12 Reasons Why Employees Resist Organizational Change

Let’s face it; most people prefer predictability and stability in both their personal and professional lives. So, people typically avoid situations that upset the order of things, threaten their self-interests, increase stress, or involve risks. When faced with a change to the status quo, people usually resist initially.

The resistance continues and, in some cases increases, until they are able to recognize the benefits of change and perceive the gains to be worth more than the risk or threats to their self-interests. I know that people resist change because of lack of communication – on the what, why, when, how, who and the support needed for those affected.

James O’Toole points out in his book, Leading Change, that people resist change due to the fundamental human objection to having the will of others imposed upon them – this to me is true. At the end of the day, all sources of resistance to change need to be acknowledged and people’s emotions validated. It’s far better to anticipate objections than to spend your time putting out fires, and knowing how to overcome resistance to change is a vital part of any change management plan.

The resistance to organizational change is rarely irrational. Employees resist change efforts from a perspective that makes perfect sense to them.

In practice, there are 12 common reasons why people resist change in the workplace:

1. Loss of Job: This is a major reason why employees resist change. In an organizational setting, any process, technological advancement, systems, or product change will include streamlining, working smarter, cost reduction, efficiency, faster turn around times. All these means staff and managers will resist the changes that result in their roles being eliminated or reduced. From their perspective, your change is harmful to their position in the organization! The satisfaction that employees have with their job determines a portion of their reactions during times of change.

Employees who experience a high degree of job satisfaction are better able to weather periods of change. They are more positive in their approach to their work and can see change as an organizational necessity. Unhappy employees, on the other hand, view change as just another annoyance in a long list of complaints. Chances are, whatever the change, any disgruntled employees will view it as having a negative impact on both the organization and them personally.

2. Bad Communication Strategy: This is another crucial reason why employees resist change. The way in which any change process is communicated to employees within the organization is a critical factor in determining their reactions. If you can’t communicate what, why, how, when, who and what success will look like or how success is going to be measured, then, expect resistance!

If employees do not understand the need for change, why ask for a buy in the first place? Especially from those who strongly believe the current way of doing things works well…and has done for the past twenty-five years! When upper management plans and communicates early and effectively with all employees and explains the reasoning behind the change, employees are much more likely to buy into it.

Changes that are mandated with little or no communication, on the other hand, are often poorly received, since employees may feel that the change is being shoved down their throats. When it comes to change management there’s no such thing as too much communication. If there is no immediate information to communicate during a change, telling employees that there is no update regarding the ongoing change is communication! Don’t just keep quiet; this is also the time to maintain an open door policy regardless of where you are placed in the organization.

Be present and available for questioning. Miscommunication is if you communicate insignificant or insensitive information. You can’t communicate too much significant, substantial information.

3. Shock and Fear of the Unknown: This is yet another crucial reason why employees resist change. Employees’ responses to organizational change can range from fear and panic to enthusiastic support. During periods of change, some employees may feel the need to cling to the past because it was a more secure, predictable time. If what they did in the past worked well for them, they may resist changing their behavior out of fear that they will not achieve as much in the future. The less the organization knows about the change and its impact on them, the more fearful they become.

The leading change also requires not springing surprises on people! The organization needs to be prepared for the change. In the absence of continuing a two-way communication with leadership, grapevine rumors will fill the void and sabotage any change effort.

4. Loss of Control: This is a key reason why employees resist change. Familiar routines help employees develop a sense of control over their work environment. Being asked to change the way they operate may make employees feel powerless and confused. People are more likely to understand and implement changes when they feel they have some form of control.

Keeping the doors of communication open and soliciting input, support, and help from employees let them know that their contributions matter. Involve them, elicit their feedback, let them volunteer for participatory roles in the change and all of these, in turn, will help give them a sense of control during periods of change.

5. Lack of Competence: This is a major reason why employees resist change. This is a fear that is difficult for employees to admit openly. But sometimes, change in organizations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition well. Therefore, the only way for them to try and survive is to kick against the change.

Some employees resist change because they are just hesitant to try new routines, so they express an unwillingness to learn anything new. They say things like, “I already know all that I need to know to do the job,” or “I am good at what I do why rock the boat.” Resisting employees who have already made up their minds that the change won’t work or who are reluctant to learn something new will impede the organization’s growth and adaptation to change. Frankly, they also hinder their own personal growth and development.

6. Poor Timing: This is another viable reason why employees resist change at work. Change must be introduced when there are no other major initiatives going on. Sometimes it is not what a leader does, but it is how, when and why she or he does it that creates resistance to change! Undue resistance can occur because changes are introduced in an insensitive manner or at an awkward time.

For any significant organizational change effort to be effective, organizational leadership must come out of their mahogany paneled air conditioned offices, roll up their sleeves, and prepare a comprehensive change strategy from the onset to address barriers. If they can’t do it, then, they should delegate or hire a change management agent to design an effective change management strategy with the help of some of the organization’s managers.

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7. Lack of Reward: There is a common business saying that managers get what they reward. Organizational employees will resist change when they do not see anything in it for them in terms of rewards. Without ‘WIIFM’ or a reward, there is no motivation to support the change over the long run. This often means that organizational reward systems must be altered to support the change that management wants to implement. The reward does not have to always be major or costly.

8. Office Politics: Every organization has its own share of in-house politics. So, some employees resist change as a political strategy to “show or prove” that the change decision is wrong. They may also resist showing that the person leading the change is not up to the task. These employees are committed to seeing the change effort fail.

9. Loss of Support System: Employees already in their comfort zones, working with the managers they get along with, and who are operating within predictable routines know their support system will back them up during challenging times. Changing the organizational structures may shake their confidence in their support system. They may worry about working for a new supervisor, in a new team, or on unfamiliar projects because they fear that if they try and fail, there will be no one there to support them.

10. Former Change Experience: Our attitudes about change are partly determined by the way we have experienced a change in the past. For instance, if in your organization, you have handled change badly in the past, the employees will have good reasons for rebelling. Again, in personal lives, how employee’s families reacted to change during their early years is going to affect the way they view change. Employees, who live in the same house, shop at the same stores, visit the same social club, and drive the same routes daily throughout their formative years may have more difficulty dealing with change than people who grew up in several different neighborhoods. In the same way, those who become accustomed to associating with people who have the same values and ethics may find it more difficult to appreciate the diversity of today’s work force.

An employee who was raised in a family that viewed change as a challenge to be tackled will probably have a more optimistic outlook about change than a person who was raised in a home that considered change an unwanted experience that upset the predictable family routine.

11. Empathy and Peer Pressure: Whether we are introverted or extroverted, we are still social creatures. Organizational stakeholders will resist change to protect the interests of a group, team friends, and colleagues. It is normal for employees to resist change to protect their co-workers. This could be pure because they sympathize with their friends because of the change that has been thrust upon them.  Managers too will resist change to protect their work groups or friends. All these behaviors can sabotage the success of any change.

12. Lack of trust and support: This is yet another vital reason why employees resist change. Successful organizational change does not occur in a climate of mistrust. Trust, involves faith in the intentions and behavior of others. In organizations where there is a high degree of trust and each individual employee is treated with respect and dignity, there is less resistance to change.

Mutual mistrust will be the bane of an otherwise well-planned change initiative. If an organization is seen as being untrustworthy as demonstrated sometime in the past, so why would any employee trust such an organization? Any sweeping changes on the job can cause employees to fear for their roles in the organization. For this reason, a well-planned outplacement support should be in place to manage and assist employees. Employees resist change because they are worried that they may not find another job easily and quickly.

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