A recent study revealed that mid-level managers were the employee group most resistant to change. The second-most resistant group is employees providing goods and services directly to communities, also known as front-line workers. 

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There are five main reasons for employee resistance:

  • Change in the job position
  • No understanding of the reason for the change
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Lack of trust in the change-maker
  • Exclusion from decisions related to the change  

Not understanding the reason for change

Employees resist change mainly because they do not understand why it is needed. This lack of awareness comes from the fact that the company did not communicate details, and the employee’s role in the change did not become clear. The employee does not understand the benefit of the change and resists it.  

Fear of the unknown

Fear of the unknown is the worst fear out there. This manifests especially painfully in the context of employment. Employees are afraid they might lose their jobs or get a pay cut. If they experienced a failed change in the past, they would feel uncertain about their own and the company’s future. Employees worry they will perform poorly with new tools and technology, even if it is as simple as a time clock. They fear changes to company culture and the possibility of increased monitoring and evaluation. Employees who have been with the company longer are more resistant than newer employees because they are more comfortable with past customs and operations.   

Change in position

Changes in an employee’s position can include increased requirements and workloads. In this case, employees are understandably unwilling to learn a new tool or system. They might also be concerned about having less control and autonomy and the time they have to get used to the changes. 

Exclusion from the decision

If the decision excludes the employees, they are likely to resist the ensuing change. Front-line employees, in particular, may feel threatened, unheard, betrayed, or unfairly targeted. They want to be included in equipping, preparing, and supporting community members. Communication and transparency in the change process are crucial to counteracting resistance.

Lack of trust in the change-maker

Managers tend to display lower support and higher resistance to change, and their subordinates can replicate this behavior. Negative experiences in the past make employees more resistant to change, especially if they do not trust leadership. 

Reasons why managers resist change 

Managers resist change for many of the same and a few additional reasons. Those include organizational culture issues, lack of support for change management, low confidence in their abilities to cope with it, and misalignment of personal and project goals. 

Company culture

Specifics include distrust across departments, risk-averse company culture, and lack of company-wide dedication. Managers feel threatened by change if the company culture lacks sponsorship and executives and direct supervisors do not support them. 

Low confidence 

Managers resist change if they feel incapable of leading it and facilitating its adoption. Some managers resist because they can’t manage employees’ resistance or don’t want to communicate complex messages to their teams.  

Misalignment of personal and project goals 

Studies show that managers resist change due to project management issues. Among these are lack of metrics, the dynamics of the change, metrics that are misaligned with promotion parameters, etc. The lack of incentives or deterrents makes change unappealing to managers.

Ways of resisting change

Employees on all levels will express negative emotions openly – criticism, complaining, aggression, hostility, frustration, rage, excuses, poor attitude, low morale, etc. They will refuse to participate in the change by trying to be exempted or to outlast it. 

Another common way of resisting change is absenteeism. Employees will skip training and onboarding sessions, not show up at status meetings, or even skip work. 

They can demonstrate lower productivity – delays, missing deadlines, or a noticeable reduction in work output. 

Finally, they will resort to their old ways, finding loopholes or ignoring new principles of work.

Final tips 

Change-makers should expect some resistance to organizational change to manage it effectively. A formal approach needs to be in place, and one must try to identify the root causes of resistance.