Resistance to Change in Organizations and Its Causes

Resistance to Change in Organizations

The contemporary business environment is constantly changing as organizations adapt to the ever-evolving market dynamics. Globalization and the technological revolution of the 21st century have increased business competition significantly thus companies have to keep on changing their strategies, structures, operational methods, culture, and technologies among other factors. This continuous process of organizational change gives businesses a competitive advantage to remain ahead in the marketplace. However, change does not come easy, and it faces various resistance forces from different areas in an organization. People are naturally wired to resist change because it comes with uncertainty and discomfort. Therefore, employees are the major sources of resistance to change in companies. This paper discusses the different factors that contribute to resistance to change programs in organizations. It also identifies strategies that could be used to motivate and encourage support for change in businesses.

Causes of Resistance to Organizational Change

Change might imply organizational restructuring leading to loss of job security or status, and, thus, employees fear such outcomes. People become comfortable with their positions and statuses at work, and they will resist any changes that could threaten them. In other words, managers, peers, and employees, in general, will most likely resist any technological or administrative changes that could eliminate or minimize their roles (Bailey & Raelin, 2015). Therefore, from this perspective, change is seen as harmful, hence the need for resistance. The unwillingness to accept change and support its implementation in an organization is mainly based on this fear of losing the existing statuses and positions.

The lack of clear communication about the process is another major cause of resistance to change in companies. Clear top-down communication channels and strategies are important for the smooth running of an organization. Similarly, good communication is needed to explain to all stakeholders the need for change, the expected outcomes, and how the process will positively impact the organization and all other involved parties (Lewis, 2019). However, most organizations lack efficient communication strategies, and thus when change proposals are made without informing employees sufficiently, they are likely to resist. If stakeholders are unsure of how they would be affected or what they should do during a change process, they will not support it.

As mentioned earlier, organizational change might mean the reorganization of positions and titles, hence the shifting of job roles and responsibilities. Therefore, when employees are not sure about their new job roles and how to fit into the proposed new system, they resist the process (Bailey & Raelin, 2015). For instance, if a given company’s change entails shifting focus from marketing to sales, some employees, especially those in the marketing department would need retraining to understand sales and be competent in their new roles. As such, if the proposed change does not specify and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the affected employees, resistance is likely to occur.

Additionally, some companies have poorly aligned reward systems to support the change process. Normally, people get into employment for financial gains and other related. Consequently, when they cannot identify any form of rewards that should be gained from implementing organizational change, they will be reluctant to support the process. In the absence of rewards, the involved stakeholders will not be motivated to implement the change and ensure its success in the long-term. Therefore, the existing reward systems should be aligned with the change process even if the payoff is not related to monetary gains – intrinsic motivation could be used in this case.

Peer pressure is another major cause of resistance to change in the workplace. Human beings are social creatures regardless of their personalities, thus employees might resist change in the quest to protect specific group interests. For instance, some workers, who are not affected by the change could resist the process as a way of protecting their colleagues. Similarly, team leaders might be reluctant to support a change process to cover their workgroups and members. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the desire to belong to a group is a strong motivation (Osabiya, 2015). Therefore employees would rather remain in certain groups than support a change process threatening to break such associations.

The fear of the unknown also contributes significantly to resistance to organizational change. Humans tend to gravitate towards the known and established phenomena because they are certain of what to expect (Faraji-Rad, Samuelsen, & Warlop, 2015). However, change introduces the aspect of uncertainty, and this state of being in unknown scenarios causes fear among the involved individuals. Employees cannot know with certainty the exact outcomes of a change process, thus they will likely resist it based on this fear of the unknown. This problem is compounded, especially in cases where communication from the management is poor.

A change process could face resistance in the workplace due to organizational politics. According to Landells and Albrecht (2017), politics in the workplace plays a significant role in the decision-making process. Some employees might resist change as a show of force and their influence or to prove that the person behind the process is incompetent. On the other hand, managers could resist change because it might lead to the loss of their power. Regardless of the motivation, organizational politics could potentially derail any efforts to initiate and implement change in a company.

