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Reasons behind Employee Resistance to Change

Discuss about the Resistance to Change Leadership Style.

Change is the ultimate constant. One who sticks to his present or past is sure to miss the future. The same holds true for any business enterprise where change is always welcome and a person thwarting change is sure to lag behind in his future endeavors. A person’s enduring capacity to change varies with the person’s persona and perception. Since the economy is flowing and ebbing at a brisk rate, the strategies employed by the organization must also keep par with it. If the organization undergoes corporate changes in its intrinsic environment, it ought to infuse innovative business strategies, which can create a spirit of resistance among the employees (Fleck & Kraemer, 2014). 

Employees’ expresses an opposition to changes not abiding by the conventional norms of the organization, being poorly introduced to them, hampering the rate of their productivity and when they perceive the upcoming changes unnecessary.(Bateh, Castaneda & Farah 2013). On the contrary, with an efficacious introduction and adoption one can attenuate the intensity of the resistance and avoid dealing with employee resentment. Now it is time to detect the core of the problem and for that, need to explore the causes the background and the incontestable factors which influences the spiraling employee resistance to change is necessary(Battistelli, Montani & Odoardi, 2013).

Resistance to change cannot be claimed as completely irrational because whoever resists a change in an organization premises does that from their respective perspectives, which appears sensible to them. Anticipating resistance to change and modulating it from the beginning of the change management program, enables one to curb down objections effectively (Georgalis et al., 2015). Behaviors indicating potential resistance should be acknowledged and employee’s sentiments should be validated thereby heightening the awareness of the necessity to address the concerns (Bateh, Castaneda & Farah 2013).Therefore, as a pragmatic agent of change the following reasons must be very well understood instead of wasting time to put out the fire of resistance:

Fear of job security – Normal human psychology states that everybody tends to panic when there raises a question mark on the individual’s security and when the point is about job security then this fear is absolutely justified(Georgalis et al., 2015). An individual tends to find security in conventional approaches to life. So the fear of the uncertain future and the impact of change on job security is something which makes the employees resist vehemently to any kind of changes. Updated technology, improved procedures and upgraded systems are all the creator of resistance among employees as they find their job security at stake with these modifications coming. (Hon, Bloom & Crant, 2014). Not being aware of the outcome of the change, the employees become apprehensive of the consequence and react negatively (Georgalis et al., 2015). According to a survey, the rate of unemployment in the industrial sectors has heightened up with the plant becoming automated or the offices becoming computerized.

Fear of Job Security

Poor communication strategy – One of the most crucial reasons for employee resistance at workplace is the baffling communication between the management and the employees, which prevents an effective transmission of the organization message between them thereby augmenting misconception about the changes to be undertaken. The way a particular change process is conveyed to the employees plays a critical role in determining their reactions. The employees poorly receive a change mandated with little communication as they feel that it is being shoved down their throats (Hon, Bloom & Crant, 2014).  It is like maintaining an open door policy where the top- level management should be available for answering the queries. The absence of two- way communication might lead to grapevine rumors and sabotage any positive efforts undertaken. (Hon, Bloom & Crant, 2014).

Loss of control and power- Familiar routines and norms enables an employee to develop a sense of supremacy over the work environment eventually. Asking them to change their manner of operation may create discontentment among the employees and they might feel powerless. People prefer to implement changes when they find some form of control or power to exert. At times, changes reduce the power base of the employees or units and even downsizing a department leads to loss of influence, which is resentful. Open communication and soliciting input makes them feel that the contributions made by them matters to the organization. To instill a feeling of power in them during the changing process, the management should involve them to elicit their feedback and volunteer for participatory roles. (Klonek, Lehmann-Willenbrock & Kauffeld, 2014).

Lack of competitive ability – Though this fear is difficult for the employees to admit it is one of the crucial reason for resistance. Change in organizations necessitates development of skills and some people gets doubtful whether they would be able to cope up with the transition. Therefore, the only way for them to survive against the odds is to oppose change. There are some, who are hesitant to experiment as a result they show a reluctant attitude towards learning new routines or processes. Such employees will surely impede the organization’s adaptation to change and hinder its growth along with their own personal development. (Appelbaum et al., 2015).

