Employee Resistance to Change

Employee Resistance to Change

Excessive resistance to a change program will quickly kill any change initiative.

Employee Resistance to Change – Why?

Woman sitting at laptop with hands on head looking stressedNo matter how well designed and planned your change program is, not everyone will be singing its praises.

Employees resist change for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from a straightforward intellectual disagreement over facts to deep-seated psychological prejudices.

Some of these reasons for employee resistance may include:

  • belief that the change initiative is a temporary fad
  • belief that fellow employees or managers are incompetent
  • loss of authority or control
  • loss of status or social standing
  • lack of faith in their ability to learn new skills
  • feeling of change overload (too much too soon)
  • lack of trust in or dislike of managers
  • loss of job security
  • loss of family or personal time
  • feeling that the organization is not entitled to the extra effort

For some people resisting change, there may be multiple reasons. Adding to this complexity is the fact that sometimes the stated reason hides the real, more deeply personal reason. You will also need to recognize that people work through a psychological change process as they give up the old and come to either embrace or reject the new.

Typically, they may experience an initial denial, then begin to realize that the change cannot be ignored. Strong feelings may emerge, such as fear, anger, helplessness and frustration. Finally, the person accepts the change either negatively, with feelings of resignation and complacency, or positively, with renewed enthusiasm to capitalize on the changes. Watch out for employees who get “stuck” in one phase. Offer your support. Allow space for people to work through the stages. Give employees time to draw breath and listen with empathy.

Reactions to Organizational Change

If you identify and manage resistance to change poorly, you can very quickly strangle your change program or, alternatively, slowly and unnoticeably starve it to death. Who are your resisters and how are they resisting?

Change recipients who are dead against the change will either resist overtly, voicing their objections loudly and often, or covertly. Covert resisters operate from the underground, masking their defiance, but posing you a much more serious challenge. I have identified four basic types of reaction to organizational change. Where do your change recipients sit?

These change recipients are intrinsically wedded to the change idea. They may agree dispassionately that the change will be of benefit to the organization, or they may stand to receive some personal gain from the change, such as a guarantee of job security, more status or a higher salary. Enthusiasts will use opportunities to broadcast approval for the change and will try to convince others of its merits. They will also model the new behavior early and will volunteer for membership of teams. These early adopters may also make good choices as trainers and coaches during the implementation process.
Followers range from those that are generally compliant, wishing to take the path of least resistance, to those that are initially reticent to adapt, but eventually do so once they accept the inevitability of the change. These change recipients will do what is required, but no more.
Objectors will display their resistance to change whenever the opportunity arises. They may disrupt meetings, not attend training, take unapproved leave and refuse to carry out instructions. Objectors will continue to use superseded systems and processes when others are taking up the new ways of doing things. They are not averse to arguing with managers and fellow workers and will try to convince others to continue with the old ways. In a unionized environment, resistance can take the form of strikes, lockouts, “work to rule”, legal challenges and boycotts.
Change recipients working for the underground have solid motivations for not making their resistance public. They may fear direct punishment, such as termination or fines, or more personal costs, such as ridicule or loss of status and authority. Managers who are against the change but need to be seen to be in support of it are prime candidates for promoting underground resistance. This style of resistance is, by its nature, always covert and can take many forms. Common among these are falsifying reports, inputting incorrect data, stealing, damaging infrastructure and equipment, using sarcasm, spreading rumors, excessive absences, shoddy work and “go slow”.

What can you do now? One thing you can do in managing resistance is work with your key employees to construct a Force Field analysis diagram using Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis technique. This will give you a powerful indication of where you will need to devote your energies.

Figure 1 – Example of a Force Field analysis diagram

Force Field analysis diagram

Leslie Allan’s comprehensive guide and workbook, Managing Change in the Workplace, will show you how to construct a Force Field analysis diagram and go on to develop a strategy for dealing with resistance.

Tips for Overcoming Resistance to Change

Treating the forces against change is a more productive use of resources than simply reinforcing the forces for change. Choose the most powerful of the restraining forces and devote time and energy to weakening these.Think of how you could apply the drivers for change you identified in your analysis to either weakening or eliminating an opposing force.

Show the fiercest resisters what’s in it for them. Appeal to them either in terms of personal gain (such as status, salary bonus, recognition, and so on) or loss avoided (such as financial loss or job outplacement prevented).

Get customers or suppliers to explain to change resisters face to face how the current situation disadvantages them in concrete terms.

Put resisters on teams that allow them to play some decision-making part in the change process, however small.

Defuse political power plays amongst managers and other employees by conducting broad-based meetings where goals and tactics are openly discussed and introduce processes that leave little room for individual discretion.

Endeavor to look at the world through the eyes of the change resister. Listen openly and honestly to what they are trying to say. Examine your own basic beliefs and assumptions. Through engaging resisters, be prepared to change yourself.

Learn more about identifying and turning around change resisters with Leslie Allan’s down to earth guide on managing change in organizations. Whether you are new to managing workplace change or have some experience, you will find a variety of useful tools, techniques and tips for ensuring that your change program delivers on its promises. As you work through the guide, you will complete a series of practical exercises that will help you plan and manage your change initiative for maximum impact.
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