Resistance in the Workplace: Literature Synthesis

Subject: Organizational Management
Pages: 5
Words: 1384
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: PhD


Organizational managers encounter different workplace problems that arise from internal and external business environments. One of the main sources of internal challenges relates to change. In the modern business environment, leaders are required to act as change agents by leading by example. This aspect requires leaders to involve employees in the organizational decision-making process for improved performance. Piderit (2000) affirms that adapting to change “has been a timeless challenge for organizations, but the task seems to have become even more important in the past decade” (p. 783). Therefore, organizational managers should ensure that change is implemented effectively. However, the process of implementing change may be subject to resistance, which arises from different internal stakeholders such as employees. Resistance is one of the main managerial issues encountered in the contemporary organizational environment. This paper is a critical evaluation of the key arguments raised by different individuals from a scholarly and practitioner-oriented point of view. The analysis aims at identifying the underlying assumptions and insights on how to deal with resistance at the workplace.


Most studies on resistance at the workplace are based on the assumption that resistance is a restraining force that is aimed at preserving the status quo. Consequently, organizational managers have generally developed a negative perception regarding the change. One of the most notable perceptions entails viewing employees who resist change as disobedient. This perception compels managers to perceive such employees as obstacles in achieving the desired organizational change. However, one of the major challenges with such a perception is that the organizational managers might dismiss some valuable opinions from employees who differ from the top management (Piderit, 2000).

Organizational managers should perceive employees as a source of insight in their management process. Vince and Broussine (1996) affirm that employees might decide to resist change as a strategy to get the attention of the top management to address certain issues that are critical in enhancing an organization’s long-term performance. Ezzamel, Wilmontt, and Worthington (2001) argue that employees rarely resist change without genuine reasons. For example, employees might be motivated to resist change as a way of advocating their career advancement and job security. This aspect shows that employees’ resistance is motivated by ethical concerns in most cases.

Fleming and Spicer (2003) corroborate that what “some may perceive as disrespectful or unfounded might also be motivated by individual ethical principles or by the desire to protect the organization’s best interests” (p. 161). Subsequently, it is imperative for organizational managers to desist from perceiving employees as a source of resistance in the course of implementing change. Additionally, organizational managers should not downplay the concerns raised by employees in the process of implementing change (Piderit, 2000).

Most organizational managers have developed the perception that failure to successfully implement change is mainly caused by a lack of the necessary support from the employees. Organizational managers should seek the employees’ support as change agents. In a bid to achieve this goal, the change agents should take into account the employees’ emotions with respect to the intended change. Fleming and Spicer (2003) argue that change leads to the generation of uncertainty amongst employees regarding their careers. If not well managed, change might lead to a decline in the employees’ productivity due to a lack of clear understanding regarding their job security and career progression opportunities. Developing negative feelings regarding the intended organizational change might lead to a decline in the employees’ morale. However, taking into account the employees’ emotions during the change process, which most change agents mainly ignore, can significantly contribute towards the improvement of the planned change.

This goal can be achieved by ensuring that employees are adequately involved in the change process. According to Vince and Broussine (1996), change agents should ensure that employees are adequately involved in the change process at the early stages. Consequently, organizational leaders should ensure that widespread conversation with all employees is conducted as opposed to only engaging a small group of organizational managers. Such involvement will enable organizational managers to establish a balance between the incongruity that arises from the lack of adequate understanding regarding the intended change and the employees’ emotional reactions.

One of the strategies that organizational managers should consider as change agents entail integrating the concept of sense-making in making decisions relating to change. Orton (2000) contends that the concept of sense-making ensures that all the causal relationships are developed effectively during the reorganization initiative. Thus, the different employees’ beliefs and perceptions regarding the intended organizational change are considered extensively. Orton (2000) contends that decision-making “in the context of organizational restructuring should be comprised of a package of all organizational components” (p. 231).

Change as a process

The available literature also cites change as a process, which is comprised of different processes that managers should follow in order to implement organizational change successfully (Morrison & Milliken, 2000). This assumption has led to the formulation of different change models. One of the most renowned models entails the Lewin planned change model. Despite the fact that in the process of implementing change organizational leaders have utilized the Lewin planned change model extensively, it is deficient in a number of ways. First, the model does not underscore the importance of the employees’ involvement. The model advocates minimal involvement of different organizational stakeholders such as employees in the change process.

Vince and Broussine (1996) affirm that the Lewin change model mainly emphasizes how an organization’s management team can fix a particular problem through change. In a bid to implement this model successfully, the change agents are required to act rationally. However, such an approach ignores the ambiguity and complexity associated with change management such as considering the employees’ emotional reactions. Piderit (2000) contends that in such circumstances, “emotional reactions to change are often seen as less important” (p. 4). Furthermore, the problem-based change models such as the Lewin Model are mainly based on the view that an organization should have a well-developed organizational culture. Adhering to the organizational culture might limit the employees’ ability to express their opinion and feelings regarding the organizational change.

In order to implement change successfully, it is essential for organizational leaders or change agents to appreciate the importance of establishing a link between the opposing and the supporting forces towards the intended organizational change. Some of the major forces include repression, projection, denial, repression, and reaction formation. Appreciating the divergent forces regarding the intended change is critical in promoting the effectiveness with which an organization develops a positive and strong organizational identification. This assertion means that employees feel appreciated and relevant to the organization, which improves their loyalty. Moreover, developing such a culture culminates in the improvement of the overall organizational attractiveness in the labor market. Moreover, developing such an approach will play a fundamental role in establishing an effective framework that the change agent [organizational managers] can adopt in order to improve the outcome of the intended change.


Change constitutes a critical element that organizational leaders should consider in order to enhance their firm’s performance. However, the process of implementing change is usually characterized by incidences of resistance. Failure to manage the resistance emanating from the internal stakeholders might affect the outcome of the intended change process. Different assumptions regarding resistance to change have been formulated.

One of the most common assumptions to resistance is based on the view that resistance is an opposing force that should be dealt with optimally. However, adopting such a perception might affect the implementation of the intended change adversely. Consequently, it is imperative for organizational managers to consider change as a source of insight in managing change. In a bid to achieve this goal, organizational managers as change agents should consider the employees’ emotions. This goal can be achieved by ensuring that employees are extensively involved in the process of planning change. This goal will ensure that an effective and positive relationship between employees and the change agent is developed. Consequently, the change agent will gain a broad perspective regarding the sources of resistance, hence developing an effective framework that will culminate in improving the outcome of the change process. Moreover, organizational managers should establish a balance between the opposing and the supporting forces regarding the intended change. Adopting this approach will ensure that the employees’ opinions and attachment towards the organization are not affected adversely.


Ezzamel, M., Wilmontt, H., & Worthington, F. (2001). Power, control, and resistance in the factory that time forgot. Journal of Management Studies, 38(8), 1053-1079.

Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2003). Working at a cynical distance; implications for power, subjectivity, and resistance. Organization, 10(1), 157-179.

Morrison, E., & Milliken, F.J. (2000). Organizational silence; a barrier to change and development in a pluralistic world. Academy of Management Review, 25(4), 706-725.

Orton, J. (2000). Enactment, sensemaking and decision making; redesign processes in the 1976 reorganization of US intelligence’. Journal of Management Studies, 37(2), 213-234.

Piderit, S. (2000). Rethinking resistance and recognizing ambivalence; a multi- dimensional view of attitudes towards an organizational change. Academy of Management Review, 25(4), 783-794.

Vince, R., & Broussine, M. (1996). Paradox, defense, and attachment; accessing and working with emotions and relations underlying organizational change. Organizational Studies, 17(1), 1-21.