5 Reasons People Resist Change in the Workplace

There's a story I heard once about an organization that used to provide fresh fruit in the break room for their employees. Every week, a new bowl of fruit would be put in the fridge, and every Friday night, the cleaners would throw it out, mostly untouched.

The company decided to save some money and stop providing fruit. What do you imagine happened? As it turned out, people became unexpectedly upset about losing the fruit! Even though they didn't value it, when it was taken away, it made them angry.

Now, were they upset about the fruit itself? No, not really. What they were upset about was loss. It didn't matter what the object was. It could've been the communal copy machine, or packs of sugar in the break room, or hand lotion in the bathroom. What we as human beings don't like is when we lose something. Surprisingly enough, research shows that losing something makes you twice as miserable as gaining that same thing makes you happy!

So the question becomes: how do we deal with loss? Below, read 5 of the most common losses people tend to resist in the workplace, and how you can ease yourself into these changes and overcome resistance for good.

 

  1. Certainty and Security. The less people know about the full implications of a change, the higher their resistance. Loss of certainty and security is an inevitable part of an organizational restructure. The longer it goes, the harder it is for people. I have had people say to me things like: "I was going to buy a house, but I can't because I have to wait to see if I have a job." Overcoming this sense of loss requires a new sense of safety. It also helps when leaders provide employees with an inspiring vision in addition to timetables and easy-to-understand processes.
  2. Control. People don't like to feel as if they've lost control of their autonomy. That's why, as a leader, it's important to leave room for those affected by change to make choices. Invite them into planning so that they feel they have ownership in some way.

  3. Competence and Expertise. Resistance is increased if people believe they do not have the skills for optimal performance. People can get very stressed by the idea of having to learn new skills. Some people have their sense of self attached to being competent, and they can suffer greatly from this perceived loss. Leaders would do well to reassure, train, educate, mentor and support employees during times of transition to help ease them into new processes.

  4. Belonging. Losing your team or having to leave a well-loved business, will impact our sense of belonging. I often hear people describe their workplace as being "like family". To lose that sense of belonging, of family, is often very challenging. Leaders should do their best to build community among employees and invest in team-building activities that can help build solid foundations for healthy workplace relationships.

  5. Routine. Sometimes, change can affect our daily patterns. People who are stressed may additionally resist the extra pressure of meeting project demands or implementing new changes because it upsets a routine they're more than familiar with. Moving buildings may mean you have to drive instead of walk, find a parking spot and pay for it. Asking people to attend work events outside of hours, no matter how important, can impact routine and cause push back. Even attending conferences requiring travel can upset some people's sense of routine. In as much as possible, leaders should keep things familiar. Remain focused on the important things and avoid change for the sake of change.

 

Using the strategies mentioned above will help you effectively navigate the stages of change by showing you how to best process loss.

And if you really want to learn how to thrive in the midst of change and improve your resiliency, I invite you to learn more about my upcoming book The Resilient Employee: The essential guide to coping with change and thriving in today's workplace. You can grab the free audio course and a reminder about the book's release here.

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