How to overcome employee resistance to change

Change isn’t always associated with new possibilities, especially in the workplace. In fact, change in the workplace is often linked to employee stress, distrust, and at worst, project failure. 

A change project can resemble many things, from new workplace structures to new software, a new acquisition, a new manager, or simply even a new office. But it’s not the change itself that is the problem, but rather how the change is implemented. 

So the question is, what can change leaders do to prevent employee resistance to change? Continue to find out.

How is employee resistance to change impacting your organization?

It’s no secret that change is both constant and necessary to the workplace, yet agility among the workforce is still a major challenge facing change leaders and managers every day. Employee resistance to change can rear its head in many different ways and start with one or several people. But how does it impact your organization concretely? Have you identified any of the following?:

  • Unused software
  • Increased time to value 
  • Low employee morale (confusion, frustration)
  • Internal conflict (disruption, refusal)
  • Reversion to non-digitized methods
  • Increased support requests
  • Additional training requests
  • Lower productivity

If you have (the chances are high), it’s time to create processes that prevent and mitigate your employee resistance to change.

What is employee resistance to change in the workplace?

Let’s take new software, for example.

You deploy the cloud SAP Successfactors HRIS for the first time, with additional features the previous HRIS did not possess, including time management, performance management, and 360 evaluation. 

Before deployment, the news had not been communicated extensively, resulting in a negative response from some employees. Soon after, it was followed by friction between some employees and their managers. Several users from various departments then openly shared their distrust, privacy, and frustration concerns with certain features, labeling it an invasive tracking tool. In a nutshell, their attitudes and behaviors towards the new HRIS indicated employee resistance to change. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into common causes of employee resistance to change.

What are common causes of employee resistance to change?

Resistance to change is not a natural or innate response. People will respond to change positively when they understand it is in their best interest to do so. For example, training to support change and improve employee development.

Poor communication

Understanding the justification and value of a change is the first step to preventing resistance, and this starts with active communication between all stakeholders involved in the process. 

Creating accessible and easy-to-follow change management processes means the right people have the right information, even before the transition begins. The goal is to clearly explain employee benefits over company benefits to help them understand how it will impact their day-to-day work. In any situation, it’s important to explain the tangible short-term benefits as well as long term for maximum impact.

Lack of training

End-users are the last link in the chain after deploying new software or a process. Their major concerns with change include understanding its value, ease of use, and overall ‘what’s in it for them’. An absence of training increases these concerns substantially, leaving end-users to make sense of these changes alone. In this situation, a lack of training can quickly result in a skills gap, incorrect procedures, and the ultimate resistance to change – abandonment.

Whatever the change, leaders need to provide the right accompanying resources in terms of equipment, resources, training programs, or training solutions.

Lack of agility

A lack of agility in the workplace suggests there is a lack of agility in organizational culture. For the most part, employee resistance to change is a fear of the unknown as companies continue to accelerate digital transformation, automation, and digitalization of work processes that employees feel could threaten their position. 

To overcome this resistance, it’s now vital to educate your workforce on the inevitability of change to create a competitive workforce. It also means providing the right tools to accompany change, including continuous training and learning and development opportunities.

Lack of processes

Most people wouldn’t use a complex machine without addressing the instructions, so neither should your users. A lack of processes to assist a new software or company procedure facilitates a margin for error that leads to employee dissatisfaction, negative ROI, and ultimately, a negative impact on your customers. 

Do you want to reduce resistance to change, reduce errors, save time and improve ROI? Implement standardized processes for smaller day-to-day tasks, and change management processes to accompany larger and more long-term changes. The benefits of standardization and process creation are tenfold and will help to improve clarity, quality, and employee satisfaction.

Time management

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is prioritizing time management over attention management. It means putting the timeframe of tasks before the engagement of employees. Prioritizing time management this way facilitates employee resistance to change in many ways, including unrealistic expectations and deadlines and the implication that everyone learns or transitions through change at the same speed.

While deadlines are necessary to workplace operations, they in no way promote employee productivity. Instead, use motivating methods such as engagement to ensure efficiency. But how? Create processes, training, and learning and development procedures that immediately engage your employees.

🍋 Lemon Learning tip: engage your employees using interactive, action activated learning paths on a digital adoption platform

How can Managers overcome resistance to change?

More than 80% of organizations manage change from the top down.
(Source: Gartner, Changing Change Management)

Meaning strategic decisions, implementation, and deployment plans are almost exclusively created by c-suite and senior decision-makers.

But this can all change with the management department! Eliminate the top-down approach by creating a direct channel of communication between senior leadership and employees. A better flow of information, suggestions, and feedback will reduce employee resistance to change.

But how can managers create buy-in from their teams? By assuming the role of change leaders and advocates. While not all employees will agree on a change, consistent support is the key to success. If employees believe leaders are implementing change in their best interests, are transparent about the factors driving change, and can display its value, it can considerably reduce resistance to change.

Actionable strategies to overcome resistance to change

Below are 2 concrete strategies to help prevent and overcome employee resistance to change.

Change management processes

Before making any large-scale decisions that affect your employees, build a change management plan to support the transition. It means building employee-centric change projects that involve and support end-users.

  • Consistent communication: Involve your employees from day one, using their feedback to identify existing needs and issues.
  • Management and leadership advocacy: Implementing a new change requires both the support and advocacy of leadership to drive the project among teams.
  • Develop a culture of change: Facilitate change through your company values and corporate culture to ensure everyone understands the concrete benefits.
  • Implement engaging training: Create training and development programs that focus on attention management over time management to engage and motivate employees.

Select a digital adoption platform learning solution

In our digital age, employees are experiencing accelerated digital transformation and digitalization that requires multiple digital tools day to day. The challenge is to implement these tools sustainably for long-term use, increase ROI and ultimately improve the efficiency of your business processes. 

With a digital adoption platform, you can! A DAP is an embedded application that sits over any web-based solution, engaging users immediately from their very first use. Reduce the risk of employee resistance to change with features including:

  • In-application messaging (create a welcome message, new feature announcement, etc.)
  • Interactive training workflows (action activated, step-by-step learning modules)
  • Microlearning modules (bite-size learning materials for maximum engagement)  
  • Learning by doing methodology (instructional, active learning while working)
  • Library of guides (unlimited access to an interactive library of guides)  

Sarah C

Sarah oversees all things inbound marketing, exploring the many business uses and topics surrounding digital adoption. Her previous experiences include B2C and product marketing in the social listening space, uncovering emerging industry trends.