Why Employees Resist Change

Why Employees Resist Change  

By Peter Barron Stark | January 12th, 2010 | Leading Change

Man holding up his hand to resist change - peter barron stark companies Changes in the economy and the business environment have forced some organizations to change the way they do business. Whether we like it or not, managers and supervisors are the ones who have to implement the changes. In addition to the more traditional skills we possess as supervisors, it is critical that we understand our role as leaders, or change agents, in these rapidly changing times.

Unfortunately, all employees do not respond to change with the attitude, “Fantastic: another organizational change, and I’m excited to be a part of it!” Given that change is here to stay, why do some people seem to dig in their heels and resist it at all costs? The following 10 reasons best describe why some people have a tough time changing their mindsets and behavior:

  1. Fear of failure
    Resistance to change may be rooted in fear. 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.
  2. Creatures of habit
    Doing things in the same routine, predictable manner is comfortable. Asking people to change the way they operate or think is asking them to move outside their comfort zone.
  3. No obvious need
    Some employees may see a change only from the perspective of the impact it has on them and their particular jobs. Not seeing the big picture, they may fail to recognize the positive impact of the change on the organization as a whole. Thus, they may find the change disruptive and totally unnecessary.
  4. Loss of control
    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.
  5. Concern about support system
    Employees 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, with new employees or on unfamiliar projects because they fear that if they try and fail, there will be no one there to support them.
  6. Closed minded
    Some employees seem to have the attitude, “Please don’t confuse me with any facts or supporting documentation about this change–I’ve already made up my mind!” Employees with this attitude approach the change process with their minds firmly made up, muttering, “No way!” during discussions and explanations of the future.
  7. Unwillingness to learn
    Some employees, hesitant to try new routines, express an unwillingness to learn anything new. They may say, “I already know all that I need to know.” Like resistant employees who have already made up their minds that the change won’t be productive, employees reluctant to learn something new impede the organization’s growth and adaptation to change. They also hinder their own personal growth and development.
  8. Fear that the new way may not be better
    If things have been going well, some employees may resist change because they fear that the change will not result in improvement. Focusing only on their part of the operation, they fail to realize that change is needed in order for the organization to stay competitive. They may resist forward movement because they are satisfied with the way things are going. Their current status is quite sufficient, and they wish to maintain business as usual.
  9. Fear of the unknown
    Employees may resist change simply because it is something unfamiliar. Based on data from our employee opinion surveys, only 66.5% of employees surveyed feel they are kept-well informed about changes going on in their organization. Not knowing much about the specifics of the change, they may imagine a worst case scenario, which can be very scary. They let fear of the unknown become their rationale for not giving the change a chance. These employees may acknowledge that a problem exists and agree that a change might improve it. However, they worry that the proposed change might actually make things worse! Their fear causes them to place roadblocks in the movement toward change.
  10. Fear of personal impact
    Viewing change from a personal standpoint, some employees may respond by asking how the change will benefit them directly. Will it make their job easier? Will they have to work harder? Will the change put their job security in jeopardy? Will the change force them to work with different people or learn a new job?

These are all initial responses you may experience when you announce an organizational change to employees. Once you understand why some employees resist change and realize that their reactions are perfectly normal, you will be better able to change their attitudes and turn their resistance into cooperation.

If you are still having difficulty with employees accepting change, you may be interested in learning more about our program Surviving and Thriving Organizational Change. Also, you can always emails us at info@peterstark.com with further questions.

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19 Responses
  • karyn palma on 01/13/2010

    Your list reinforced for me why resistance seems to be the norm (there are so many reasons behind it!); can you recommend any resources for strategies that acknowledge/address reasons for resistance, while moving forward with implementation of change?

    Reply
  • Peter Stark on 01/18/2010

    Hi Karyn,

    In response to your comment, we posted a new blog entry with six tips for leading organizational change in the face of opposition: http://www.peterstark.com/leading-change-with-confidence. You may also find this video helpful:10 Keys to Strategically Lead Change: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUxfmUfSsIA. Now that you have read the reasons why employees resist change, these resources should give you insight on how to successfully implement change in a sea of resistance.

    Reply
  • Balogun Niyi on 03/09/2010

    Change is very paramount to the success of any organization

    Reply
  • Michael on 03/16/2010

    Hi, I’m doing a project in university on change within an organization and was wondering was it ok to quote some of your writings?

    I found this post very helpful in defining the reasons why people resist change.

    Reply
    • Peter Stark on 03/17/2010

      Hi Michael,

      Yes, we are happy to hear that you are interested in quoting us in your paper and are glad to give you our permission to quote us.

      Best of luck on your paper!

      Reply
  • raiyan mahmood moon on 04/06/2010

    This was really helpful for me and I must say that it is very well written.

    Reply
  • Ashar Malik on 04/11/2010

    Hey,

    My personal opinion is that no matter how safe a working environment can be made, there would always be a gap, in terms of understanding between the employer and the employee …

    However, this page is very useful :)

    Best,
    Ashar

    Reply
  • Lee Ee Ming on 07/10/2010

    Hi,
    Is it possible for me to quote your writings as I am doing a project on Change Management for Human Resource.

    This is a very good post and I would like to share this with everyone in my presentation when I submit my project. Of course, your link to this post will be credited in my reference page as well. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Peter Stark on 07/12/2010

    Hi Lee,

    We would be honored if you referenced our website and writings.

    Best of luck on your project!

    Reply
  • Joshua on 03/29/2011

    Waw its good to learn that change in an organization is not that easy. Whaat a good post.

    Reply
  • Shylee on 08/07/2011

    this post has helped me a lot for my revision :)

    Reply
  • Ian long Maed on 09/04/2011

    Your list only focuses upon the negative reasons why people resist change. There are other reasons: their boss is rubbish and suggests poor ideas, their boss suggests unreasonable ideas, their boss is a bully and imposes change without discussion

    Reply
  • Lisa Kuhn Phillips on 01/22/2013

    Very insightful piece. Change is such a complex creature, and it’s such irony that it does take time to change…change, especially in traditional business environments and industries.

    Having a business leadership belief in the reason why the change is inevitable (and constant) is so very important for all involved. Speed of the Leader(s) determines speed of the Team ~ and that can be very hard to speed up if everyone is at different stages of acceptance, courage, and living the change. Finding that gear and making it work well is an art and a science.

    Then the next question becomes…. what is considered a better speed in a world of continual 365/24/7 change ?

    Reply
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