Poor time management – Awkward timing or lack of tact is one of the viable reasons of employee resistance. Change must be implemented in the absence of any major ongoing initiative. Sometimes it is not about what but why when and how an act is performed, creates resistance. Undue resistance can be avoided if changes are not introduced in an improper time and insensitive manner (Appelbaum et al., 2015).

Poor Communication Strategy

Non-reinforcing benefits and rewards system – A common saying goes around in the business sector that managers get what they reward the employees. Now the employees are sure to resist when they will not be able to see anything in terms of rewards or benefits for them. Without a reward and recognition, the employees will not be motivated to support the change in the long run (Hon, Bloom & Crant, 2014). Accordingly, the organization’s reward system must be modified to abet the change that the company wishes to implement (Appelbaum et al., 2015). The reward need not be an exorbitant one; a token of appreciation can turn the table to a favorable situation.

Lack of adequate support system – Employees stuck in their comfort zones, work with the managers of their choice whom they get along with well and operate in predictable environment.

Lack of mutual trust – Successful change process turns out to be null and void in an environment camouflaged in mistrust. One employee should have faith and loyalty towards other’s intentions. An organization where there prevails a high degree of trust and the employees are treated with dignity, chance of resistance diminishes automatically. Any kind of sweeping changes causes insecurity among the employees regarding their status quo in the workplace.

Sometimes it may cross the horizon and lead to overt behaviors such as slowing down of work, frequent strikes and aggressive unionism. Development of lower morale among the employees because of pessimism may lead to recruitment and retention issues (Lozano, 2013). Moreover, lessened efficiency can have a massive impact on the organization’s bottom-line. Finally, persistent misunderstandings between the management and the employees may result in commotions and outbursts following with a greater chance of employee unrest (Klonek, Lehmann-Willenbrock & Kauffeld, 2014).

The finest example, which one would like to highlight in this context since it holds the most relevance as far as resistance to change is concerned, is the company named Borders. It was an international enterprise dealing as a music and book retailer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The story of Borders illustrates the wrenching changes faced by the once grand bookseller industry and aptly portrays the challenges of maintaining the dominant position in a cut-throat competitive market. Founded by Louis and Tom Borders in 1971, this bookseller industry heralded a revolution in the book retailing business. By the end of 2000, Borders and its competitor Barnes and Noble proved their dominance in the market and captured almost 40% share combined (Klonek, Lehmann-Willenbrock & Kauffeld, 2014). But their resistance to changes and reluctance to adapt to newer technologies embarked on an epic zone of blunders (Ramaswami, Raju & Page, 2016).

Loss of Control

The company aimed at having a superior level selection to its competitor Barnes and Noble notwithstanding the fact that the customers were unaware of their proceedings and operations.

One of the crippling strategic errors on their part was neglecting the control over their internet sales medium. Until 2008, the company did not have its own website though in 2001 it negotiated with Amazon to tackle its online business.

Increased attention to stock more CDs and DVDs preceded a plunge in the sale of the items since consumers were more drifted towards digitalized delivery systems.

Their e-reader Kobo was supported inadequately and devoid of traction.

They boasted of their strength in culture and did not want to rattle the cultural equilibrium through changes. They adhered to their conventional notions, which fostered a kind of tunnel vision and made them rigid to their structures. They did not want to rock the boat hence avoided contractual agreements and losing of their sunk costs and finally the entrenched interests of the key employees or groups prevented them from taking justified actions, ignored the negative effects in lieu of temporary benefits, and tried to sustain their status quo (Martin, 2017).

The industry after lots of trial and errors now seems to be returning to its roots through technological up gradation and remodeling of the stores. It is gradually emerging as a toy store selling books to appeal to all types of customers and increase its brand value in due course (McFarland, 2015). So, once the industry’s former Goliaths learnt from its past mistakes, rectified it with expertise, and revamped its business according to the changing trends.

