Updated May 13, 2022
Why do people hate change? Because most people feel comfortable doing what they have always been doing. Psychologically speaking, it’s not just that people fear change, (although they absolutely do). They genuinely believe what they’ve been doing, and how they’ve been doing it, is the best possible way to do it. And the longer they’ve been doing it this way, the better, more efficient, more economical, etc., it is (or so they believe).
Change is a constant within every organization, regardless of its level of employee professional development. As such, change management and communication-related courses can be the ointment needed to keep the gears of an organization moving smoothly. New leadership, new processes, new requirements or regulations — employees can’t avoid the inevitability of change. But with wrenches thrown into the gears, workplace tensions and drama arise. Why do people get so worked up about change? What are their underlying fears? What are they really worried about?
Employees can quickly become major opponents of change. One leading cause is the mismanagement of change in the workplace. Simply say the word "change," and employees dig in their heels.
There are three main reasons people hate change — lack (or perceived lack) of reward, fear of the unknown, and loss of status or visibility in the organization. Below, we’ve expanded on these reasons and provided ways to counteract them.
Lack (or perceived lack) of reward
Change for change’s sake will never be received well. A common saying in business is, “Managers get what they reward.” This basically means that employees need to know what their reward will be for implementing said change. If employees do not see a clear path toward rewards, they will resist the change. Lack of reward means they have no real reason to be enthusiastic about or motivated to support the change.
Counteracting hesitance toward change:
Often, it’s not that there is a lack of reward, it’s just a perceived lack of reward. This means the reward system must either be altered to support the change or better outlined to employees so they understand the change.
By fully explaining the rewards they'll receive from the proposed change, including how it benefits the organization and how it benefits the individual, employees will be more likely to accept and support this change.
Fear of the unknown
Sometimes, it’s not so much the change, but the way in which it’s done that creates resistance. The uproar about change can occur because it is introduced without a clear explanation, in an insensitive manner, or at an awkward time. As a result, people are left to imagine the worst.
When it comes to change, communication is key. A lack of communication causes employees to feel like they don’t know what’s going on. The less they know, the more fearful they become. In the absence of open communication between the organization and employees, rumors will spread like wildfire, sabotaging any positive vibes surrounding the change. Just think of the game “Telephone” and how one message might turn into something completely different (and untrue). It’s best to squash all rumors so everyone in the organization is on the same page regarding the change.
How to counteract this:
Over-communicate, set expectations, and set deadlines to better help employees understand everything they need to know about this change. Additionally, explaining why this change in procedure or operations is needed and is a best practice. When employees better understand why this change is necessary for the company, it’s easier for them to get on board with it, and perhaps even become an advocate for change.
Communication both early and often will mitigate any surprises that might arise as a result of workplace changes. By fully explaining the details of the new development, employees will see the big picture and the benefits of the adjustment, instead of only seeing a narrow view of what is to happen in the near future.
Loss of status or visibility in the organization
Whether it’s because duties have changed, reporting structures have altered, or some combination thereof, people are often resistant to change because they are understandably concerned it negatively affects their status or job security within an organization. From an employee’s perspective, change is harmful to their environment or workplace as it might result in their role being eliminated or reduced.
Without a thoughtful approach to a change strategy that will effectively address these concerns, leaders will trigger strong resistance and organizational turnover. Employees might assume they will lose their jobs and immediately start searching elsewhere. This causes a myriad of problems including employees who are mentally checked out, disengaged, and unmotivated. It should go without saying that having a team of unmotivated employees will greatly affect the bottom line, productivity, and quality of work and customer service. In fact, a recent ADP study estimated the real cost of employee disengagement at $2,246 per disengaged employee.
How to counteract this:
In an effort to reduce unnecessary tension, drama, and office stress, make sure to fully explain how the proposed changes will affect status, visibility, job security, etc. Since your staff are more familiar with their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, another great tip is to ask your team individually to explain how they could see your proposed changes affecting them in the long term. Being proactive about this shows your employees you’re invested in their happiness and their concerns are your concerns.
Preparing for Change in the Workplace
Change comes in all shapes and sizes. From something simple like a new front door lock code to bigger changes like office attire, or major shifts like a new leader, people get very worked up about changes.
In order to lessen the amount of resistance to a proposed change, it’s best to first prepare for the change, then take action on the change and make a plan for effectively managing the shift. Lastly, support the employees throughout the process to assure that all will go as planned. At every step during the process, communication will allow you to ensure that all employees will receive the news and will better understand the vision, goals, and expectations of what needs to happen and why.
The CLIMB Professional Development and Training program offers courses within Portland Community College CLIMB Center for Advancement. To learn more about managing change in the workforce and professional development, subscribe to our blog today.