Change is inevitable in a successful business. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. While some organisational change is welcomed with open arms, most is met with – at best – a guarded welcome and other changes are resisted with downright hostility.

So, let's dive into the classic symptoms of employees resisting change, and - most importantly - what you can do to minimise it. 

Why do employees resist change?

Let’s be honest - very few people resist change that benefits them. A pay rise or much-wanted promotion is rarely questioned. Employees often resist change when they can’t see what’s in it for them. Uncertainty is one of the biggest causes of resistance – if employees feel insecure, they’ll consciously or sub-consciously push back.

The human mind is complex, and everyone’s approach to change differs depending on their position within a job, how confident they are in their ability and their relationships within the business. Some employees may worry that the change will mean more work for them in an already overstretched schedule. Others may worry they’ll lose their job even though you’ve reassured them that their job is safe. Some will fret that they just can’t cope with the change; perhaps they worry that they’re less able or too set in their ways and won’t be able to deal with the rigours of a new system or approach.

Five signs your employees are resisting change

What does it look like when employees resist change? Depending on your organisation’s culture and your team’s level of experience, you may notice a variety of situations.

Reduced productivity

Has a previously conscientious employee become tardy? Are key projects running behind schedule? Has urgency and drive in your team taken a nosedive? Your team may well be resisting change. Employees who are unsure of the status quo and unhappy with proposed changes won’t be motivated to do their best. The result? Plummeting productivity.

Wondering if productivity has dipped in your business? Head over to our free productivity calculator to find out. 

Gossip

Hushed tones and huddles around the coffee machine normally mean just one thing: gossip. You’ll never stop the regular gossips from chin-wagging, but one thing’s for sure – where there’s change, there’s gossip. And the more uncertain and unwelcome the change is, the more significant the gossip and rumours, and the more people you’ll find are involved.  

Absenteeism

Some employees deal with change by staying away. It might start innocently - perhaps they start coming in late or opt out of mandatory meetings. Or, they may start working from home more often; avoiding interaction with the rest of their team or start phoning in sick. This reluctance to show up can be a signal that they’re resisting change and don’t want to engage with it.

Confrontation and defiance

Whilst some employees may resist change by hiding away, others prefer to deal with it head on. Some, especially the more confident or senior members of staff may confront you directly, while others resist change through rebellious behaviour.

Maybe they’ll refuse to use the new system you’ve invested in, preferring to work with outdated databases. Or, they may resist adding new team members and managers to emailed reports. They might even continue to use old suppliers, despite new ones being introduced. They’re all classic examples of people resisting the move to a new way of working.

Stress and sick leave

Don’t underestimate the effect of uncertainty on your employees’ stress levels. Look out for increased rates of sick leave, headaches, minor coughs and colds, low moods and irritability – all signs that your team might be resisting change and feeling the pressure.

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Five ways to overcome resistance to change

Change doesn’t always need to be resisted. Research shows that a great deal of change resistance can be avoided if you manage the change effectively, using the right approach. 

Let's look at some practical steps you can take to help minimise change resistance. 

Communicate 

People fear what they don't know. Share the full story with your employees, including as many details as you can, and you’ll see lower resistance. Do what you can to update everyone at the same time and point your employees towards additional sources of information wherever possible.

Make use of regular 1-2-1s, too - they are the perfect opportunity for employees to voice their individual concerns on a one-on-one basis and for you to be open and honest with them about any upcoming changes. 

Involve them 

Change is easier when more people have been part of the decision. Involve your team from the start or as early as possible and you’ll be rewarded with less resistance.

For true buy-in, you need to commit to true involvement. Don’t confuse asking your team to complete an online survey with involving them.

Instead, consider creating cross-department task forces, a committee or change-leadership team. Not only is it a way of helping break down resistance to change, but it spreads the load involved in change and gives those involved in these teams a chance to experience new perspectives.

Get emotional

Resistance to change is an emotional response, which means logic has little effect. So, instead of reinforcing the business-sense behind the change, take the time to show your softer side and acknowledge the emotional aspects of the change.

Don’t panic at grumbles and objections and try to quash them – it’s a natural way to display discontent. Instead, show you’re listening to concerns and taking the views of your team seriously.

Make change part of your everyday

Although it might sound counter-intuitive, adapting to a continuous mindset of improvement and growth can improve the way employees approach and deal with big changes. Turning change and a drive to improve performance into a habit is recognised to reduce employee resistance to change. It can also become an accepted and valuable aspect of your organisation’s culture.

Quickly and compassionately

Focus on implementing change quickly and you’ll avoid festering uncertainty and disruption. This is especially important if you need to implement unpopular change such as redundancies. Staff lay-offs are always better when they’re quick and compassionate. Use your available resources to permit gardening leave or a golden handshake so those leaving your team do so quickly and quietly. And do it with grace – memories of a bad departure can disrupt a team for longer than you’d expect.

Above all, remember that, as humans, we’re hard-wired to resist the things we’re uncertain of. Don’t punish employees for their reaction; they might not actually realise they are resisting change. See resistance as a signal that your project needs more buy-in; and prepare for that resistance with appropriate strategies.

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