Therefore, it has been firmly established by now that resistance to change is one of the most recalcitrant problems faced by the business executives recently. Such resistance is multidimensional and varied in forms and expressing various pseudo logical reasons stating reasons to abolish changes. So, here are certain proven strategies that will enable a business executive to mitigate employee resistance to change with full vigor:

A new way should be created to communicate with the employees about the upcoming initiatives through regular updating at team meetings by the key managements.

Marketing of the new strategies to each employee or groups and explaining the new steps undertaken in proper terms with a straightforward and honest vision.

Inviting team members from each functional team to participate in seminars and marketing the newly adopted business strategies.

Lack of Competitive Ability

They should select a group of agents who will catalyze the change aiding to manage implementation and the planning process. An eloquent person should be chosen from both management and non- management positions.

Key deliverables should be distributed to each department or person involved in the business strategy and successful implementation for compensation should be tied. Regular reports should be prepared on performances and the ones achieving the goals should be publicly rewarded.

Usage of social media platforms can be the ideal mechanisms to augment changes, reshape the culture of the company, improving the accomplishment of corporate strategy and communication since most of the change management boils down to ongoing dialogues in an enterprise.

Training programs needs to be delivered by adept trainers, which facilitates development of new skills to support the changing flow.

 Managerial tools for controlling and directing the employees towards their goals, is one of the fundamentals in organizational management. Employees’ resistance to this managerial process has been viewed from diverse viewpoints. Since there is multiple way of approaching resistance, the ethical implication of resistance is under question. The ethical concept is examined critically as far as the ethical assumptions of resistance are concerned (McKay, Kuntz & Naswall, 2013). In an organization, ethics of resistance and utilitarianism is provided special attention. Within this framework, it is stated that people resist changes to attain justice and autonomy in the organizational framework. The theoretical evolution of a new ethical concept in terms of resistance comprises contribution of the organization in question. In corporate terms, ethics are the beliefs stating what is just or unjust, they lay the foundation for judging the individual’s behavior and guide organizations in the right track.

 Ethics has captivated the center stage in organizational management. The underlying morals of individuals or groups lend a pivotal impact not only on the organizations but also on society in general (Mitchell, 2013). It is required by the organizations to adopt a much more ethical approach for operating their business. For that, they have to move from:

Performing the minimum demanded by law to doing the appropriate thing as per the environmental norms

Downplaying concerns of the public.

Avoiding environmental advocates willing to work with them.

Though it is easy to note down the various types of ethical behavior, the capability of the manager to execute such behaviors are often restricted by other factors.

Nowadays managers are quite sensitive to social responsibility issues and ethical behavior due to immense public pressure, from legal and government authorities and from coverage of media. It is not quite clear where to draw the borderline between expectations of ethical behavior, which seems to be conflicting.

Poor Time Management

The challenges of managers include the requirement of acting ethically in the face of daily pressures to satisfy deadlines and targets, which may compel them to act unjustifiably. This should not be a surprise considering the strong bonding between an organization's ethics and its prevailing culture. Therefore, the organization ethics are entrenched in the culture and the culture is reflected through the ethics (Rafferty & Jimmieson, 2016). Consequently, an attempt to alter the norms by the regulators and instigating for adoption of an ‘ethical code’ is over-optimistic at times.

 Unfortunately, since 1980, the management of change process has concentrated on approaches emphasizing the deployment of power for winning compliance. Instead of changing behavior by means of imposition and coercion, an approach is necessary which emboldens ethical behavior and allows the management to change at their own will. The approach, which has been used for years, is to map the source of individual power (Ramaswami, Raju & Page, 2016).

