Concept of Employee Resistance to Change

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In today’s economy, change continuously takes place at rapid rates in organizations: it has become an inevitable part of everyday organizational dynamics and resistance to it, by employees, can lead to crippling of the organization (Mushtaq, 2012). Historically, the classic concept of change resistance has been understood as an emotion-based reaction that is dysfunctional to an organization. Based on this school of thought the paper is going to use a survival conceptual framework in explaining the change resistance in an organization.

Conceptual framework

In the survival conceptual framework, change is described or considered as ‘survival.’ As explained by Oystein (2009), survival can be associated with the ability of individuals or organizations to respond appropriately to changes taking place in their surrounding environment. In this perspective, organizations are considered as the species while business survival as the necessity to adapt to or die in the business environment. Therefore, to increase their chance of survival, organizations adequately adapt to the prevailing business environment: if they do not, they will disappear like species in the natural environment that are not responsive to changes in their surroundings.

Also, from the perspective of employees, resistance to change is considered the natural necessity to survive within the organization as an individual, team, or department. As a result, employees naturally tend to resist change as a necessity for their survival within the organization. As explained by Lussier (2008), the natural tendency to resist change occurs because employees think the introduced change will either decrease their chances of survival or harm their status quo in the organization.

Organizational factors contributing to employees’ resistance to change

As new ideas to promote the growth of the organization emerge quite often, it becomes inevitable for organizations to avoid change. However, even though some of the organization’s actions might be well-thought of, their actions might directly contribute to employees’ resistance to change. This section discusses four major organizational factors that directly contribute to employees’ resistance to change namely poor communication process, exclusion of employees, and non-reinforcing reward systems.

(a) Poor Communication process

Poor communication is one of the major organizational factors that might contribute to employees’ resistance to change: this occurs when the organization does not use effective communication methods. Within an organization, change usually starts when managers make key decisions. After making such decision, it is upon them to pass details to team members and to the rest of the employees before the implementation process begins. If the communication is not done properly, the employees will resist the change. In addition, resistance occurs when the management starts implementation before answering all questions and complaints regarding the proposed change.

(b) Exclusion of employees (lack of participation)

Sometimes, when introducing changes, organizations prefer to solicit advance input from external experts or advisors. When an organization chooses to solicit external input, its employees will certainly feel excluded and might not want to be part of the change. As explained by Mushtaq (2012), every employee certainly wants an opportunity for his or her opinions and voices to be hard. However, if the organizational decide to introduce sudden changes, employees will feel they had no input and were not involved in the decision-making: some might feel offended by the organization.

(c) Non-reinforcing reward systems

Employees often assess and value the reward they will get from the change. Therefore, the failure of the organization to use reinforcing reward system will lead to employees’ change resistance: they will resist the proposed change if they do not see any reward in it. Without any reward, the employees will not be motivated to support it. The implication of this is that, at some point, there will be a need to alter the organization’s reward system in order to support the necessary change. The reward system does not have to be monetary: intrinsic rewards are very powerful in motivating employees.

Employee attributes contributing to employees’ resistance to change

Resistance to change is not only contributed by organizational factors but also a number of employee’s attributes. This section discusses four major employee attributes that contribute to change resistance namely the fear of the unknown, lack of competence, organizational politics, and employee’s self-interest.

(a) The fear of the unknown

The fear of the unknown is one of the most common reasons for resistance change in the organization. In organizations, changes are often associated with the certain level of uncertainty and fear factor because their consequences have not been experienced and tested. If employees do not genuinely believe in or comprehend the consequence of the new change, they will resist its implementation. In this case, they will certainly feel the risk of moving forward in the new direction is greater than that of remaining in the same status quo.

(b) Lack of competence

Sometimes, employees resist change in the organization simply because of their lack of competence. As explained by Dei (2015), this usually happens when the change necessitates some skills and competence that the employee might not possess at that time. In addition, some employees might feel that they do not have the ability to acquire the new skills and make the transition in the change process.

(c) Organizational politics

The involvement of employees in the organizational politics may also lead to change resistance. In every organization, small or big, employees often play some level of politics. As a result, some employees might choose to resist new organizational changes not that they are bad but simply to prove that they do not accept the management’s decision. On the other hand, some employees might choose to resist change in the organization as a political strategy to show ineffectiveness in the person implementing the change. Some employees commit to resistance because they feel they might lose some power in the organization when change is implemented successfully.

(d) Employees’ self-interest

In some cases, employees resist change because of their self-interests especially those driven by ego. Dei (2015) asserted that employees who are more egocentric are not well adapted to foster organizational change: this is because ego interferes with their ability to change. In order to advance their own self-interests, some employees may choose to maintain status quo in the organization and in the end resist change.


Using the survival concept, resistance is considered to be an inevitable response to change because, in organizations, employees want to defend their current status quo. In most cases, employees feel their existent and survival in the organization is threatened by the introduction of new changes. Because change is a natural survival response to change, the organization’s management can undermine even well-intended efforts if they do not understand and choose to work with resistance. For the management to achieve maximum benefit for the organization through change, it must create a business environment that would minimize resistance behavior while at the same time encouraging acceptance.

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