Resistance to Change Types, Causes, & How to Minimize

Resistance to Change: Types, Causes, & How to Minimize

Resistance to change is a natural human reaction to anything new. It can be seen at an individual level (resistance to personal change) or at an organizational level (resistance to change in work). As a manager, you need to understand resistance to change and know how to minimize it to achieve the organization’s objectives. In this article, we will discuss what resistance to change is, the different types of resistance, the causes of resistance, and how you can identify and minimize resistance among employees.

What Is Resistance to Change?

Change is common in life. However, we are often resistant to change because it is unfamiliar and makes us feel uncomfortable.

Organizational change resistance is not a new phenomenon. It occurs whenever people are asked to do something differently from what they are accustomed to doing. Whether it’s a new company initiative or a change in management, employees will always react to change resistance naturally.

Resistance to change is an emotional response to anything new. It can manifest itself as resistance to personal change or resistance to organizational change.

The term resistance to change can be defined as “the action taken by individuals when they perceive that environmental demands threaten existing values, beliefs, and behaviors” (Wrench & Holman, 1995).

For example, the sales team may resist the new target of achieving a higher growth rate in revenue.

However, change is also necessary for growth. Therefore, it is essential to learn how to manage resistance to change.

Types of Resistance to Change

There are many sources of resistance to change. We will discuss the most common ten types of resistance to change.

1. Overt Resistance

Overt resistance is when employees openly express their opposition to change. This type of resistance is easy to spot because it is visible. Employees may communicate overt resistance through verbal or nonverbal cues, such as body language or facial expressions. They may also engage in sabotage or withdraw from the workplace altogether.

For example, employees may resist a new company policy by openly voicing their opinions against it. Or, they may show resistance to a change in management by refusing to work with the new manager.

2. Covert Resistance

Covert resistance is when employees express their opposition to change indirectly. They do not openly express their resistance to change. This type of resistance is more difficult to spot because it is not visible. Employees may engage in covert resistance by passively refusing to comply with the new change, such as deliberately working slowly or making errors. They may also spread rumors or gossip about the change.

For example, employees may resist a new company policy by deliberately working slowly or making errors. They may also spread rumors or gossip about the change.

3. Organizational resistance

Organizational resistance is when the organization itself resists change. This type of resistance is usually due to a lack of understanding of the need for change or the benefits of change. Organizations may also resist change because they fear it will disrupt their current operations.

For example, an organization may resist a new company initiative because they do not understand its need. Or, they may fight a change in management because they fear it will disrupt their current operations.

4. Individual resistance

Individual resistance is when an individual resists change. This is a more person-oriented change. If the person cannot understand the need for change, it is natural to expect resistance. However, this type of resistance is often not visible to the decision-makers.

For example, an individual may resist the change of his/her desk to a new floor from the space the person used to work for the last two years.

5. Group resistance

Group resistance is when a group of people resist change. This is because the change affects the common sentiment of that group.

For example, management has decided to offer a voluntary retirement scheme to a group of employees who have worked at the same level for more than five years. This might result in group resistance.

The group of people will not remain silent or subtle in most change cases. Therefore, managers need to manage it with proper plans and initiatives.

6. Active resistance 

Active resistance is more severe and challenging. It can take the form of sabotage, violence, or withdrawal.

For example, in an organization where most employees are against a new change, they might start to spread rumors about the consequences of that change. This will create an environment of fear and anxiety among other employees.

7. Passive resistance 

Passive resistance is more subtle and less noticeable. It includes behaviors such as lateness, absenteeism, increased errors, and decreased productivity.

For example, employees might start coming late to work or take more leaves than usual when they know a change will happen. This will harm the work culture and productivity of an organization.

8. Aggressive resistance 

Aggressive resistance is the most dangerous form of resistance. It includes behaviors such as violence, sabotage, and threats.

For example, employees might threaten to leave the organization or damage company property if a change is implemented. This resistance can lead to severe consequences for an organization.

9. Adaptive resistance 

Adaptive resistance is a more subtle form of resistance to change. It occurs when employees make small changes to their behavior in response to a proposed change but do not fully embrace the new change. Adaptive resistance is often seen as a way for employees to “hedge their bets” – they are not fully committed to the recent change but are willing to make some changes to avoid resistance.