 Critically analyzing individuals have six sources of power trying to identify which source is relevant to individual members and whether change will have a positive or negative effect on the source. If the source of power diminishes then it is time to plan how to work with that individual in order to find new sources of relevance (Watson, 2013). The main concern lies in understanding where power exudes from both at a group and individual level and how intervention affects the power distribution at all levels.

 This is a useful framework before starting to work with a team keeping in mind the issue of organizational change -

Mapping individual employee’s sources of power

Identifying how each source will be affected by intervention

Mapping sub groups and power interactions within the total team

Building personal relationships – a major platform enabling individuals to deal with power threats

Employee resistance to change is an utter complex issue faced by the ever- evolving enterprises of today. The change process is ubiquitous and employee resistance has been evaluated as a crucial contributor in the failure of several well- conceived efforts employed to initiate organizational change (Klonek, Lehmann-Willenbrock & Kauffeld, 2014). To make any organizational effort praiseworthy and significant the top management needs to come out of the mahogany paneled air-conditioned rooms, roll up the sleeves and implement a comprehensive strategy from the very beginning to overcome the barriers. In case they find it, difficult to conduct themselves alone they can hire a delegate who will design an apt management strategy taking the help of some official managers. The advantages of scale and size are consistently fleeting in our highly networked global economy. Companies that will deny embracing changes and try to organize themselves at their will are sure to get swept away regardless of their previous success.


Appelbaum, S. H., Degbe, M. C., MacDonald, O., & Nguyen-Quang, T. S. (2015). Organizational outcomes of leadership style and resistance to change (Part One). Industrial and Commercial Training, 47(2), 73-80.

Bateh, J., Castaneda, M. E., & Farah, J. E. (2013). Employee resistance to organizational change. International Journal of Management & Information Systems (Online), 17(2), 113.

Battistelli, A., Montani, F., & Odoardi, C. (2013). The impact of feedback from job and task autonomy in the relationship between dispositional resistance to change and innovative work behaviour. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 22(1), 26-41.

Fleck, S. J., & Kraemer, W. (2014). Designing Resistance Training Programs, 4E. Human Kinetics.

Georgalis, J., Samaratunge, R., Kimberley, N., & Lu, Y. (2015). Change process characteristics and resistance to organisational change: The role of employee perceptions of justice. Australian Journal of Management, 40(1), 89-113.

Hon, A. H., Bloom, M., & Crant, J. M. (2014). Overcoming resistance to change and enhancing creative performance. Journal of Management, 40(3), 919-941.

Klonek, F. E., Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., & Kauffeld, S. (2014). Dynamics of resistance to change: a sequential analysis of change agents in action. Journal of change management, 14(3), 334-360.

Lozano, R. (2013). Are companies planning their organisational changes for corporate sustainability? An analysis of three case studies on resistance to change and their strategies to overcome it. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 20(5), 275-295.

Martin, B. H. (2017). Unsticking the status quo: strategic framing effects on managerial mindset, status quo bias, and systematic resistance to change. Management Research Review, 40(2).

McFarland, D. (2015). Change Resistance.

McKay, K., Kuntz, J. R., & Naswall, K. (2013). The effect of affective commitment, communication and participation on resistance to change: The role of change readiness. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 42(2), 29-40.

Mitchell, G. (2013). Selecting the best theory to implement planned change: Improving the workplace requires staff to be involved and innovations to be maintained. Gary Mitchell discusses the theories that can help achieve this. Nursing Management, 20(1), 32-37.

Rafferty, A. E., & Jimmieson, N. L. (2016). Subjective Perceptions of Organizational Change and Employee Resistance to Change: Direct and Mediated Relationships with Employee Well?being. British Journal of Management.

Ramaswami, S. N., Ramaswami, S. N., Raju, S., Raju, S., Page, D. C., & Page, D. C. (2016). Conceptualizing and measuring resistance to change in brand relationships. Journal of Indian Business Research, 8(3), 180-204.

Watson, G. (2013). Resistance to change. R. Cohen, J. McManus, D. Fox, & C. Kastelnik, Psych City: A Simulated Community, 246-257.

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