Communication: This is key. Thorough explanations on why the change is necessary should be front and centre. If leadership is not clear on the purpose of new systems, for example, employees simply won’t care. This communication should not only be clear, it needs to be consistent, frequent and give detail into how the change will affect people across the organisation.
  • Prioritisation: This is also incredibly important. Change managers have to be able to determine which changes should be prioritised, which require immediate attention, or which need to be discontinued. It is during these discussions that managers can also discuss the amount of resources required for a given change with leadership.
  • Scheduling. Sometimes, the best way to avoid saturation is to understand that not everything is urgent. A change can be rescheduled to create breathing room. Changes can be rescheduled or staggered to give the people affected more time to deal with the potential alterations to their careers.
  • Integration: This can also be helpful. Changes that share resources or have similar goals can be placed under a single umbrella of a programme. By identifying overlap, we can minimise redundancies and ultimately save ourselves time and stress.
    Managing a portfolio of change isn’t easy at the best of times, but one must focus on planning in a sustainable way to avoid the very real possibility of implementation failure.

Change management processes are always easier when employees feel valued, meaning a positive work environment with trust at its core will ensure that when issues arise, leadership will be the first to know. By offering opportunities for open dialogue with the people experiencing the change, we can pre-emptively mitigate resistance and help prevent feelings of change saturation.