10. Companies with change-resistant cultures

Companies with change-resistant cultures are those where resistance to change is deeply ingrained in the organization’s values and beliefs. These companies often have a “change is bad” mentality, and resistance to change may be optimistic. Change-resistant cultures can be challenging to change, and it may take years – or even decades – to make any progress.

What Causes Resistance to Change?

Many factors can cause resistance to change. However, the following are some of the most common causes of resistance to change:

1. Fear of the unknown

Employees may resist change because they are afraid of the unknown. They may be fearful of how the change will affect them personally or professionally. For example, they may be frightened of losing their job or not being able to adapt to the new change.

2. Lack of trust

Employees may resist change if they lack trust in those implementing the change. For example, if employees feel that management is not transparent about the change, they may resist.

3. Loss of control

Employees may be resistant to change because they feel they are losing control. For example, if a new company policy is being implemented that takes away some of their autonomy, they may resist the change.

4. Inertia

Inertia is the resistance of an object to change its state of motion. Inertia can also refer to the resistance of people or organizations to change. People may resist change because they are comfortable with the status quo. They may be used to the way things are and resistant to change because it is unfamiliar.

For example, employees may resist a change in company policy because they are used to the way things are. Or, they may withstand a change in management because they are comfortable with the current manager.

Sources of Resistance to Change

There can be various sources of resistance to change. Some of the expected points are mentioned below:

  1. Top management is not focused on vision and mission
  2. Employees are not informed about the change in vision or mission
  3. Employees are not aligned with the reason for the change
  4. The resisting people do not understand the benefits of the change
  5. There are some changes in top management
  6. There is a sudden firing in the organization
  7. A change in the organization has benefitted some specific people
  8. The policy is not clear enough to understand
  9. There is a change in the system, which is not compatible with the company’s culture
  10. The change indicates disruption
  11. The new policy will change the status of some people

There can be many other sources of Resistance to Change. If you would like to share your experience, please write in the comment section.

Identifying Resistance

The first step of change management is identifying the resistance. Moreover, the manager needs to focus on the communication of the change.

Once the communication is made, the management should proactively look for all types of resistance to that change.

There are several ways to identify resistance to change. The most common is overt actions such as employees openly refusing to comply with the change, verbalizing their concerns or objections, or actively trying to sabotage the transition.

However, there can also be less visible forms of resistance, such as employees withdrawing their support for the change without making a scene, not following through on their commitments, or passive-aggressively undermining the change.

Managers need to be aware of both types of resistance to address it effectively.

Minimizing Employees’ Resistance to Change

As a manager, you need to understand the reasons behind resistance to change and take measures to minimize it. Here are some tips:

  1. Encourage employees to participate in the decision-making process. When people feel they have a say in what’s happening, they’re more likely to go along.
  2. Explain the rationale behind the change. Help employees see how the change will benefit them and the organization as a whole.
  3. Ease the transition by phasing in the change. Rather than implementing a new policy or process all at once, roll it out gradually.
  4. Be open to feedback and willing to adjust the plan if necessary. No change is perfect, so be prepared to make tweaks along the way.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep employees in the loop on what’s happening and why.
  6. Lead by example. If you’re not on board with the change, getting others to be will be hard.
  7. Focus on the benefits of the change for employees. What’s in it for them? How will their work-life be improved?

Adaptive Change

In some cases, resistance to change is a sign that the organization needs to adapt. If you constantly have to put out fires and there’s never any time to plan or implement new ideas, it may be time to reevaluate the way things are done.

Adaptive change is a good approach when it comes to change management. First, the manager needs to make small changes at a time. Then, with the implementation of incremental changes, people get accustomed to the new pieces of the change.

Gradually the incremental changes from the whole new organization.

For example, digital transformation is not easy for any organization. You cannot just give devices and software to make that happen. But you can train the people with the new way of work and show them how that small changes make significant improvements in their worklife.

Once the employees accept to adapt to the small changes, your task is to guide them with care as a manager.


What is an Organizational Change?

Organizational change is the alteration of an organization’s structure, processes, policies, or objectives. It can be a planned or unplanned event triggered by several factors, including new technology, changes in the marketplace, or the need to increase efficiency.
Change is the only constant thing in life and in business. Yet resistance to change is common. A manager must facilitate change within any organization and ensure proper change management.
Change can be difficult to manage in the business world and often requires a great deal of effort. There are best practices that can help make the change management process smoother and less disruptive.

What is an example of change in an organization?

