Resistance to Organizational Change

Change occurs frequently in every workplace, on a broad spectrum from the small developmental changes to the more transformational changes that affect day-to-day operations and significantly impact the way a business runs. Naturally, with change comes resistance. It can be hard to overcome resistance to organizational change in your business, but there are steps you and your leaders can take to help lessen the blow to your employees and help manage change seamlessly.

Establishing Trust with Employees

One of the most important ways you can overcome resistance to organizational change, and manage changes effectively, is by building trust between your leaders and employees. Employees may have concerns about the future, not just when it comes to planned workplace changes, but also with the ever-changing work landscape as we collectively navigate a “new normal” in the United States and worldwide. However, employees need to feel confident that their management, leadership at all levels, as well as their employers, have their best interests in mind. Therefore, they will consider how change may affect them and their daily work lives. When this is established, it’s easier for them to have a strong bond of trust and lessen their resistance to change.

Causes of Resistance to Organizational Change

As mentioned above, a lack of trust can play a significant factor in whether or not you’ll face resistance to change among your employees. However, that’s not the only thing that will lead to your workforce being hesitant, so you may still be trying to find the cause for resistance to change. It’s not even necessarily always justified, but we’ll cover how to manage it either way. The following are some of the top causes of resistance to organizational change.

  1. Lack of Confidence
  2. Poor Communication, Low Engagement
  3. Fear of Change
  4. Misunderstanding of the Implications of Change
  5. Preconceived Notions Surrounding Change
causes of resistance to organizational change

Lack of Confidence in Leadership or Organization

Your employees may simply not have a lot of confidence in their organization or their management and leadership team. This could result from a number of things but can often stem from a lack of leadership authenticity and confidence being exemplified from leadership themselves. Perhaps your team members don’t have confidence that their employers have their best interest in mind, or they simply haven’t seen the best examples from leadership that instill trust and faith in the organization. Typically, changes in your organization are ultimately a positive thing. Still, even when it’s not fully beneficial, you should ensure your leadership is equipped to have hard conversations and that each of your managers and supervisors feel empowered with the knowledge they need to communicate well.

Low Engagement or Lack of Communication

Communication is critical for every single company and team, whether undergoing significant changes or not. Communication and employee engagement are tied very closely together, and we’ve written more in-depth about how to strengthen your employee engagement through communication. To put it simply: communicate, communicate, communicate to avoid organizational resistance to any upcoming changes. Use internal channels, email, social media channels, physical materials like infographics and paper handouts, and any internal apps to communicate frequently and consistently with employees at all levels. 

In addition, it’s equally important to request feedback from your employees and respond to any questions, concerns, and even criticism, in a timely and respectful manner. Employees who know the lines of communication are wide open are less likely to resist change and, coincidentally, turn to a union to feel heard. Creating an atmosphere where there is trust, transparency, and frequent communication between team members and all levels of their management, from front-line supervisors all the way up to the c-suite executives, is simply critical in today's workplace. 

Fear of Change

It's not a secret that sometimes, organizational changes can be scary. Simply put, change doesn't always feel positive for everyone involved, especially when they happen rapidly, or there are significant, transformational changes happening at work. This brings about feelings of uncertainty, discomfort about the unknown, and even fear of losing your job or having your daily life and schedule turned upside down. One of the primary causes of resistance to organizational change boils down to fear. Again, frequent, positive communication and prompt response to employee questions and concerns will help quell employee fears and, in turn, keep your organization moving smoothly along the change curve. 


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Misunderstandings About the Implications of Change

Change is… different. That’s an obvious statement that doesn’t fully encompass how confusing and uncertain it can feel if you’re unsure of the implications a major change is about to have in your workplace. Your team members may assume the worst and worry about their job security, wondering if their position may change, or worse, become obsolete if there are upcoming changes regarding technology and system automation.

Maintain an open-door policy where employees can ask questions, but even more important, proactively relay as much information as you can as well. Address resistance, in real-time, as it occurs. This can prevent unnecessary fear and help everyone avoid potential misunderstandings. Provide channels of ongoing support for both leadership teams and while you address employee concerns and provide opportunities for cross-training and career development, wherever it makes sense!

Preconceived Notions Surrounding Change

Not every source of employee resistance will fit perfectly into one box for a cause. Similar to the confusion and misunderstanding listed above, employees may have undergone transformational change at a previous job or in another position and expect similar consequences. It’s common to anticipate another negative situation if a major change has happened at another company that left you with a bad taste in your mouth. A technological change may leave certain employees feeling overwhelmed, expecting that they won't be able to fully embrace new technologies.

managing resistance to organizational change

Managing Resistance to Change

As we mentioned before, not every feeling of fear or uncertainty surrounding organizational changes is necessarily based on reality, but that doesn’t make it any less real for them. Sometimes team members, whether they be employees or even leaders or members of management, have simply had bad experiences in the past. Perhaps they have fears that aren’t justified since the situation or environment may have been totally different in their previous experiences. Since perception can be the reality for a lot of people, you’ll want to address any possible hiccups in your change process. There's a good chance they'll resist the change if you aren't actively communicating the reasons for change, as well as setting expectations for the outcome.

Finding the cause of resistance to organizational change can seem overwhelming, but the best way to manage it is pretty simple: be proactive and be prepared! Establishing a culture with a strong employer brand that promotes an ethical and respectful workplace is a great start. Furthermore, partnering with your Human Resources professionals to ensure you can adequately address employee concerns and keep the door open for communication is of utmost importance. If your leaders are struggling with practical communication skills or they simply need help building and fine-tuning their change management skills, we're here to help. You can click here to chat with our team of experts to discuss your unique strategy.

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.