Resisting Change: How One Employee Resistance Can Create Growth Barriers

Employee resistance

“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” John F. Kennedy’s perspective is not likely what’s going through the mind of an employee when faced with change. In fact, resistance is more apt to be the norm.

As natural as it comes, employee resistance can be a barrier to growth in an organization. It not only impedes the success of the initiative, but it also creates a number of other negative conditions:

  • Slows the time it takes to implement the change
  • Lowers morale that can infect the entire group
  • Decreases efficiency and productivity
  • Diminishes quality of work
  • Disrupts work environment with tension and conflict
  • Impacts relationships and how others feel about the change

As with any problem, it’s important to understand where the issue is coming from in order to resolve it appropriately. In the business world, resistance is triggered from three areas:

  1. Content – What is changing (technology, systems, structure, etc.)?
  2. Process – How is the change is handled?
  3. People – Who is participating or impacted by the change?

It’s when an employee considers some aspect of the change management process to be unsuitable either from a personal or corporate perspective that resistance occurs. Manifestation can range from negative comments, arguing or silence to absenteeism, shirking responsibilities and a lack of participation or sabotage.

The good news is that there are a number of ways leaders can address or even mitigate resistance.

  • Cultivate a positive culture of trust, transparency, communication and accountability
  • Communicate the new concept clearly and completely, including the ‘why’
  • Point out benefits for employees and how they can get involved
  • Give as much advance notice as possible before implementation
  • Anticipate resistance and be prepared to address it formally
  • Clear up ensuing rumors or misconceptions
  • Have proper infrastructure and training in place to support the change on all levels
  • Request feedback and evaluate the results to iron out kinks and address further resistance

It’s pertinent to acknowledge that resistance doesn’t just arise with front line staff. Sometimes the source of the challenge comes from management. In those instances, the resistance needs to be addressed before an unveiling to the rest of the company. If it cannot be worked through within a reasonable timeframe, it may be necessary for the individual to leave, as their lack of commitment will be a roadblock for the change.

Having said that, preparing for change could start at the hiring process. Do you want someone with high skill and low cooperativeness in a position of leadership? You would be better off selecting someone with low skill and high cooperativeness and then put them through extensive training. The ideal management material is high skill and high culture, however you’re more apt to find that person in a lab than the real world.

Change is never easy, even when it’s for the greater good. Working to manage resistance rather than shut it down will strengthen your relationships and corporation as a whole. It will also put you in a better position for added growth and to handle future changes as they arise.