Change Resistance: Causes and Countermeasures


Change is one of the most important elements in the attainment of organizational success. Despite its importance, many employees resist it because of the numerous social and work-related shifts it introduces in the workplace. It is difficult for an organization to thrive without implementing change initiatives from time to time. Organizations that fail to embrace change wallow in mediocrity and ultimately fail due to lack of creativity and innovation. The main factors that necessitate such shifts in an organization include innovation, introduction of new technology, creation of new organizational missions, visions, and goals, employment of new personnel, creation of new roles, and reorganization of business structure or model (Burke, 2010).

Implementation of change enables organizations to pursue new opportunities and increase productivity as well as efficiency. Major causes of resistance to change include poor communication, feelings of exclusion from change management, self-interest, poor training, lack of the necessary skills, and lack of trust (Spector, 2012). Tools that would be used to combat employee resistance include education and communication, negotiation and agreement, coercion, participation and involvement, and manipulation (Kegan & Lahey, 2013).

Causes and signs of resistance to change

Tools to combat resistance to change are chosen based on the severity of the problem. The most effective elements are those that address the cause of the problem and motivate employees to embrace change. As mentioned earlier, major causes of resistance to change include poor communication, lack of training and skills needed to embrace change, lack of trust, misunderstanding, low tolerance to change, and self-interest (Burke, 2010).

Misunderstanding is caused by inadequate or erroneous information regarding the effects of challenging the status quo. Some employees have low risk tolerance and as such harbor great fears that motivate them to resist change (Spector, 2012). In any organization, some employees put their interests before the well being of the organization. Therefore, they are likely to resist change if it affects their interests regardless of its benefits to the organization (Senior & Swailes, 2010). Employee resistance is manifested in several ways including reduced productivity, employee rebellion, hostility, low morale and motivation, development of negative attitudes, narcissism, increased rates of absenteeism, and communication breakdown (Kegan & Lahey, 2013).

It is necessary for managers to comprehend that resistance to change cannot be completely eliminated because it is caused by several factors. However, several elements and strategies can be applied in order to combat it and attain organizational goals faster and more effectively. The most important step in combating resistance is the thorough analysis of different situations, which aids in facilitating a smooth transition to new work environments, roles, and duties.

Tools for combating resistance to change

According to Kotter and Schlesinger, there are six main tools that are effective in combating resistance to organizational change. They include education and communication, participation and involvement, facilitation and support, negotiation and agreement, manipulation, and coercion (Burke, 2010). Successful change management involves the application of effective tools that address situations based on their causes. These tools are effective in combating resistance to change because they address different causes and apply varied approaches.

Education and communication

Employees resist change because of poor communication and lack of specific skills that are needed for change management (Kegan & Lahey, 2013). Inaccurate information regarding change initiatives and their implementation are also common causes. It is important for managers to educate employees about the benefits of such initiatives, procedures of implementation, and the potential effects on their roles, duties, and relationships (Senior & Swailes, 2010).

Many employees are risk averse. Therefore, they are unwilling to accept any change that has the potential to affect their work and lives. Educating employees before making significant changes inculcates trust and helps employees to fully comprehend the benefits of embracing change. It is necessary for change managers to be honest in order to prepare employees psychologically. Talking openly about the uncertainties of proposed changes reassures employees of the organization’s readiness to assist them in making the necessary adjustments (Kegan & Lahey, 2013).

Participation and involvement

The exclusion of employees from change initiatives is a common cause of resistance. Encouraging employee involvement and participation is an effective element of combating resistance. It is important to include the opinions and feedback of employees in designing change initiatives because it gives them a feeling of being valued (Senior & Swailes, 2010). Employees who are allowed to participate in such programs are more productive, open-minded, and positive because of the feelings of belonging that their participation creates. Employee participation is important because it aids in the identification of performance gaps, weaknesses, and areas that need improvement (Kegan & Lahey, 2013). Moreover, it ensures that effective training techniques are used based on individual learning needs.

Facilitation and support

In many organizations, employees resist change because of the turbulence associated with new routines and schedules. Change managers should be supportive of employees and help them to eradicate their fear of change, anxiety, and the uncertainties associated with transition periods (Senior & Swailes, 2010). Other employees resist change because of the erroneous perception that new routines will have negative effects on their work, relationships, and social lives (Kegan & Lahey, 2013). This tool includes aspects such as training and employee counseling. Some employees are slow in making adjustments. Therefore, it is important for managers to offer them technical support in order to make the transition period smooth and successful.

Negotiation and agreement

If a certain change is perceived as possessing the potential to bring drastic changes in an organization, employees may unanimously decide to resist it. In other cases, employees possess the power to resist change and therefore make the implementation process difficult. It is important for change managers to negotiate with employees and agree on certain terms that are to their liking (Senior & Swailes, 2010).

This can be done by allowing employees to eliminate change elements that they are uncomfortable with. On the other hand, they can be offered incentives such as early retirement, holidays, increased remuneration, and more flexible schedules in order to encourage them to embrace change (Kegan & Lahey, 2013). Buyout options can be offered to adamant employees in cases where change is inevitable. However, this approach is only used in cases where employees possess power to resist change.

Employee manipulation

Employee manipulation is another tool used in combating resistance to change. It involves the use of specific tricks and tactics that are aimed at influencing employees’ willingness to embrace change. According to Kotter and Schlesinger, the most effective manipulation technique is to nominate employees into the team that is responsible for implementing change (Senior & Swailes, 2010). In many cases, the leaders of employees are invited into change management boards and given managerial roles that encourage their participation. For instance, they can be given roles that involve decision making. This tool has a major disadvantage because if the people appointed into the change management team feel like they are being tricked by the management, their resistance could heighten and thus influence other employees.


Organizations can result to coercion if the aforementioned tools fail. This approach is used in cases where other tools have failed and when change is needed quickly. In certain situations, there is little time available to educate employees about change and negotiate the terms of engagement. Therefore, employees are either explicitly or implicitly coerced into embracing change. Approaches of coercing employees include threats of job loss, demotion, transfer to other workstations, fines, and reduced remuneration (Kegan & Lahey, 2013). This tool is very risky because it can lead to narcissism, development of negative attitudes among employees, rebellion, loss of trust, and reduced productivity. Therefore, change managers should use it cautiously.


Change is one of the most important factors of attaining success in an organization. It encourages innovation and creativity. Change in the workplace affects many aspects of employees’ lives. For that reason, many resist it. The main causes of resistance includes poor communication, lack of education and proper training, self-interest, lack of participation and involvement, lack of trust, and misunderstanding.

Signs of resistance to change include rebellion, negative attitudes, increased rate of absenteeism, reduced productivity, poor communication, strained relationships, and reduced organizational output. These signs enable change managers to design effective strategies for implementing change. Some of the most effective tools of combating resistance to organizational change include education and communication, participation and involvement, facilitation and support, negotiation and agreement, manipulation, and coercion. Each of these tools uses a different approach and is effective in certain circumstances.


Burke, W. (2010). Organization Change: Theory and Practice. New York: SAGE.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2013). Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. New York: Harvard Business Press.

Senior, B., & Swailes, S. (2010). Organizational Change. New York: Financial Times/ Prentice Hall.

Spector, B. (2012). Implementing Organizational Change: Theory into practice. New York: Pearson.