Lack of trust in the underlying organizational culture is another potential cause of resistance to change. Successful organizations function in a climate of trust whereby employees believe in the management’s capability and goodwill to offer good leadership (Vanhala & Ritala, 2016). Therefore, if mistrust characterizes the relationship between employees and the management, resistance to a change process will likely occur. Employees who cannot trust their leaders will be reluctant to support even well-intentioned initiatives.

Poor implementation strategy and wrong timing are important factors that contribute significantly to change resistance in organizations. Every change initiative should be run appropriately using the right project management strategies to improve the chances of success (Cândido & Santos, 2015). Therefore, extensive planning is required including the best timing to communicate the same to the involved stakeholders. Sometimes resistance to change occurs not from the specifics of the process itself, but from the way the involved parties are engaged. Lack of a thoughtful implementation strategy of change will derail efforts to implement the process.

Economic factors could also cause resistance to change in a company from a multidimensional perspective. First, employees could resist change because its implementation may affect the organization’s financial status, thus affecting remuneration packages. Second, managers could be reluctant to initiate a change process for the fear that it might affect a company’s bottom line (Ján & Veronika, 2017). From an organizational perspective, CEOs are often judged based on a company’s success in terms of profitability. Therefore, any change initiative, be it administrative, technological, or operation, which is likely to affect profitability negatively, will be resisted. The problem with this mindset is that most change processes take time to be implemented and yield positive results, hence the reason why most companies go for long periods without initiating any meaningful change.

Strategies to Increase Motivation to Change

The first strategy to increase motivation to change is by involving the affected stakeholders in the decision-making process. When employees are engaged and consulted in decision-making, they develop a sense of ownership and assume responsibility for what they are doing (Eldor & Harpaz, 2016). This way, the change initiative will not be viewed as an external decision being imposed on employees from the outside. However, managers should be keen to set boundaries and realize that they have to make the ultimate decision concerning how the process will be implemented. As noted earlier, humans are wired to resist change (Andreatta, 2017), and thus even with the proposal to involve employees in the process, managers should take leadership, drive the agenda, and oversee its successful implementation.

Second, the management should ensure effective communication to pass clear and the right information to employees concerning the change process. Given the uncertainty that surrounds change outcomes, the affected stakeholders are naturally inclined to resist the process. Maheshwari and Vohra (2015) argue that good communication during change should entail passing detailed information about how the process will be implemented, the role of all participants, the expected outcomes, and the ultimate impact of all stakeholders. Lack of clear information will leave employees undecided on whether to support or resist change proposals because they are not sure of what to expect in the future.

Another strategy to ensure successful change implementation is by understanding the specifics of the expected resistance. A change process has two aspects – technical and social, and the management should be in a position to delineate the two and come up with proper mechanisms of addressing the same. On the one hand, the technical elements of a change process involve the needed modifications to the physical job routines. On the other hand, the social aspect of change deals with how the affected stakeholders think the process would affect their positions, statuses, and relationships within an organization (Anderson, 2019). Therefore, the management should identify the specifics of the resistance to change to ensure that the right problems are being addressed. In other words, the management should diagnose the situation for the smooth implementation of the change process.


Organizations have to undertake continuous change initiatives to remain competitive in the globalized marketplace. With the ever-evolving technological space, companies that do not change will likely be forced out of business. However, initiating and implementing a successful change process is faced with many challenges. Employees are wired to resist change because it threatens their positions, relationships, and security in the workplace. The fear of job loss and reduced financial benefits among other related factors contribute significantly to organizational change resistance. Poor communication from the management and failure to involve employees in decision-making compound this problem. However, with the right strategies, the change process could be implemented successfully. All affected stakeholders should be consulted to contribute to the process. The management should also diagnose the situation to understand the nature of the anticipated resistance and address the underlying issues comprehensively.


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