Managing Employees Resistance to Change in Organizations

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The current epoch of globalization and technology has led to stiff competition in different organizations. In bid to effectively cope with competition and make use of benefits accompanying globalization, organizations are currently in the process of transforming and restructuring their strategies so as to meet all their requirements. Managers from different organizations are looking for more flexible and decentralized structures for their organizations to improve their efficiency (Elias 2007). Despite there being no specific modality for introducing changes within organizations, managers are coming up with more devolved structures that can help their organizations effectively utilize financial resources. With time, it is expected that most of the organizations will take structures that comprise of a head office and independent divisions that will be responsible of executing different processes found within the overall organization. With these changes gradually surfacing in organizations, they have not been enthusiastically received by employees. Some employees have adamantly resisted embracing the changes. There are different reasons that have made these employees resist any attempt to incorporate changes in their organizations. This paper aims at looking at the literature that have been put forward in an attempt to explain why employees resist changes in their organizations as well as ways of coping with this resistance.

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Resistance conceptualization

The past pragmatic research gives three methods of conceptualizing resistance within organizations. These methods include, viewing resistance from emotional perspective, as a behavior and resistance as a cognitive aspect. In spite of these approaches being related in a way, they have significant differences. The best way of understanding any form of resistance is by identifying how employees react to the intended transformation. Understanding resistance from behavioral perspectives emphasize on looking at some of the unconventional conducts portrayed by employees in events of organizational change. For this method, scholars posit that any form of resistance within an organization is accompanied by detrimental behaviors or confrontation.

There are scholars who have described resistance in terms of emotions. For instance, they give aggression as one of the emotional component of resistance. A study conducted on managers during restructuring of organizations and financial hardships shows that most of the responses exhibited by managers were very emotional (Vakola, Tsaousis & Nikolaou 2003). As some of transformations lead to changes in operational methods and downsizing of staffs, those left in the organization end up being frustrated and anxious as they do not know about their fate in the organization. This is expressed through emotions such as and anger when responding to their duties.

The tendency of people associating any change with negative repercussions is inherent in all employees. It is this assumption that has led to Piderit giving cognitive approach as one of the remedies in overcoming resistance in organizations. Despite resistance being defined in terms of behaviors, scholars accept that there is another state that comes before the behaviors are exhibited. This is known as the cognitive state. Before people resist any transformation, they begin by not being ready to embrace the change. This is an idea that is created within their minds.

Reasons for resistance to changes

Different scholars have come up with varied theories in their bid to explain some of the factors that contribute to resistance to changes within an organization. According to Kiefer (2005, p. 877), changes within organizations are found to trigger negative feelings among the employees. Despite some scholars arguing that changes spurs positive feelings among the staffs with respect to hope for better working environment and remuneration, it has been found that in most cases the move trigger negative emotions among the employees. Kiefer identifies some of the root causes of resistance to change within organizations. According to him, changes with an organization greatly affect the structure and order in which activities were being carried out. Consequently, skills possessed by most employees turn out to be of insignificant use to the organization. In other instances, staffs get overloaded with responsibilities while some processes are completely changed. Unlike in the past where organizations would initiate and terminate changes after a specific duration, today, organizations continuously implement changes with increase in opportunities and competition.

One of the reasons why employees resist implementation of changes in their organizations is due to fear that their working conditions will be adversely affected. With most organizations focusing on changing their processes to increase their efficiency, workflow within the organization is interrupted. This leads to employees doubting their competency in executing their duties. Some changes lead to layoff of staffs. Consequently, the remaining workforce tends to be overloaded with responsibilities. In his research, Kiefer realized that most of the managers working in organizations undergoing transformation tend to be under pressure due to increase in the workload and in most cases doubt their competency in executing their new responsibilities (Fosha 2005). Accordingly, most employees resist implementation of changes in their organizations as they fear being emotionally affected because of changes in working conditions.

Apart from changes in working conditions, employees are skeptical of their future within an organization due to changes that accompany transformtion. Some changes lead to restructuring of organizational management while some departments are left redundant or transformed completely. For instance, if an organization engages in mergers or acquisitions, the management of the acquired organization is completely changed causing some of the staffs change their responsibilities (Kiefer 2005, p. 880). Henceforth, staffs fear about their job security and relationship with the organization. Uncertainty about the effects of changes to employees leads to their resistance. In spite of the changes being implemented, employees receive them apathetic ally.

