Managing Change and Conflict in Workplace

In the fast world of today, where computers and digitalization of information have made the overall organizational atmosphere infinitely dynamic, change is all-pervasive in organizations. Changes within an organization could include integration of departments, or organizations, establishing different cultures, or implementing technological changes. Change is continuous in nature and happens at a great pace. Hence, change management has become a core competency for every successful organization. Whenever an organization attempts to introduce change, it is likely to face resistance from its employees. This acts as a hurdle when the change is aimed at the progress of the firm. In order to overcome such resistance to innovative change, there should be a focus on informing and supporting the employees most likely to be affected by the change. Without such focus, there can only be “frustration, wasted effort, and stagnation” (Folger & Skarlicki, 1999).

There are five keys to effective change management: good communication, clarity regarding the benefits, clear leadership, participative decision-making, and open-mindedness. Communication must be two-way. While it must ensure that everyone is well informed, it should also enable employees to give their opinion to the top management. Secondly, people should know about the benefits clearly. Third, there should be clear leadership. Fourth, people need to be included in taking responsibility for making decisions. Finally, it is important that people who initiate the change are open and responsive. It has been found that in any significant change program, up to 30% of time and cost are spent towards change management (USDT and FTA, 2007).

There are many factors that affect the way an individual responds to change such as “age, sex, education, marital status, experience, time in the same job and occupation” (Bolognese, 2002). Similarly, job factors and organizational factors also influence the way in which an individual or organization reacts to change. In the organizational context, change involves shifting from a particular way of doing things to a new and different way. Bridges (1991) believes that it isn’t the actual change that individuals resist, but rather the transition that must be made to accommodate the change.

“Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, the transition is internal. Unless transition occurs, change will not work” (Bridges, 1991).

People resist change for many reasons: when there is a lack of clarity regarding the change when there are doubts in the minds of the employees when people feel ignored when the change seems to bring in new patterns of working relationships; when there is a lack of communication; when people are not convinced about the benefits of change; or when the change leads to job-cuts; However, it has been found that people accept change more readily – if they find the information provided to them acceptable; if they are able to understand the benefits of the change; if they perceive it as safe; if they feel there is a need for the change; if there is a plan to implement the change in phases. Sometimes, employee resistance can play a positive and beneficial role in organizational change. A resistance that leads to insightful and well-intended debate, criticism, or disagreement can help in unearthing new options and solutions (de Jager, 2001).

Beehr and Newman define job stress as “a condition arising from the interaction of people and their jobs and characterized by changes within people that force them to deviate from their normal functioning” (Luthans, 2005). Though stress can occur due to extra-organizational factors such as diversity, globalization, relocation, etc, there are stressors within the organization as well. Responsibility without authority, inability to voice complaints, inadequate recognition, crowded work area, pollution, physical or mental strain, and lack of clear job descriptions or reporting relationships are all stressors within the organization (Luthans, 2005). There are also group stressors such as lack of group cohesiveness and lack of social support.

Depending on their personality type, level of personal control, and psychological profile, different individuals react differently to a certain stress factor (Luthans, 2005). There can be an intraindividual level of conflict stemming from frustration, goal conflicts, and role conflicts. Interpersonal conflicts in the workplace can happen due to personal differences, information deficiency, role incompatibility, or environmental stress. Inter-group conflicts in the workplace occur when there is competition for resources, task interdependence, jurisdictional ambiguity, and status struggles. Stress and Conflict in the workplace can lead to both psychological problems and behavioral problems. High levels of stress can cause anger, depression, nervousness, irritability, tension, and boredom. According to a study, stress leads to aggressive actions, such as sabotage, interpersonal aggression, hostility, and complaints (Chen and Spector, 1993). These factors lead to poor job performance, lowered self-esteem (McGrath, 1976), resentment of supervision, inability to concentrate and make decisions, and job dissatisfaction (McLean, 1980). Behavioral problems caused by stress are under-eating or overeating, sleeplessness, increased smoking and drinking, and drug abuse (Ivancevich and Matteson, 1980).

There are both individual and organizational strategies for coping with stress and conflict. Some specific techniques that individuals can use to deal with stress are exercise, relaxation, behavioral self-control, cognitive therapy, and networking (Kotter, 1982). At the organizational level, efforts can be taken to eliminate stressors, reduce work-family conflict, and implement employee assistance programs (EAPs). Companies are offering stress management programs ranging from counseling services, lunchtime stress management seminars, and wellness publications (Overman, 1999).

Change can lead to stress and conflict in the workplace. Such stress and conflict, if not managed properly can have disastrous consequences. Hence, change management along with stress management and conflict management is very much important for an organization’s success.


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