Managing Change Fatigue in the Federal Workforce

Federal workers face rapid and unacknowledged workplace changes leading to change fatigue, impacting organizational culture and the ability to enact change.

By Ashley Mattison

Federal employees are experiencing workplace change at an ever-increasing pace, particularly with the adjustments in work modality since the pandemic.1 Often these changes occur suddenly, without wide input, leading to employees feeling overwhelmed with the rate of change and their needs unacknowledged. Organizations are experiencing symptoms of change fatigue, including apathy, burnout, resistance, and negativity.2 Change fatigue negatively impacts an organization’s ability to enact change and generally affects culture, as well. Recognizing change is an essential part of progress, agencies should consider actions to reduce the impact on employees and minimize change fatigue. In this paper, Guidehouse examines how social psychology and behavioral economics impact change and offers recommendations for agencies to produce better outcomes and results. We focus on creating a culture of psychological safety, building organizational resilience, and offering coaches to navigate change.


Individual Change Experiences

Both small and large change can impact an employee’s perceptions of their work and their performance. In recent years, leaders have tried to rationalize change through various change management models. The Fisher’s Personal Transition Curve is a change management model that provides insight to the exhaustion, frustration, and resistance federal employees may feel when faced with ongoing or frequent changes. For example, Fisher’s curve suggests that during change, individuals go through a series of psychological stages: anxiety, happiness, fear, threat, guilt, and depression. These stages are driven by the need to adapt deeply held beliefs and habitual behaviors to changing circumstances.3 Although some employees might transition through some stages quickly, it’s widely accepted that employees experience each one, often unconsciously.4 Fisher’s Personal Transition Curve holds true for individuals during changes in the workforce. By identifying employees’ stages in the process, we can create strategies for accelerating movement to acceptance. 

Fisher’s Personal Transition Curve shows productivity dips prior to improvement. When implementing change, it can be challenging when we see declines in productivity, leading to premature assumptions that the change is unsuccessful. Federal agency leaders can evaluate the impact of change on the workforce and proactively design methods to reduce those consequences.5 Guidehouse’s (re)VisionTM methodology and toolkit offers leaders a ready-made suite of solutions throughout the change life cycle. 

Our Change Guides developed a (re)VisionTM analytics dashboard to measure and monitor change readiness, change preparation, and change adoption. Our client’s employees answer a series of questions, which we customize to the client, at key milestones in the change life cycle to populate a dashboard in a user-friendly manner. This data informs our recommendations to clients on how to adjust interventions and ultimately reduce change resistance.  Guidehouse is the only consulting firm to have our change management methodology, (re)VisionTM, accredited by the Association of Change Management Professionals, a prestigious honor. (re)VisionTM goes beyond traditional change management techniques of training and communications, using behavioral economics. Our approach employs techniques to “nudge” people to adopt desired behaviors, new technology, and new ways of working. 

Through increased attention to employee experiences during change, federal leaders can help employees successfully navigate individual change impacts more rapidly, leading to organizational change benefits. Our Change Guides coach leaders and employees as they navigate this journey, both as individuals and teams.  


Strategies for Preventing or Overcoming Change Fatigue

Creating a Culture of Psychological Safety — Creating the capacity for employees to handle change helps keep change fatigue at bay. A key way to build resilience from the outset is to establish a space of psychological safety.6 Psychological safety is achieved when employees feel safe to acknowledge failure, share difficult feedback or experimental ideas, and talk honestly about challenging situations without fear of admonishment or ridicule.7 Psychologically safe workplaces mitigate employee anxiety that can lead to change fatigue.8 Employees in a psychologically safe workplace are more likely to adapt to change when they can share their concerns or ideas openly with leadership, without fear of retribution. The two key components of building psychological safety are communication and trust.

Communicating early and regularly builds trust through organizational shifts. While the timing of communications is important, transparency about initial change decisions helps employees feel more involved and trusted. Leaders should share failure and mistakes as the opportunity to build a culture of honesty and learning. Change leaders should ask for and offer help and give praise and feedback to team members through the change.9 These actions build trust, which supports team cohesion and increased empathy for peers and leaders. By building an environment where employees feel like trusted partners in the change process, they are more likely to share their concerns honestly and identify barriers to change. When psychological safety is not culturally established, these barriers can cause delays in implementation, and create additional strain on the team. 

To establish a psychologically safe workplace, leaders and employees need to establish a culture of trust and empathy, leading to effective team cohesion and a sense of belonging.10 One study of over 4,000 employees found that employees who have more trust in their leaders have an average capacity for change that is 2.6 times higher than those who do not trust their leaders.11 

Guidehouse used its trademark (re)VisionTM change techniques to support the implementation of career pathways at a large federal agency. To build a sense of psychological safety, Guidehouse facilitated many individual conversations and focus groups with all levels of employees. We connected employees at all levels into the change process to ensure their concerns, ideas and challenges were heard. We collected feedback on what was and was not working in the current system and were able to provide direct connections in the solutions provided. Employees who chose to be vulnerable could see that their concerns were taken seriously and addressed where possible. Additionally, when concerns were outside the scope, they were still acknowledged and documented. Change implementation was successful because employees had the psychological safety to share their true concerns honestly. 