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In most cases, employees perceive to be ill-treated during change implementation. Cases of employee layoffs and downsizing are not well received by employees. After the management has related well with employees for a long time, changes leading to employee layoff makes them perceive to have been betrayed. Most of the changes in organizations are implemented by different managers at departmental levels. Therefore, employees in these departments are capable of assessing principles and values exhibited by their managers. On identifying that the management does not come to their help in time of fundamental changes, employees cease to trust their managers. This leads to some employees developing withdrawal and resentment feelings. They feel to be betrayed by their managers after working with them for a long time.

Mossholder, Settoon, Armenakis and Harris posit that organizational transformation triggers some positive and negatives emotions among the employees. They claim that in the entire organization, no incident is likely to arouse employee’s emotions than organizational wide change. Regardless of the nature of transformation, the move affects both those responsible of implementing the change and those being affected by the transformation. Increase in competition coupled with globalization has complicated the issue of organizational transformation as well as making it argent. In return, most of the transformations made within organizations have ended up not being effective in realizing organizational goals. This is because most of them have adversely affected employees thus being opposed.

Bovey and Hede (2001), claim that resistance to organizational transformation arises due to two reasons. One of the reasons is the magnitude of control managers and employees have to changes being effected. Basically, no one receives changes intended to alter his operations enthusiastically. Once a person is acquainted with the order of operations in his or her department, it becomes hard for such a person to accept changes that will alter the order of operations. Every person within an organization feels satisfied with his or her way of doing things. Employees wish to be assured that they will be able to make alterations in changes being implemented so as to suit their needs. On realizing that they will be able to control the changes, employees enthusiastically embrace them. However, if they realize that they will not have control over the changes, they tend to oppose their implementation. The second factor that contributes to resistance is impacts of the change to individuals within the organization. Changes that lead to some staffs changing their positions, being overloaded or changing the management structure of an organization are mostly resisted.

Piderit (2000) asserts that when looking at some of the causes of resistance in organizations, most of the scholars overlook some of the positive motives that may propel employees to resisting the changes. In most of the researches, scholars collect information from managers on issues leading to employee resistance. Generally, this information is biased as managers perceive the resistance negatively. Employees found to resist changes are considered to be defiant and not accepted in organizations. Despite some managers considering staffs opposed to changes as not thinking about the future of the organization, sentiments issued by these employees make their managers see them as obstacles to progress. This may lead to managers overlooking some of the positive motives leading employee resistance. It is with this respect that Piderit warns that managers should always pay attention to some of the reasons sited by employees as leading to their opposition to changes. The culture of undermining employees’ resistance to changes is a good demonstration of the basic attribution error.

There are scholars who have sited some of the instances where employees have objected to changes with positive motives. For instance, there are employees that have objected to organizational transformation on realizing that it may lead to them acting unethically. During employment, staffs are briefed on the established ethical guidelines that they are expected to observe when in the organization. These principles help in strengthening the relationship between employees and the organization. On identifying that changes being implemented in an organization may compromise the set principles, employees may resist the changes (Vakola & Nikolaou 2005). Not all resentments issued by employees are based on self-centered matters. For instance, there are times when employees may view the implemented changes as hampering improvement of organizational performance. At such instances, they may raise their voices in bid to draw attention from the management for some of the strategies they believe may help in improving organizational performance.

So, rather than attributing all change resistance to disrespect, shareholders ought to closely investigate the matter to identify the root cause of resentment. There are some resistances that are spurred by the desire by employees to maintain their ethical principles or improve organizational efficiency.