In a normal situation, the office hour of your organization was from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your organization has decided to change your employees’ working hours. Now you have decided that half of your employees will work from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM and the rest will work from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM.
Another example of change is when an organization decides to change its product. For example, your company has been manufacturing shoes for the last 20 years. But now you have decided to enter the clothing industry. In this case, your company will have to undergo many changes, such as learning about the new industry, changing the production process, and training employees on how to manufacture clothing.

What are the types of Organizational Change?

There are three types of organizational change: planned, unplanned and emergent.
Planned change is when an organization deliberately tries to change something in order to achieve a specific goal. This might be a new strategy, a new process, or a new product. Planned change is often implemented through a formal change management process.
Unplanned change is when something happens that the organization didn’t plan for. This might be a sudden drop in sales, a natural disaster, or the departure of a key employee. Unplanned change can often be difficult to manage.
Emergent change is when an organization changes in response to its environment. This might be a new trend in the market, a change in customer behavior, or a new regulation. Emergent change can be difficult to predict and manage.

What is Change Management?

Change management is a process, and a set of tools used to manage changes to organizations, processes, and information systems. It includes steps to assess the need for change, plan and implement changes, track and monitor changes, and evaluate the effects of changes.

There are many different approaches to change management. The most important thing is to select the best approach to your organization and goals. Here are three of the most popular approaches to change management:
1. The Lewin Change Management Model
2. The Prosci ADKAR Model
3. The Kotter Eight-Step Change Model

What is the Lewin Change Management model?

The Lewin Change Management Model was developed by Kurt Lewin in the 1950s. It is a three-stage model that includes unfreezing, changing, and Refreezing.
Unfreezing: The first stage is designed to break down resistance to change. This may involve communicating the need for change, removing obstacles, and providing support.
Changing: The second stage is when the actual changes are made. This may involve training, new processes, or new policies.
Refreezing: The third stage is when the changes are consolidated and made permanent. This may involve monitoring and evaluation, reinforcement, and rewards.
Change management is one of the important tasks of any manager. It requires preparing, supporting, and helping individuals, teams, and organizations make organizational change. Managers can play either a proactive or reactive role in managing change.

How to respond to nitpicking coworkers?

Dealing with resistance is like convincing someone that you have their best interests at heart. You have to come across as trustworthy and credible. That said, there are things you can do in conversation to reduce resistance:
– Listen carefully to your employee’s concerns and take notes on what they are saying.
– Be patient and gentle in your responses.
– Acknowledge their feelings and show that you understand where they are coming from.
– Explain the logic behind the change and how it will benefit them in the long run.
– Offer support and resources to help them through the transition.

What Indicates That Organizational Change Might Be Needed?

There are many indicators that organizational change might be needed. The following are some of the most common indicators:
– Employees are resistant to change
– Inertia is present within the organization
– Employees are interested in more control
– The managers are not exploring opportunities to improve
– Managers are not taking calculated risks
– Competitors are making more progress than ours
– The industry is changing faster than the change of the company
– Buyers’ purchasing behavior is changing
– Suppliers are gaining more bargaining power
– The existing vision is not achievable
– The current business strategy is not achieving more than average growth in financials

It may be time for an organizational change if you see any of these indicators.

What are the individual source of resistance to change?

People may resist change because they’re confused or overwhelmed by the changes; they feel like the changes might make their job more challenging to perform effectively or that it will be more challenging to learn new skills.

People may also refuse a change out of resistance to an aspect of the change, such as resistance to training – fearing that it won’t result in practical skills or that the time required for training will interfere with work.

What is the most common type of resistance to change?

Overt resistance is the most visible form of resistance to change. It occurs when employees openly oppose or refuse to go along with a proposed change. Overt resistance can take many different forms, from passive resistance (such as foot-dragging and procrastination) to active resistance (sabotage or violence).

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Organizations need to identify resistance and minimize resistance to change. Types of resistance can range from passive resistance (such as foot-dragging or procrastination) to active resistance (such as sabotage or violence).

There are many causes of resistance to change, but the most common cause is fear. Employees may be afraid of the unknown or feel like the changes will make their job more complicated to perform effectively.

Organizations should provide employees with support and resources to minimize resistance to change and explain the change’s logic. Resistance to change is a natural reaction that occurs when people are asked to do something differently. While resistance to change can be frustrating, it is essential to remember that it is not always bad. In fact, resistance to change can be a sign that an organization is healthy and functioning properly.