Implications of Individual Resistance to Change

By John Dudovskiy

Resistance to ChangeImplications of Individual Resistance to Change. Because of the highly competitive nature of today’s local and global business environment constant change has become an integral part of any business strategy. Companies that refuse to change constantly according to the changing market environment risk losing their market share and customer loyalty.

Therefore, today most companies understand the importance of change and try to implement changes constantly in order to improve the efficiency of their business processes. However, understanding the importance of change and having a good change plan is not enough for companies to succeed, because there are many barriers to implementing change in an organisation and individual resistance to change is one of them. “Individual sources of resistance are rooted in basic human characteristics such as needs and perceptions” (Griffin and Moorhead, 2009, p. 514).

The main obstructions in the way of devising an effecting change plan and implementing it include habit, security, economic factors, fear of unknown, lack of awareness, social factors and others (Dantzker, 1999).

This article analyses the implications of individual resistance to change in detail. The main factors seen as barriers to chain are analysed separately in great detail and the implications of individual resistance to change are illustrated with personal and professional examples. Moreover, strategies are discussed that can help to overcome individual resistance to change as suggested by respected scholars in the field of organisational change.


Habit as Resistance to Change

One of the strongest reasons for individual resistance to change is considered to be habit. “Habits are hard-wired into the basal ganglia part of the brain. In this area the brain makes connections to experiences and insights and functions effectively and efficiently without using a lot of energy” (Training, online magazine, 2009). In other words, in organisational context habits are the ways of doing things employees are used to for a long period of time.

Because change within organisations most of the time will require the new ways of doing things individual habits may become a substantial obstruction on the way of change. Senior and Fleming (2006) consider habit to be the most difficult resistance to eliminate due to the fact that even if employees are willing to cooperate to implement change, still they may continue with their old ways purely out of their habit.

There are many examples of how habit can be an obstruction in the way of implementing change. For instance, senior level management of an organisation may want to undertake a massive change that would relate to the customer service practices of the company. Specifically, as a result of the change employees are required to introduce themselves and the name of the company first when answering the phone. However, there might be employees within the organisation who had had an alternative way of dealing with phone calls that is answering them without introducing themselves and the company first. For such type of employees it will be difficult to adapt to the new ways of dealing with the phone calls due to their habit which they had for a long period of time.


Security as Resistance to Change

Another significant reason of individual resistance to change relates to the individual security issues felt by employees. Slack and Parent (2005) inform that some employees see change as a threat to their power and position, and therefore they resist and oppose to change. Such type of resistance is primarily caused by the lack of communication between management and employees which breeds various types of rumours, and speculations regarding the purpose of changes that are being implemented.

Moreover, various types of organisations in various industries engage in downsizing practices in times of financial difficulties in order to save costs that involve sacking employees whose position management finds not very important at the moment. These practices are branded as a change and usually receive wide publicity in local and national media. As a result when different forms of changes are being implemented in other organisations that do not involve downsizing, still employees may perceive them as threat to their positions and therefore employees may resist to changes.


Economic Factors as Resistance to Change

Economic factors may also cause individual resistance to change in a way that changes might be perceived by employees as a means of decreasing the level of pay to employees and/or increasing the pay of management. Accordingly, those employees who think that the aims of changes are to reduce their income will try to oppose the change and resist it without comprehending the true purpose of the change. The same affect will be caused if employees think that other people apart from them will receive economic benefits as a result of change.

For instance, a situation may occur in an organisation where senior level management tries to promote cost cutting initiatives to tactical and operational level management as well as to floor level workers by means of being economically efficient when using company stationery, print and other technology. Such an initiative might be introduced in order to increase the efficiency of the organisation or as a response to difficult economic environment in the marketplace.

The resistance in the form of economic factor to the above proposed change may be in a way that employees might think that this cost-cutting culture is being proposed because senior level management want to increase their pay or bonuses and may continue with the old ways of doing things, not being economically efficient.


Fear of the Unknown as Resistance to Change

Most of the times changes in organisations are associated with innovations in one form or another. Innovations may relate to business processes and usually require the application of new skills and capabilities from employees. This fact usually causes stress and pressure among specific members of the workforce who know or assume that they do not possess relevant skills, knowledge and capabilities that changes are demanding from them. Also, it has been noted by many authors that “employees presumably resist change because they have a natural preference and fear of unknown” (Boonstra, 2004, p.338).

Interestingly, in some cases such a fear is unnecessary, because the changes are not going to have a direct affect to employees who are experiencing the fear or even if changes are going to affect them, the impact is positive and will help them to conduct their duties in a more efficient manner. Nevertheless, fear is a common element associated with unknown things that changes involve and therefore should be analysed as a barrier to implementing change in an affective and efficient manner.


Lack of Awareness as Resistance to Change

“Resistance to change can result from lack of awareness of the need for change” (Duke, 2010, p.219) that might be caused by lack of communication between management and the workforce, incompetent management and a set of other reasons. Senior level management can devise an effective change strategy that if implemented will positively contribute to the long-term growth of the company through creating competitive edge. However, if the reasons for change, the strategy of implementing change as well as business processes and stakeholders that are going to be affected are not explained to the workforce, it is most likely to create the lack of awareness that might have implication of the change plan to fail.


Loss of Power as Resistance to Change

Organisational changes are usually undertaken in order to increase the efficiency of business operations and processes through various means. And one of the most popular methods of achieving efficiency through change is the activity of de-layering. George and Jones (2008) explain de-layering as the transition from tall, hierarchical organisational structure where there are many chains of command to the one that is flat with less chains of command involved.