Emotional arousal during organizational transformation

At the time of transformation, the magnitude of reactions exhibited by management team tends to stir up emotions among the employees. Most of the staffs that fall victims of layoffs and downsizing tend to be angered by the move with many of them claiming that the process was not fairly conducted. Mossholder et al posit that employees do not necessarily have to be detached from the organization for their emotions to be stirred up. For those employees who escape being laid off, their future with the organization leads to them being skeptical. Sense of uncertainty emerges. In most cases, the strength of employee reactions to organizational transformation has been disregarded. This is perplexing as scholars have discovered that the intensity of reaction is a significant component of emotion. One of the factors that may have led to this component being ignored is the fact that organizations do not entertain employees exhibiting resentment or anger during change implementation (Kiefer 2002). Nearly all the documented literatures focus on elements of emotions that are visible. In any case, arousal integrates with amiability to support in determining the emotion experienced. For instance, regardless of whether a person feels calm or delighted, it can only be ascertained by focusing on their awakening level. In addition, different behaviors exhibited by employees as well as their level of reactions are as a result of variation in intensity. Hence, considering the intensity of arousal may help in predicting the magnitude of effects which may result from employee emotions in course of organizational transformation.

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Despite being clear that most of the emotions portrayed by employees during organizational transformation can be classified as either positive or negative, it is difficult for one to effectively determine the relationship between transformation and emotional arousal. It is with this respect that intellectuals have come up with frameworks to help in determining this. It is argued that the intensity of arousal increase with increase in events that demand for active coping or concentration (Lines 2005). Rationally, with respect to organizational transformation, when employees realize that they will be expected to change their mode of operations or drop some of the vital resources, their level of emotional arousal goes up.

Coping with resistance and emotions in organizations

Having understood some of the factors that contribute to employee resistance to changes in organizations, different intellectuals have come up with varied methods of dealing with the resistance. Broussine and Vince (1996) argue that excessively logical attempts to either resolve or classify change tend to hold back the paradoxical stress that could clearly define the change process. Remaining with the paradox helps in establishing a relationship between contrasting forces and gives an opportunity for development of a framework that explains the reasons for contradictions. Organizational transformation does not only take place after leaders have identified problems that need to be addressed. It may also be implemented through highlighting trends of relatedness and also by containing the contradictory feelings and factors that challenge the manner in which employees relate with one another. Consequently, any attempt to address resistance within an organization should put into consideration some of the defensive strategies that are inherent to employees. These are the strategies that most employees and managers turn to in event of anxiety aroused by changes. There are five defensive strategies exhibited during organizational transformation (Callan 1993). These are denial, regression, repression, projection and reaction formation. It is imperative that organizations learn to deal with contradictory tension that emerges during organizational transformation rather than trying to shirk them away. The tension need to be addressed from individual level up to the organizational level.

The issue of dealing with emotions and resistance during organizational transformation is not supposed to be left to management team alone. Every person within the organization has a role to play in dealing with the problem. It has been identified that most of the problems experienced during organizational transformation come from dysfunctional thinking. These thoughts come due to beliefs and assumptions entrenched within employees’ minds. When a potentially disturbing situation arises within an organization, the thoughts are stirred up leading to resistance. It is the duty of individuals within an organization to face these dysfunctional thoughts and substitute them with more logical beliefs (Garrety, Badham, Morrigan, Rifkin & Zanko 2003). For instance, introduction of technology in a specific department may lead to employees within the department believing that their job security has been compromised. Rather than thinking of quitting the job, this is the time when employees are supposed to review their strengths and believe that they will be capable of working with the introduced technology.

Self-dialogue is a tool that has been seen to strongly affect emotions of employees (Neck 1996). This then affect their acts and cognitions. To effectively deal with one’s perceptions towards organizational transformation, it is imperative to start by addressing one’s emotional state. This can be achieved only when the affected person accept to change his or her internal dialogue. Employees who realize effects of their discouraging self-dialogue and take an initiative to change them end up changing their negative attitudes towards organizational transformation.

Most of the responses reflected by employees come as a result of uncertainty. The majority of employees do not know the role they will assume after the changes while it becomes hard for managers to effectively assess the performance of their subordinates. Folger and Skarlicki (1999), state that most of the organizational members view organizational transformation as a conspiracy between their seniors. They see responsibilities of other staffs within the organization as being more flexible and attached than they essentially are. This makes them feel to have been shortchanged by their managers through the transformation. It is normal for people to make personalistic judgments within an organization. This is especially with respect to those people that assume higher positions within their organization. It is these personalized judgment that triggers resentment among the employees in their desire to revenge. Accordingly, informing employees about changes that are intended to be made, their effects and importance to them and the organization can go a long way in curbing employee resistance. This can help in changing negative perceptions in employees and offer other cognitive perspectives. Organizational management is not only obliged to fairly treat their subordinates with respect to good pay. Rather, they have the duty to ensure that they satisfactorily explain to them the reasons behind their actions in the organization. This helps in establishing a culture of respect and trust between employees and the managers.