Building Organizational Resilience — Combating organizational change fatigue requires building organizational resilience. While psychological safety is focused on individual ability to adapt to change based on organizational culture, organizational resilience is the ability for organizations to adapt and thrive in the face of setbacks and challenges.12 Organizational resilience enables organizations to “build back better” after hardship.13

People are key to building organizational resilience. When employees have a stake in their organization and feel passionate about its culture and success, they are more likely to bounce back from adversity. Connecting individual work responsibilities actively to the organizational goals and mission is essential. Guidehouse has supported multiple federal agencies to implement change and supported efforts to tie individual and team responsibilities to organizational and office missions, goals and values. Our work supporting this allows employees to feel their work is contributing to the organizational mission, values and goals, and see how the change implemented aligns. This can also be increased through individual mentoring where organizational leaders can better connect mentee work responsibilities to the mission.14

Additionally, change fatigue impacts employee stress levels, which can lead to burnout. It is important for organizations to understand potential stress triggers in employees and create mitigations to build resilience. Providing opportunities to discuss challenges and stressors is important. Guidehouse has built PowerBI dashboards to track important metrics, such as turnover or employee satisfaction, for several agencies and offices to identify progress towards organizational resilience.15,16 We’ve conducted surveys to gauge organizational culture at different points in time and facilitated training sessions to build readiness for change implementation. 


Offering Coaches to Navigate Change — Another strategy for managing change fatigue is employing change coaches. Coaches help leaders reframe change as an opportunity and work with employees to help navigate through their reluctance or resistance. A coach can help reframe change by enabling individuals, groups, and teams to challenge their assumptions—uncover bias and errors in thinking. Negative emotions are often triggered by the internal story we create to make sense of an event. These stories are powerful, but they are often based on fears instead of facts.17 A coach helps people explore their experiences, emotions, and stories and differentiate between what’s fact and what’s assumption. Assumptions about how we will be affected by the change might not be true. A coach helps people consider alternative perspectives, determine the difference between reality and assumption, and rely on the facts. Guidehouse used International Coaching-Certified leadership coaches to support leaders at a large federal agency mitigate change fatigue as their 3,300 staff underwent a multi-year modernization effort with new organizational structures, positions, and ways of working. This included delivering coaching to nearly 2,000 people, 1,355 individual sessions, and 59 team or group coaching sessions. Those who participated in coaching reported that the sessions were invaluable, praising the coaches and the program for helping them reach their goals, including navigating the organizational change.

Coaches do not need to be external to the organization to assist in mitigating change fatigue. In fact, often supervisors can be effective coaches, providing guidance and support that allow employees to learn and adapt to continuously changing circumstances.18 Google researched what made a good manager at Google. The highest scoring managers were all effective coaches.19 A supervisor using a coaching approach guides employees to come up with their own solutions, offers support when employees get stuck, and acts as an accountability partner, checking in with the employee until they achieve their goals. Supervisors who employ coaching offer employees’ autonomy in how they perform their work, which promotes employee engagement, motivation, creativity, and learning while meeting expected outcomes. To build coaching capacity within an organization’s supervisor cadre, training courses with experiential exercises can help managers strengthen or learn active listening skills, apply feedback frameworks to leverage when delivering praise or constructive criticism, and how to ask good questions.  



All organizations experience change. The federal government is no different. The solutions we present increase the likelihood of mitigating change fatigue and driving successful change efforts. Cultivating psychological safety in the workplace leads to open, honest communication—respecting failure as a learning opportunity without fear of repercussion. Through learning employees adapt, bounce back quicker, and build organizational resilience. Internal or external coaching can bolster resilience in individuals, groups, and teams to overcome change fatigue. Resilience training and coaching are increasingly in demand, as is change management training. Our change management methodology, (re)VisionTM, uses social psychology and behavioral economics to reduce the impacts of change fatigue, thus improving the likelihood that changes will deliver intended outcomes. 

Lindsay Scanlon, Associate Director

Brittany Marxen, Senior Consultant

Alvin Ogolla, Senior Consultant

Golzar Meamar, Senior Consultant

1. Sadlon, S. and Pendergast, P. (2022). Avoiding “change overload” for the federal workforce.
2. Prosci. (n.d.). How to recognize change fatigue in your people. Prosci. How to Recognize Change Fatigue in Your People (
3. Factsheet: The Process of Transition (
4. Change Toolkit | Fisher’s Change Curve.
6. 5 Ways to Help Your Employees Overcome Change Fatigue | Calm Business.
7. How Leaders Fake Psychological Safety (
8. Psychological Safety Training | CCL.
9. Psychological Safety Training | CCL.
10. What causes change fatigue and how to overcome it (
11. Change fatigue is rising; first tackle small everyday changes (
12. Odom, C. (2023). The road map to organizational resilience. Forbes.
13. Yang, C. (2021). How to cultivate organizational resilience before the next crisis. Forbes.
14. Yang, C. (2021). How to cultivate organizational resilience before the next crisis. Forbes.
15. Odom, C. (2023). The road map to organizational resilience. Forbes.
16. Yang, C. (2021). How to cultivate organizational resilience before the next crisis. Forbes.
17. Brown, Brene. Rising Strong. 
18. Brown, Brene. Rising Strong.
19. Google Spent a Year Researching Great Managers. The Most Successful Ones Shared These 5 Traits |

Let Us Help Guide You

Complexity demands a trusted guide with the unique expertise and cross-sector versatility to deliver unwavering success. We work with organizations across regulated commercial and public sectors to catalyze transformation and pioneer new directions for the future.

Stay ahead of the curve with news, insights and updates from Guidehouse about issues relevant to your organization and its work.