What Is Resistance to Change?

How to Spot Resistance to Change in Your Company

Resistance to change is the elephant in the room when you ask employees to change.
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What is resistance to change in your workplace and how does it manifest itself? Resistance to change is the act of opposing or struggling with modifications or transformations that alter the status quo in the workplace.

Employees resist change when it is introduced poorly to them, when it affects how they do their work, and when they don't see the need for the changes. They also experience resistance to change when they are not involved in the decision to change, or at least, in making up the specific steps in the changes as they will affect them.

When employees believe that their input was considered, they are less likely to experience resistance to change. Smart employers recognize that this is a given on the front end of any changes that you ask your employees to make.

By the actions you take, when you introduce change to your organization, you can cause serious resistance to the changes. At the same time, with a proper introduction and adoption, you can minimize resistance and avoid the process of dealing with employee resistance to change.

Don't Cause Employee Resistance to the Actions You Take

You must, however, be mindful of causing resistance. When you are introducing change, you have enough to do to manage the stages of change adoption as employees adopt and integrate the changing work environment.

You do not need the extra burden of managing employee resistance—especially if you caused the resistance when you could have avoided it with some care and attention to detail and employee feelings. You have enough to manage in helping your employees move through the six stages of change adoption—you do not need the additional challenge of managing employee unhappiness and resistance.

Managing Employee Resistance Is Challenging

Managing resistance to change is challenging for many reasons. Resistance to change can be covert or overt, organized or individual. Employees can realize that they don't like or want a change and resist publicly, verbally, and argumentatively.

In a worse case scenario, employees can forcefully refuse to adopt the changes and thus bring to your organization the need for confrontation and conflict.

Employees can also just feel uncomfortable with the changes introduced and resist, sometimes unknowingly, through the actions they take, the words they use to describe the change and the stories and conversations they share in the workplace.

Covert resistance to change can damage the progress of your desired changes seriously as it is more difficult to deal with resistance that isn't visible, demonstrated, or expressed except in this type of actions. 

However resistance to change is caused or happens, it threatens the success of your venture. Resistance affects the speed at which your organization adopts an innovation.

It affects the feelings and opinions of employees at all stages of the adoption process. Employee resistance affects the productivity, quality, interpersonal communication, employee commitment to contribution, and the relationships in your workplace.

Spotting Employee Resistance to Change

How do you spot resistance to change? Listen to the gossip and observe the actions of your employees. Note whether employees are missing meetings related to the change. Late assignments, forgotten commitments, and absenteeism can all be signs of resistance to change.

Something as simple as listening to how employees talk about the change in meetings and hall conversations can tell you a lot about resistance. Some employees may come to you for help navigating the changes. They may also share that the level of resistance is bringing them down.

Some employees will publicly challenge the change, the need for the change, or how the change is unfolding. The more powerful the resisting employee, in terms of job title, position, and longevity, the more success he or she will have with their resistance.

Less well-positioned employees may resist collectively in ways such as a work slowdown, staying home from work, misunderstanding directions, and, in rarer cases, organizing the workplace to bring in a labor union.

Resistance to change appears in actions such as verbal criticism, nitpicking details, loudly and verbally failing to adopt, snide comments, sarcastic remarks, missed meetings, failed commitments, endless arguments, lack of support verbally, and even, in a worst-case scenario, committing outright sabotage.

Employees also resist change by failing to take action to move in the new direction, quietly going about their familiar and accustomed business in the same ways as always, withdrawing their interest and attention, and failing to add to the conversations, discussions, and requests for input. 

Repeated Stress from Changes

Resistance to change can intensify if employees feel that they have been involved in a series of changes that have had insufficient support to gain the anticipated results. They become change weary when this year's flavor of the month is quality.

Last year's change was continuous improvement and employee involvement and team development. This year it's a focus on serving internal customers, and three years ago, employees were asked to adopt a new management structure in a lean, agile workplace. Phewww. No wonder employees experience resistance to change.

Resistance is intensified because, not only do you need to gain support for the current change, which employees may or may not see in their best interests, you need to justify the former change and the need to change—again. Employees only have so much energy to contribute at work and you don't want to abuse it.

Minimize Resistance to Change

In an organization that has a culture of trust; transparent communication; involved, engaged employees; and positive interpersonal relationships, resistance to change is easy to see—and also much less likely to occur.

In such a work environment, employees feel free to tell their boss what they think and to have open exchanges with managers about how they think that the changes are going. They are also more likely to share their feelings and ideas for improvement.

In a trusting environment, employees think about how to make the change process go more smoothly. They are likely to ask their managers what they can do to help.

When a change is introduced in this environment, with a lot of discussions and employee involvement, resistance to change is minimized. Resistance is also minimized if there is a widespread belief that the changes are needed. Find out more about how to reduce employee resistance to change.