It is obvious that as a result of de-layering certain members of organisation are going to lose some of their powers, and therefore are most likely to oppose the organisational change through de-layering.


Break Up of Established Work Groups as Resistance to Change

According to Senior (2002) some employees might resist change on an individual basis if the change is likely to break up their established work groups. People establish relationships with their team members and team members usually get used to each-other when working together for a longer period of time. Therefore, if change proposed by the company relates to the organisational structure or displaces team members in any other ways this type of change is most likely to face resistance from some members of the team.

Four reasons of why some individuals resist to change plans within organisations are specified by Kotter and Schlesinger (1979) as parochial self-interest, misunderstanding, low tolerance to change, and different assessments of the situation.

Individual resistance to change in the form of parochial self-interest relates to concerns of individuals of how the change is going to affect them personally, not taking into account the benefits the change will bring to the organisation in general.

Misunderstanding among workforce regarding the purpose of the change is also likely to result in resistance from specific members of organisation and is caused by inadequate information supplied to employees and communication problems in the organisation.

Majority of resisters to change have low tolerance to change possibly due to the nature of their personalities and their preference for security and stability for their work. This type of change resisters are the most difficult to deal with due to the fact that personalities of adult people cannot be changed easily.

Different assessment of situation by certain members of the workforce can also breed resistance because employees may not be comfortable with the reasons of change, as well as advantages and disadvantages proposed change plan is associated with.


Strategies to Overcome Resistance to Change

It is crucially important for companies to overcome individual as well as organisational resistance to changes if the company intends achieve and maintain flexibility.  However, the issue is complicated by the fact that “dealing with employee resistance to change is challenging because the resistance isn’t necessarily based on rational factors” (Dessler and Philips, 2008).

Senior (2002) agrees with this statement and classifies individual responses to unknown situations changes might be associated with into five groups that are: a) rigidity, b) doing more of the same but harder, c) greater inadequacy, d) aggression, and e) aggressive rigidity.

Kotter and Schlesinger (1979) propose Six Change Approaches that companies can use to overcome resistance to changes management introduce:

First, education and communication. Employees need to be educated and information need to be communicated to them about why the change is necessary and what business processes and which positions within organisation the change is going to affect.

Second, participation and involvement. It is very important for employees to feel participation and involvement in all stages of the change plan in order for the plan to be successful.

Third, facilitation and support. Employees affected by change in any ways should be assisted with the new ways of performing their tasks, focusing on those employees who are resisting the change.

Fourth, negotiation and agreement. Employees negatively affected as a result of change should be negotiated with and incentives might be offered to them in some forms in order to compensate them, thus overcoming their resistance.

Fifth, manipulation and co-option. Opinion leaders among change resisters should be approached and offered symbolic roles in decision making related to the change plan and at the same time it should be ensured that they do not affect negatively the change project. However, this strategy is difficult to implement due to the fact that it may prove challenging to identify leaders of resisters, and find suitable roles for them.

Sixth, explicit and implicit coercion. As a last resort managers can overcome resistance to change by forcing employees to accept the change or implementing such dramatic measures as terminating their employment.

Hughes and Wearing (2007) summarise the strategies for overcoming resistance to change to education, participation, facilitation, negotiation, manipulation, coercion, discussion, financial benefits and political support. All of these strategies should be implemented by companies willing to ensure that their change plan will work.

The five key phases of employee management during change process are identified by Wynn (2011, online) as following:

Firstly, awareness of the need to the change should be raised among workforce. This can be achieved through intensive communication with the workforce and providing detailed information about which business processes need to be changed and why.

Secondly, desire among the workforce to participate and support the change should be increased. Again this can be achieved through intensive communication and describing the benefits of the change to the organisation in general and to each member of the workforce in particular.

Thirdly, employees should be included in decision-making processes related to change. In other words, their viewpoints regarding proposed change should be taken into account and alterations to the plan should be adopted wherever necessary according to the feedback from employees.

Fourthly, changes need to be implemented on a day-to-day basis, meaning that evolutional approach is better in some occasions rather than revolutionary in terms of change. How this phase of the advice is largely general and many factors should be taken into account like nature and scale of the change, internal and external circumstances etc.

Fifthly, reinforcements should be made in order to keep the change in place. In other words, once the change is introduced completely there should be zero tolerance within the organisation to the old ways of doing things.



Today there is a consensus among business practitioners and researchers about the necessity of constant change in companies that is aimed at improving various business processes and thus, gaining competitive edge. Such a necessity has evolved because of increased level of competition in many industries caused by globalisation, technological advancement and increasing role of internet.

However, devising and successfully implementing a change plan is a highly challenging task due to the fact that the majority of change plans meet individual and organisational resistance caused by habit of employees of doing things their own ways, security fears felt by employees regarding their future in the organisation as a result of the change, various economic reasons, fears of unknown associated with change, lack of awareness regarding some aspects of the change, loss of power and many other reasons.

Whatever the reasons and forms of individual resistance to change are, they have negative implications to the success of the change plan and therefore they need to be dealt with efficiently and with effective methods.

Many respected scholars in the field of change have suggested general and specific strategies of effectively dealing with individual resistance to change. These strategies include establishing intensive and productive communication between management and employees at all times in general, and in times of change in particular that needs to communicate the reasons and benefits of change, at the same time identify the reasons and types of resistance to the proposed change plan. Moreover, additional measures have also been suggested that include negotiating with key resisters to change, considering the options of compensating them in some occasions, or even firing them if it becomes necessary.



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Category: Change