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Why People Resist Organizational Change

        posted by , May 07, 2013

Resistance to change is as inevitable as change itself.

Resistance to organizational change is often successful. People find creative ways to resist when they're motivated. Resistance may be both direct and indirect, both open and secretive. When half the people in your organization resist a change — it often fails.

Change management seeks to identify, understand and reduce resistance to change. In this context it's important to understand the fundamental motivations behind resistance.

Resistance to change can be instinctual, emotional or logical. These are amongst the most common reasons people resist change.

1. Status Quo Bias

People tend to prefer stability to change. Social psychologists refer to this tendency as status quo bias.

In many cases, people will accept a lower salary to work in a stable environment that seldom changes. For example, jobs with governments and well established conservative institutions such as universities are highly prized by those who prefer stable environments.

Change management expects and plans for resistance to change.

2. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Change can trigger intense emotions and deep-seated fears in people.

This is rooted in the uncertainty and doubt that sounds change. Uncertainty causes our imaginations to run wild.

The smallest uncertainty can cause individuals to imagine stressful scenarios such as job loss or challenges.

Change management seeks to reduce the uncertainty surrounding change. Changes are communicated early and often to avoid rumors. Changes are socialized to understand and address the concerns of stakeholders.

3. Politics

People may resist changes they perceive as originating with a political foe.

Organizations that have a charged political culture tend to experience greater resistance to change.

Change management seeks to establish a culture of collaboration and reduce political barriers to change.

4. Logic

In many cases, people disagree with the logic of the change itself. For example, they may have alternatives to the change that they believe are better.

Change management seeks consultation at the early stages of change. Stakeholders who feel that they've been consulted are less likely to resist change.

5. Bad Experiences

Employees who have experienced painful or failed changes may develop a negative view of change.

Change management seeks to build confidence in a change. People who have high confidence a change will be successful are less likely to resist it.

6. Workloads

Employees who are already working long and hard may resist additional responsibilities associated with change.

Change management seeks a sustainable approach to work (avoids overloading resources). People who aren't overloaded with work are less likely to resist changes that require their attention and participation.


People resist change they perceive as restricting their freedom.


Reactance is the tendency for people to resist change that removes or restricts their freedom.

For example, a manager has complete authority to hire who she wants. A new process is introduced that gives the human resources department power to reject candidates who aren't a good culture fit for the organization. The manager feels this process restricts her freedom to manage her team — she strongly resists the change.

Change management best practices call for special attention to changes that revoke authority or impose new restrictions on employees, partners and customers. Such changes are more likely to be resisted and require careful communication and socialization.

Next: How Organizations Resist Change

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