As the old cliché says, “the only constant in life is change.” Why, then, are human beings so naturally fearful of and resistant to change? Given the fast-paced, technology-based world in which we operate, one would think that employees would be accustomed to accepting and adjusting to changes. More common than not, the opposite is true. For many people, their job is a significant source of structure in their life. Any thoughts or activities that stray from the comfort of this structure can be threatening and provoke insecurity.
There are many different factors that contribute to staff resistance when it comes to organisational change. One or more of these factors can be present in the consciousness or attitude of each individual employee. Being familiar with these factors can help organisational leaders manage and overcome opposition to necessary change.
1. Lack of Awareness
Staff members at various levels may not necessarily be aware of the underlying business need for change. Whether attempts have been made at communicating this to staff or not, it must be considered and dealt with. Another variation on this theme is that even staff members that do understand the underlying need for change may not necessarily be in agreement or be in line with the overall goals of the organisation.
2. Fear of the Unknown
Humans are prone to fear of the unknown. As mentioned above, many people view their job as an important source of stability in their life. At the very least, employees depend on their regular paycheque to take care of basic financial needs. Not knowing what situations can arise from organisational change can be scary. Employees can be afraid of what may happen, especially in cases of change where layoffs or reduction in workforce may be necessary.
3. Personal Predisposition
This is a highly personal factor and can only be analyzed on an individual basis. A person’s predisposition to change is based on several factors having to do with the life experiences that have helped to shape him or her. For example, the way change and uncertainty were handled when that person was a child can have a small or huge effect on how the same person perceives and reacts to impending change as an adult. People with a strong predisposition to resisting and fighting change can have an impact on the next main reason that staff rejects doing things differently.
4. Peer Pressure
Some employees are known pushovers that often take on the plights of one another even if they are not directly affected. In some cases, these types of employees will buy into others’ apprehension toward change without even necessarily understanding it.
Long-standing staff members have long-standing memories. They can exhibit negative feelings and attitudes based on simple misunderstandings, miscommunications, and conflict. The worst thing about this reason for staff denial of change within organisations is that some of the deep-seated history involved may have happened long before the current leadership took the reins.
6. Comfort Zones
Employees may be creatures of habit, knowing very well how to do what they do. Introducing change can raise questions about whether the employee’s existing skills and experiences will be adequate to support and thrive in the new environment. This insecurity of whether one’s skills will be enough to ensure success during and after change can contribute to resistance. In addition to the skills factor, individuals may be comfortable with the current state of things. The status quo may be providing a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that staff members are just not ready to relinquish.
7. More May Be Less
Depending on what the organisational change entails, some employees are likely to suspect that they will be required to do more with less, or to perform more work for a smaller amount of pay. While this is not likely to be the case, it is important to evaluate this factor honestly and to address it in communications about change.
8. Trust Issues
This contributing factor of staff resistance to change is related to the corporate culture at the organisation. Managers who do not trust their employees are creating a climate of mistrust that is bound to be reciprocated. If employees do not trust the leadership at the organisation, they are likely to be skeptical of any proposed changes.
9. Loss of Control
Even great employees may resist organisational change. Competent staff members who are good at what they do and feel they have a handle on everything related to their job may feel threatened by the perceived loss of control that change can bring about. Employees can feel confused and powerless by being asked to change the way they think or operate.
10. Fear of Failure
If staff members are happy with what they do and with the results they currently achieve, it may make the status quo too attractive to give up. Fear that they will not be able to attain the same level of success under new circumstances is another reason employees are skeptical of change.
These are only a few of the reasons why staff members in your organisation may resist change. It is evident that a common underlying theme among these reasons is fear. Fear can originate from a myriad of motivations and take on just as many variations. Realising that open communication and understanding will lay the foundation for overcoming fear is the first step in doing so. The type of communication that will help you understand why your staff specifically is giving change the cold shoulder is listening. Making your employees feel comfortable to voice honest opinions and doubts will give you insights into their motivations (or lack thereof). This is the best way of finding out which reasons are standing in your organisation’s path to widely supported change.