5 Ways to Decrease Tension: Managing Employee Resistance to Change

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that people spend an average of 7.8 hours a day at work. This takes up a majority of American’s waking hours in a day, so any changes at work represent a change in the daily routine of an employee. When change managers begin to create plans for transition, it is easy to overlook how an adverse reaction can stall progress.

Part 1

How Do Employees Feel About Change in the Workplace?

There is a lot of data about how work teams respond to transition and a change of the status quo:

  • According to a change management assessment called “What’s Your Style of Change Management,” top executives overstated the percentage of employees who are okay with change by saying only 37 percent would accept sticking with the status quo. In reality, 45 percent of frontline employees wanted to remain in the status quo. This shows an apparent gap between what managers think employees want, and what they are feeling about change.
  • Executive and management consultant, Torben Rick, found that employee resistance is one of the leading causes of organizational change failure at 39 percent.
  • A study in November 2010 revealed that people have a clear preference for items or practices that have been around longer. 

These statistics solidify the fact that people feel comfortable in what they know and regard the status quo as being more reliable than any proposed change. This creates a direct challenge for managers and leaders who want to enact change in their companies.

Related: Change Management Principles and Concepts

Change Management Communication (Key Strategies)

Part 2

The Challenges of Employee Resistance to Change

There are a lot of ways employee resistance negatively impacts plans for change. Not only does it have an impact on the proposed amendment itself, but it can also affect the whole company.

Here are common barriers and obstacles that employee resistance can bring to any change management plan:

  1. A Considerable Dent to Morale

    If employees are not happy about transitions coming to the company than it can be hard to keep up morale. These feelings do not always have to be rooted in hostility. They can be grounded in fear, uncertainty, and confusion. These emotions can spread to others in the company and create a wave of resistance that can be almost impossible for any change manager to overcome.

  2. A Decrease in Productivity

    For example, if managers introduce a new software that is required to complete an upcoming project or meet a deadline, employee resistance to the technology could prevent successful completion. If this behavior continued, it could eventually put a dent in revenue generation and ruin the organization’s reputation.

  3. Lack of Trust

    Nothing can rock a department more than when employees feel they cannot trust management. If a new change is rolled out that they do not feel comfortable with, this could cause them to question other things management says from then on. It could disrupt any future plans for change in the future.

  4. Implementation Never Happens

    If feelings of resistance prevail, it is likely that the change might never be accepted. The actual intent of the change might never develop the way they were intended, and their full potential will never be reached.

  5. The Spread of Inaccurate Information

    Another challenge posed by employee resistance is the tendency for information that is not correct about the proposed change to make its way around the office. This is detrimental to any change manager who is trying to roll out a new piece of technology, procedure update, or company transition. If people are not aware of the correct information about the change, then it may derail it before plans have even had a chance to be implemented.

Part 3

How Can Leaders Manage a Resistance to Change?

While the above challenges are something that managers and leaders need to be privy to, there are ways to manage these issues and create a higher probability of acceptance. Here are ways that managers can control a resistance to change.

  • Find Out the Cause, and Address It

    Employees have many reasons for why they fear change. They may not feel confident in learning all the aspects that relate to the change. Some employees may worry their job is in jeopardy, while others feel animosity because they were not asked for their input. If there was a misstep on the part of management, an acknowledgment of it goes a long way. Managers and leaders should also be sure to reinforce the fact that the change does not impact employee jobs or have a negative impact on salary.

  • Set Clear Expectations

    While it is normal for employees to express resistance to an incoming change, they should still be made aware of expectations to comply. This can be done in one-on-one meetings with employees who have outwardly expressed concern, or as a group. However, the expectations need to align with the overall goals of the company and conveyed as a way for employees to help fulfill the whole purpose of the organization.

  • Show Empathy

    It is crucial that leaders show employees that they understand where they are coming from. Change is hard and overwhelming. Employees may feel that leadership does not care how the transition could impact them. Therefore, it is vital that leaders show they understand and want to help employees feel more secure in what is happening.

  • Reveal How the Changes Impact You

    If you are a leader or manager, it is helpful to convey how the changes will also affect your work. Employees could feel that they are the only ones who have to adapt to a new change, but this is often not the truth. Everyone has to get used to a new system and way of doing things. Managers can create a sense of solidarity if employees know they are not the only ones going through with new changes.

  • Work with Employees to Create a Plan

    Before considering a step of termination or disciplinary action, leaders should sit down with resistant employees and work with them on a plan to plug in. They may no longer know where they fit in after a transition, so it is not a bad idea to explain how their role is impacted and how their new duties or tasks will relate to the new alterations.

Related: How to Manage Resistance in Change Management (Template)

Part 4

Employee Resistance in Change Management: Best Practices

Below are five methods leaders can implement for a smoother transition:

  1. Plan for the Resistance

    While many managers make think of the change rollout, some may not plan for employee resistance. This is a mistake. Most times, employers can see where the opposition is likely to come from:
    A. Employees who are strongly invested in their current work duties
    B. Those who are not as comfortable with new technology trends
    C. People who created the current way work is done
    D. Workers who proposed another option

    There are many others in addition to these groups, and it will likely depend on what is rolled out and the company culture. Leaders should develop plans for dealing with each group who may bring resistance.

  2. Find Influencers

    Change is more comfortable to handle if someone who has a good reputation and relationship with others is willing to accept it. Sometimes, employees need to hear from people who do not have a stake in the game to overcome resistance. This person could hold power through a position or through their sheer influence on others.

  3. Engage and Listen

    Each part of the new transition should allow time for feedback and consideration from the employees working with it. There could be a legitimate concern about the way a change is being implemented that leaders and managers should know. Plus, it shows that employers care about the opinions of those who are on the frontlines which should increase their loyalty and acceptance.

  4. Don’t Throw in Everything at Once

    Change should be presented in stages. People can quickly become overwhelmed if multiple aspects of their duties and work environment are changing at the same time. The change should have been planned in a way that it allows for time to assess each aspect, and for employees to get used to it.

  5. Keep Everyone in the Know

    Employees might not be angry about the change itself, but they might be frustrated that they were the last to know. This can be prevented by using formal and informal communication mediums to keep them updated on transition information and how it will impact them. This can go a long way to decrease ill feelings and increase trust.

Change is never easy. It can be scary, overwhelming, and bring an air uncertainty. However, what many employees are more likely afraid of is the unknown. They may have no idea how a change will impact their job or wages.

This is where active listening, effective communication, and a change management plan come into play to get rid of any worries they may have; when employees are satisfied and happy, productivity increases.

Therefore, it is crucial that change managers work to make sure employees feel confident about any transitions. Their buy-in is essential to the success of any planned procedural or systematic change in the company.


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Posted in: change management