Overcoming Employee Resistance to Change in the Workplace

June 29, 2016

Overcoming Employee Resistance to Change in the Workplace

We’ve all heard the saying that “change is always good,” right? Wrong. Change is a constant at every organization, but employees have quickly become the number one opponent of change. There are several different reasons why employees have learned to resist change, but the primary reason is the bad management of change in the workplace.

Do you love change management? If so, you most likely also hate bad management of change. In companies, the managers and advisors are the ones who have to implement change, but that’s where the problem arises. When managers are just the messengers, they don’t possess the training and knowledge necessary to be a competent “agent of change,” which leads to poor communication between the C-suite and the general employee.

Unfortunately, most employees won’t respond to change with the happiness and glee that is expected; companies need to understand that there is going to be resistance. Let’s face it: people prefer stability and comfort over change in both their personal and professional lives. Though it’s much easier to live inside the comfort of normal day-to-day life, change happens and is always going to be something that needs to be handled. Over the past few years, change has become a norm in the business world. Companies that can manage change with ease will have the upper hand over their competition.

Reasons for Resistance to Change

Although change management decisions are normally made at the C-level, it’s still very important to have the rest of the employees bought in to the change. Having employees who are opposed to what is going to be changing from the start is a major setback and one that needs to be dealt with carefully in order to be successful with the change management.

Job Loss

Job loss is a major reason that employees resist change in the workplace. In any business, there are constantly going to be things moving and changing, whether it is due to the need for more efficiency, better turnaround times, or the need for the employees to work smarter. With all these needs comes the opportunity for the company to downsize or create new jobs, and this is where the fear of job loss comes into play.

Poor Communication and Engagement

Communication solves all ills. But a lack of it creates more of them. This is another crucial reason why employees oppose change. How the change process itself is communicated to the employees is very important because it determines how they react. If the process of what needs to be changed, how it needs to be changed and what success would look like cannot be communicated, then resistance should be expected. Employees need to understand why there is a need for change, because if they are just thrown the notion that what they have been used to for a long time is going to be completely renovated, with that will come much backlash.

Lack of Trust

Trust is a vital tool to have when running a successful business. In organizations where there is a lot of trust in management, there is lower resistance to change. Mutual mistrust between management and employees will lead to the company going into a downward spiral, so trust is a must.

The Unknown

We already mentioned communication, and a lack of it causes employees to feel like they don’t know what’s going on. If companies are constantly experiencing times where the future is unknown, there is also a good possibility that employees won’t respond to change well. When the thought of change is brought up in this case, it would come as a surprise, leading to employees being caught off guard, which makes the situation much worse.

Poor Timing

Timing is one of the biggest problems when it comes to change. A lot of the time, it’s not the act itself that creates the resistance, but how and when it is delivered.

How to Overcome Resistance and Effectively Implement Change

1. Overcome opposition

Regardless of how well companies manage a change, there is always going to be resistance. Companies should engage those who are opposed to a change. By doing this, they can actively see what their concerns are and possibly alleviate the problem in a timely manner. By allowing employees time to give their input, it assures them that they are part of a team that actually cares about its employees.

Communicating both early and often is necessary when trying to convey anything to employees. There should be a constant conversation between the C-Suite and the general employees on what is happening day to day, and for what is to come in the future. The best piece of advice that a company can take in this regard is to be truthful, straightforward, and timely with big changes in the workplace. Company-wide emails and intranets are great tools to utilize and this allows for employees to ask questions and stay informed.

An explanation for why the change is needed is always a good idea. By helping employees better understand why a change is important for the company, it’s easier to get them on board with the change, and it can also encourage them to become an advocate for change. With this, an explanation of “what’s in it for me?” helps employees see the big picture and the benefits of the change, instead of only giving them a narrow view of what is to happen in the near future.

Innovation and improvement are two things that are occurring on a daily basis. With new ideas and suggestions there are always ways to improve as a company, whether it be changing the outlook on an assignment, or changing the way the office dynamic is on a day-to-day basis. Regardless of what it is, there are always ways to improve, and this could really affect how employees look at change management in the workplace.

2. Effectively engage employees

Listen, listen, listen. If there is another piece advice that a company should take, it’s to receive and respond to the feedback that is provided by the employees. They are the ones making sure that all the clients are happy and that all the work gets done, so keeping them in the loop is vital. Ask employees probing questions: Is the change working? What can we do to make it work better? Do employees have any questions or concerns? These are all great questions to ask, but if feedback is going to be collected, it actually needs to be read and utilized. These answers can be used to change the plan accordingly, and show employees that their ideas and concerns are being heard.

Understanding that no two employees are the same is another important tactic to use when trying to understand the employee’s concern. Being able to realize that there are going to be many different reasons for opposition depending on the person is pertinent, because then managers can tailor ways to work out these problems.

3. Implement change in several stages

Change doesn’t happen all at once. Companies should first prepare for the change, then take action on the change and make a plan for managing the change, and third, support the change and assure that all is going as planned.

4. Communicate change effectively

The best way that you as an employer can communicate change is to explicitly tell employees what is going on. Using a blend of formal and informal communication allows you to ensure that all employees receive the news about the change in some way or another. With all the communication outlets such as email, company intranets, town halls, and face-to-face meetings, the message is going to get across the company. Employing several different ways to communicate change helps explain the vision, goals and expectations for what needs to happen and why.

Conclusion

Companies of all types constantly experience change, because as industries grow, businesses have to evolve. Changes such as switching to a new HR plan can affect your business in every way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to change for the worst. Change needs to be dealt with in an effective and responsible manner, and if done correctly, it will seriously benefit the company and make it a smooth transition.

To learn more about how to manage change effectively in your workplace, check out Paycor’s change management whitepaper.


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