The most effective method of coping with resistance and emotions aroused by organizational transformation are inherent in conceptualizing the resistance. Organizational managers have to first understand the nature of resistance; whether emotional, behavioral or cognitive so as to come up with strategies for addressing it.

Some of the reasons that have been sited to cause resistance to organizational change are fear by employees about their future in the organization. With some changes leading too employee layoffs, those left in the organization get overloaded with responsibilities. This makes them feel to be overworked resulting to resistance. They also become anxious as they do not know their fate. The issue of employee downsizing and layoffs during transformation leads to organizational members feeling to be unfairly treated. These employees turn to resentment and aggression as their final avenue of expressing their discontent with the implemented changes.

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The manner in which changes are effected within organizations may stir up emotions in affected employees. These emotions may be positive or negative based on the repercussions of changes being effected. This calls for people implementing changes to be conscious of employee emotions. This is to avoid cases of employees objecting to changes being made. There is need for managers to clearly explain the need for changes and their effects to employees. This is to clear the air and do away with conspiracy perceptions that most employees may be thinking of. Employees also have a role to play to facilitate in realization of organizational transformation. Rather than perceiving the transformation as threatening their job security, they need to look for opportunities accompanying the transformation and make good use of them.

Reference List

Bovey, W. H. & Hede, A., 2001. Resistance to organizational change: the role of cognitive and affective processes. Leadership & Organizational Development Journal, 22(8), pp. 372-382.

Callan, V. J., 1993. Individual and organizational strategies for coping with organizational change. Work & Stress, 7(1), pp. 63-75.

Elias, S. M., 2007. Employee commitment in times of change: assessing the importance of attitudes toward organizational change? Journal of management, 35(1), pp. 37-55.

Folger, R. & Skarlicki, D. P., 1999. Unfairness and resistance to change: hardship as mistreatment. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12(1), pp. 35-50.

Fosha, D., 2005. Emotion, true self, true other, core state: toward a clinical theory of affective change process. Psychoanalytic Review, 92(4), pp. 513-553.

Garrety, K., Badham, R., Morrigan, V., Rifkin, W. & Zanko, M., 2003. The use of personality typing in organizational change: discourse, emotions and the reflexive subject. Human Relations, 56(2), pp. 211-235.

Kiefer, T., 2002. Understanding the emotional experience of organizational change: evidence from a merger. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 4(1), pp. 39-61.

Kiefer, T., 2005. Feeling bad: antecedents and consequences of negative emotions in ongoing change. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26, pp. 875-897.

Lines, R., 2005. The structure and function of attitudes toward organizational change. Human Resource Development Review, 14(1), pp. 8-32.

Mossholder, K. W., Settoon, R. P., Armenakis, A. A. & Harris, S. G., 2000. Emotion during organizational transformation: an interactive model of survivor reactions. Group & Organization management, 25(3), pp. 220-243.

Neck, C. P., 1996. Thought self-leadership: a self-regulatory approach towards overcoming resistance to organizational change. The International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 4(2), pp. 202-216.

Piderit, S. K., 2000. Rethinking resistance and recognizing ambivalence: a multidimensional view of attitudes toward an organizational change. Academy of Management Review, 25(4), pp. 783-794.

Vakola, M. & Nikolaou, I., 2005. Attitudes towards organizational change: what is the role of employees’ stress and commitment? Employee Relations, 27(2), pp. 160-174.

Vakola, M., Tsaousis, I. & Nikolaou, I., 2003. The role of emotional intelligence and personality variables on attitudes toward organizational change. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 19(2), pp. 88-110.

Vince, R. & Broussine, M., 1996. Paradox, defense and attachment: accessing and working with emotions and relations underlying organizational change. Organization Studies, 17(1), pp. 1-21.

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