Resistance to change refers to the negative reaction of workers towards change in the organisation. Change, no matter how beneficial, is generally resisted and is always difficult to carry out. Axiomatically, man prefers to proceed with known methods than change to new ones where the outcomes may not be so certain. However, change will be easier to make and adjust to, if the potential rewards after the change are sufficiently attractive. For example, a person may change their job if the new job offers better financial benefits and equally good conditions.
No matter what the resistance is, change must occur continually in order to adjust society (or business in this case) to the dynamic forces that are continuously at play. Society will stagnate if no change takes place. Since change must occur as a result of the dynamic nature of the human environment, the reasons for resisting change must be studied carefully and addressed. For instance, what the employees of a company resist is not the technical changes, which they are generally willing to adopt, but what they resist are the social changes being changes in human relationships that most often accompany technical changes.
What are the sources of resistance to change?
Employees are especially prone to resist change when it comes without prior analysis, planning or direction. This is because change for change's sake can be counterproductive, even destructive. Embarking on any change effort without identifying and understanding the variables involved, whether internal or external, may have a negative impact on its outcomes. The following are a number of reasons that account for resistance to change.
1. Insecurity. Change scares people. Individuals are afraid of losing the security they have concerning the known for an unknown future. The fear of the unknown always has an impact on the decisions of individuals. New technology, new procedures and new systems can all create uncertainty and hence resistance to change. Not knowing exactly what change would bring about makes people anxious and apprehensive about it. For instance, many workers have lost their jobs when a plant became automated or an office became computerised.
2. Misunderstanding and lack of trust. Workers also resist change when they incorrectly perceive that it might cost them considerably more than they will gain. Such situations often occur when people are unable to understand the full implications of a change or when there is a lack of trust in the change initiator-employee relationship. Few organisations can be characterised as having a high level of trust between employees and managers. Consequently, it is easy for misunderstanding to develop when change is introduced and unless such misunderstandings are aired and clarified quickly, they can lead to resistance to any proposed change.
3. Lack of proper communication. If the need for the change is not communicated to those who will be affected in time and in an acceptable manner, it can lead to stiff resistance.
4. Rapidity and extent of change. The nature of the change, either minor or drastic, will determine the resistance level of employees. For instance, if change is drastic, such as reshuffling of staff, the resistance can be strong and visible. Similarly, slow or gradual changes in the process result in lower resistance than sudden or rapid changes.
5. Group resistance. This resistance stems from herd instinct or group solidarity. Employees resist change in this sense when the group they belong to is not in support of the change programme.
6. Emotional turmoil. This arises when employees are emotionally not prepared for the change about to take place. This results in a misunderstanding and lack of trust so that even when the change is well-intended, its significance is misinterpreted, leading to resistance. For example, rumours of mass layoffs due to a technological change can lead to a great deal of resistance against it.
7. Loss of power and control. When change is to reduce the powerbase of certain individuals, groups or organisational unit, it can lead to resistance even if such change may be considered good for the organisation as a whole.
8. Selective perception. When the perception employees or a group has about the change process is negative, it will lead to resistance. For instance, trade unionists have a stereotypical view of management as untrustworthy and therefore oppose change coming from management, however well-founded the intention might be behind it.
9. Habit. People tend to respond to situations in an established and accustomed manner. Habits may thus serve as a source of comfort and security, and as guide for easy decision making. Proposed changes to habits especially if the habits are well established and require little effort may well be resisted.
10. Inconvenience or Loss of Freedom. If change is seen as likely to prove inconvenient, make life difficult, reduce freedom of action, result in increased control, there will be resistance.
11. Economic implications. Workers are likely to resist change perceived as reducing, either directly or indirectly, their pay or other rewards; requiring an increase in workload for the same level of pay or appear as a threat to their job security. They will also tend to have established patterns of working and harbour a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
12. Security in the past. Some people may be comfortable with the status quo and may feel threatened when a proposed change programme seems to alter it. In times of frustration or difficulty, or when faced with new or unfamiliar ideas or methods, people may reflect on the past wishing to retain old and comfortable ways. For example, in bureaucratic organisations, officials often tend to place faith in well-established "tried and trusted" procedures and cling to these because they give them a feeling of security.
13. Fear of the unknown. Change confronts people with the unknown and causes them to have anxiety or fear. Many major changes in a work organisation present a degree of uncertainty, for example, the introduction of a new technology or methods of working. A person may even resist promotion because of uncertainty over changes in responsibilities or the increased social demands of the higher position.
14. Investment in resources. Since change often requires large resources, which may not be available, resistance may greet efforts made to raise resources to implement a change situation.
15. Past contracts and agreements. Organisations enter into contracts or agreements with other parties, such as the government, other organisations, trade unions, suppliers and customers. These contracts and agreements can limit the possibilities for change. For example, agreements entered into by an employer association with a trade union may frustrate any attempt for future change.
Resistance to change can generally lead to disobedience to instructions by superiors, strikes, slow down, lockout or aggressive unionism. These signs of resistance require that management should play an aggressive role in convincing all employees that the change would be beneficial to all parties concerned.