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What to Do When Employees Resist Change

Change is an inevitable part of business. When done right, the change enables growth, innovation, and progress. However, despite the potential benefits that come with change, it is common for employees to resist it. Employee resistance to change is never a good thing for a business that seeks to reach its potential. As a leader, you know that your team needs to be on board if you want to reach your goals and accomplish the organization’s vision. Understanding why employees resist change is essential for leaders to effectively manage the change process and ensure a smooth transition.

Whether you’re communicating with employees to return to work, or implementing new software, introducing changes to the workplace can create a chaotic work environment for unprepared employees. To ensure success, employers need to exercise patience and compassion with employees as they learn to navigate new situations. In this article, we will explore what to do when employees resist change.

Why Employees Resist Change

There are many factors that come into play when determining whether workplace changes will be successful or cumbersome. It’s no big secret that change can be difficult for people to handle – although some personalities tend to adapt better than others. Some employees will welcome changes with open arms, while others may offer some resistance.

The number one reason why employees resist changes at work is due to a lack of understanding of the details of the change. Many employees understand the overall shift that occurs but remain uncertain about how it affects them and their work directly. More often than not, this is a problem relating to insufficient communication.

Many employees may respond with hesitation or frustration at the mere announcement of upcoming changes. You must handle this situation delicately to keep everyone on the same page. Certain tactics can be used to help everyone make the transition without losing your hard-working but change-resistant employees.


Listen to Their Concerns

One of the most important things to do to help employees adjust to change is to simply be an effective listener. Whether it’s via an anonymous system like feedback slips or group brainstorming sessions, your employees all must have a say in the changes that are underway. Encourage employees to ask questions, and be prepared for them to express their feelings about these adjustments.

Not only does listening to your employees help better connect with them, but it can also improve overall performance at work. 74% of employees report being more effective at their job when they feel heard by employers. Productivity doesn’t have to decline during workplace changes – and it won’t if your employees feel valued.

Try One-on-One and Group Meetings

If you’ve noticed that tensions are high since the announcement of an upcoming change, or if employees have seemed to lose momentum, it may be time to consider arranging a meeting. There are multiple ways you can do this, including one-on-one private meetings or alternatively, group meetings.

One-on-one discussions have a more personal aspect to them. An employee may experience social pressure in a group setting and thus may feel uncomfortable expressing certain opinions around others. In a one-on-one setting, however, they may warm up and feel more inclined to speak freely. 

This style of meeting is most effective when hosted in a private place in a “neutral zone”. A “neutral zone” is any location not considered one party’s territory. For instance, you would be better off having this meeting someplace that isn’t one person’s office or the other, but instead is a private area separate from your workspaces.

Alternatively, group meetings can also be a way to initiate lively conversations about changes at work. In a group setting, it’s important to establish a judgment-free space where employees can speak openly. Group discussions make it easier for questions to be answered for everyone in the room, and employees can also engage with each other in dynamic ways.

The best way to ensure that everyone is comfortable proceeding with these changes is to alternate between both of these methods. Some people respond better to being approached individually, and others respond better to group settings where they can bounce ideas off of colleagues. Using both of these methods to communicate with employees can help you make the most of the situation all around.


Involve Them in the Process

Instead of thrusting changes upon your employees and abandoning them, try actively engaging them in the process of change. For example, if your company is changing its benefits packages, you can have employees suggest options as a group or vote on various items. When employees feel they have a voice, they are empowered and better motivated to get through the adjustment period.

Here are a few ways to involve them in the process:

  • Solicit Employee Feedback: One of the best ways to involve employees in the change process is to ask for their feedback. You can do this through surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one conversations. Asking employees for their opinions on the changes being made and how they will be affected can help to build buy-in and increase engagement.
  • Create an Employee Lead ‘Change Team’: Establish a change management team that includes employees from different levels and departments. This can be an effective way to involve employees in the change process. This team can help to identify potential obstacles and develop solutions that work for everyone.
  • Provide Employee-to-Employee Training: Change often requires new skills and knowledge. Allow employees to coach and train each other in some areas. 
  • Empower Employees to Make Decisions: Give employees the autonomy to make decisions that affect their work. This can help them take ownership of the change and feel more invested in the outcome.


Change in Stages

The more sudden the onset of change is, the harder it will be for employees to adapt. This means the more resistance you will experience. Planning ahead and providing ample time for these changes to solidify can change the success rate of your goals. One way to facilitate this process is to employ what is known as change management.

Change management is the process of bringing company changes from vision to reality as seamlessly as possible. Many companies assign a small group of individuals to handle these changes and ease the transition for others. Part of this process means slowing down the process and implementing overall project goals in various departments at work.

When change management is implemented successfully, 81% of those new projects come in on or under budget – in other words, pacing the transition responsibly can make or break the success of your goal. You can learn more about change management here.


Understand the Skill Gaps

By now, as a leader, you understand that your employees have skill gaps in some areas. Skill gaps occur when employees lack the necessary skills, knowledge, or experience to perform their job duties to the desired level of proficiency. This is also true when it comes to adapting to change. Some employees will respond better than others. For some, learning and changing will come quickly and easily. For others, it may take some time.

Identifying and addressing skill gaps is essential for the success of the change that you are implementing. If you notice some employees having more difficulty than others, it is important to respond quickly. Once identified, skill gaps can be addressed through training and development programs, mentoring or coaching, job shadowing, or other forms of on-the-job training.

Be patient with those employees that are the most resistant to change. You can also ask those employees that are responding well to help aid those who are struggling.


Reward and Celebrate Progress

As you and your team navigate these new changes to the workplace, there may be speed bumps and obstacles to overcome. It’s important that as an employer, you encourage your employees to provide feedback and reward their input and progress. 

Establish clear goals that everyone can work towards to facilitate the new project, and when employees meet milestones, make sure they feel recognized and appreciated. Not only can this create a more positive outlook toward the changes in place, but it can also motivate employees to become more company-minded. Over 91% of HR professionals believe that recognition and rewards improve company retention.

As these changes proceed, employees that are motivated through encouragement and recognition will associate these changes with those positive experiences. This can help everyone make it through the initial adjustment period with a good attitude and excitement for the future of the company.


Change doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But, often it finds its way to us whether we’re ready to embrace it or not. In the workplace, change is often considered disruptive. Although, that doesn’t have to be the case. With patient and empathetic management, changes can be conquered successfully by employers and employees alike. This will help keep your employees loyal to the company throughout the change process.

Also read:

7 Reasons Why Employees Resist Change

Ari Bratsis
Team Writer: Ari is a writer, blogger and small business owner based in Washington state.

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Find Your Way · Grow Your Business · Leading Your Team · Productivity · Your Mindset

Team Writer: Ari is a writer, blogger and small business owner based in Washington state.

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