5 signs your employees might be resistant to change

Craig Sharp

Change is scary. It’s the unknown. It’s human nature to seek happiness, comfort, and security; and so the prospect of change – of leaving what you know and moving into some unforeseen situation goes against our very nature.

This becomes painfully apparent in process excellence projects, when you try to instigate a change, there’ll usually be one or two vocal detractors, but if you look carefully you’ll see those who remain silent also begin to shift nervously.

Even if you properly explain the reasons, the anticipated outcomes and assure everyone, the unknown will still leave some people reluctant to believe that this change is for the best. For this reason, chance management has been a major focus of process excellence teams for a number of years now.

The truth is, many of your employees will never honestly share their concerns, but unless they’re convinced on the validity of the new processes you’re initiating, your project is in danger of stalling before it’s even begun. So how can you spot those detractors who aren’t just nervous about change, but in some instances actively begin to resist it?

#1 The gossip has increased

That grape vine is laden with fruit! Are staff members speaking in hushed tones around the coffee points? Do they clam up when management pass by? Is there resentment in the air? Voicing dissatisfaction is a perfectly natural reaction, but if gossip is allowed to fester without honest and open discussion it could lead to bigger problems down the road.

#2 Morale seems low

Come the announcement of your bold new changes, one of the first signs that you’ll encounter some resistance is low morale. Do your employees appear to be lethargic? More distant? Has the mood noticeably shifted? If so, your changes could be the root cause.


#3 Lower productivity

Do you employees seem to appear busy, but produce very little? If so, procrastination might’ve set in, they know there’s a new way of doing things, but still feeling uncertain in themselves and in the new procedures, they might be reluctant to grab that bull by the horns and get on with it.

#4 Breakdown in communication

Are productivity reports slow to come in? Do people ignore rather than respond to requests for information and updates? Are emails beginning to pile up? It could be that some members of staff are actively avoiding the reality of the situation – the situation being that a change has been made and they aren’t following the new procedure.

#5 – Increased absenteeism

This is as serious as it gets (short of losing staff or customers). Are members of staff taking increased sick days? Are they arriving later and leaving earlier? It’s a sure sign that staff are not happy or comfortable, and if this behaviour is out of the ordinary then naturally the changes are the root cause.

So what can be done about this?

Once you’ve already brought in your processes, many of your opportunities for combating change resistance have already been squandered. You need to do some damage control, arrange meetings, first with management to muster support and buy-in and then with staff, to re-communicate the purpose of these new processes and how they’ll help not only the business, but employees too.

At this stage, you may need to offer up concessions such as review periods for the processes and opportunities for honest feedback. If the changes were good ones, then after a few weeks of adoption and adhering to the new process, your staff might well come around to the idea. If they don’t, then perhaps the processes themselves need reassessing?

The real key to combatting change resistance comes before the new processes have even been decided upon. After all as Peter F. Drucker said, "People are not stressed because there’s too much change in organisations, but because of the way change is made."

Why? It’s simple:

  • With change comes uncertainty, it's not the change that causes resistance, it's the fear of what comes with it.
  • You may their best intentions at heart, but you may not have all of the information you need.

My first point is pretty self explanatory, people are risk-averse. It’s in their nature. The best way to get staff bought into a process is if they were involved in its creation to begin with. If they have a stake in this, if they feel it was partly their idea, you're more likely to alleviate any fear or uncertainty. A good approach to this would be having departmental representatives in your project team on behalf of the other employees.

The second point also presses for including all staff in the decision making process, but for very different reasons. The truth of the matter is that for all your research into how these process will improve your business, there’s a chance that the impact these new processes will have on day to day activities could be overlooked. The process might on paper increase productivity, but what do they do to the existing pressure on your staff? Are these processes more or less convenient for your customers? These are valuable insights, and involving your staff gives you access to more of that information, giving you a clearer picture of how these changes will impact your business in real terms.

So, there you have it. Do you have any other warning signs that resistance might be in the air? Does any of this sound spookily familiar? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Change management will be explored in more details during the comprehensive case study, "The initiation of a change program: making the cultural change stick for long-term success" presented by Arla Foods at PEX Nordics 2015. For more information on this session or to find out who else will be presenting, visit www.pexnordics.com.