Employee Resistance to Change

Change comes from anywhere, and is the only constant. Propelled by the driving force of technology and globalization, the economic landscape continuously transform in a way that has come to undermine the relevance of received wisdom on how a firm should be managed and what underlies its success. In this new millennium, it is more challenging for an organization to sustain its competency or even survive in the diversity market. When an organization is threatened by environmental changes such as crisis or competition, it results in the increasing needs for communication as technology develops rapidly and higher customer demands will be foreseen. Organizational change is not an option; it constitutes a fundamental necessity for success within the new competitive landscape. An organization need to evaluate its performance and review its business strategies, corporate structure, operational process and HR policies to identify the areas that need transformation. To maintain its competitive advantages, an organization must make effort to implement changes accordingly. Usually changes to be made in an organization is for the seeking of extending the ability of the organization to achieve the strategic goals but sometime changes do not necessarily contribute to the improvement of the organization. The expected result of the change might vary due to other unexpected factors, such as resistance to change.

Resistance is a phenomenon that affects the change process, delaying or slowing down its beginning, obstructing or hindering its implementation, and increasing its costs. Effect of resistance of changes in organization will cause distorted perception, interpretation barriers and vague strategic priorities, low motivation among the people and lack of creative response. It is crucial for change initiators to deal with resistance for a successful change.

As employees are the one who get the job done, and possess the knowledge, skills, tools and experiences, it is clear that organizational changes cannot be achieved without employee’s support and involvement. Employee’ acceptance and commitment are the key factors for successful changes. Effective change management should recognize the importance of its employees and the way to minimize the resistant from employees. Therefore, understand why it is caused, the forms of resistance and the factors determine employees reactions to change is significant.

Nature of Employee Resistance to Change

Organizations can be confronted with incremental changes that focus on doing things better through a process of continuous tinkering, adaptation and modification or transformational changes that are regarded as revolutionary and break with the past. Although the incremental changes rarely presented any abrupt challenges to the assumptions people make about how they related to the world, this is not always that case. People are not duplicate, the values, beliefs, assumption and knowledge of that person will be developed over the time, formed as a set of personal opinion, perceptions, views of the world to guide their behaviors. It is concerned with whether employees regards view change can bring present or future personal benefit and opportunities or change is a threat to their job, skills or any other interests. The implementation of changes inevitably involves the vital interests of various shareholders, and especially employees. Resistance occurs since most employees desire to be successful in their work environments due to they have basic needs which must be satisfied. To begin with, employees want to know their role and their responsibilities within the organization. In additional, employees want to be able to predict what they will face in the future. Even though old procedures that were initially regarded as cumbersome, costly or ineffective, after a prolonged recursive execution, employees become comfortable and are used to the ways things were done. Employee might fear in a changing organization, therefore change are frequently be seen as a threat to one’s existence within an organization if upgrading or acquiring new skills are a problem because of time constraints , or the inability of the person to learn these new techniques. Change within an organizational setting usually poses several problems and challenged by the pressure in aspect of money, ego, and power for those who resist it. Employees resist change because the associated negative feelings since their basic needs may now be threatened. Thus it is human nature that employees look at “Change” negatively, resistance thereby coming into play.

Symptoms  of Employee Resistance to Change

Resistance is commonly considered to be standard or even natural in reaction to organizational change. It is described as an most inevitable psychological and organizational response that seems to apply to any kind of change, ranging from rather modest improvement to far-reaching change and organizational transformation. Symptoms are the specific behaviors exhibited when employee resistance to change, it is important to distinguish between the symptoms of resistance to change and the causes behind them. Symptoms can be reflected in varies of forms, categorized it into the two varieties: overt and covert. Overt resistance is concern with obvious opposition, disagreement, arguing, debating, etc., to any change effort. While, covert resistance comes in two forms: one is conscious covert which employees are concerned about the consequences of their actions that they apparently agreed but actually not following though or withhold information and avoid implementation. Secondly is the unconscious covert resistance, which is the most difficult to see symptoms among employees as employees are unaware their resistance.

Reasons  of Employee Resistance to Change

There are many causes attribute to employees’ resistance to change. Kotter and Schlesinger (1979) identify four common reasons why people resist organizational change:

  1. People focus on their own interest and fear of losing something of value, it can be power and status, autonomy and control, or specific skills;
  2. Misunderstanding the change will cost them more than they will gain and lack of trust to the person who initiating change;
  3. Different assessment of the necessity and benefit of change situations;
  4. Low tolerance for change, sometimes people just resist to change emotionally even they understand the need for change.

One attribute to employees’ resistance is that past failures leaves negative image for future changes. Another reason is that employee often opposes to change because of the added job responsibilities, new processes or technologies. Changes with lower motivation to get employees involved and less consideration of employees’ interest and their emotional and perceptual perspectives thereby eliminate their initiatives and level of commitment. To conclude above sources to employee’s resistance are most likely happen in change formulation stage, they further identify some reason rise resistance that consist of: (a) organizational values in relation to change values that cause a strong implementation climate to determine whether employee to accept or oppose to change; (b) departmental politics that form employee’s resistance.

Factors Affect Employee Resistance to Change

Studies have identified variety of factors affect employee resistance to change, the most cited views of the factors fall on the organizational level, for instance the communication process, employee participation, change facilitation procedures in change process to improve organizational effectiveness. Moreover, employee motivation and quality of leadership have been widely acknowledged to have influence on employee’s work initiatives, involvement and commitment, so that it can argues to be a significant factor to affect employee’s willingness to change.

Above factors virtually are the ways to deal with the subtext of organizational humanity on the stage of change process. However, one must understand the root factors played to affect employee’s perception towards organizational change. Fail to understand the intrinsic factors govern employee’s values and beliefs guided behavior in the context of the way they were doing and expected in the future, and all the necessities organization attempt or should to do to implement and facilitate change is crucial.

Therefore, the research will mainly explore on the personal factors played to affect employee resistance to change including age, gender, personality traits (Locus of control) and employee educational level as follows:

  1. Age:  Baby Boomers refer to people who are born between 1945-1964. This generation grew up in an era of unprecedented economic growth and stability, so as to be regarded as a generation that finds comfort with long term employment with one organization. This has provided them with a false sense of stability. Their perceived working values emphasize on chain of command, teamwork, technically challenged, team work and loyal to employer. In this regard, it is argued that Baby Boomers are easier to accept organizational change as their working value of chain of command which they tend to commit to the hierarchical order. Moreover, the inception of organization loyalty also attributes them to be more committed rather than resistant or any other negative reactions. The periods of highly positive emotional experience were more likely to endure among older people and periods of highly negative emotional experience were less stable. With age, older adults report relatively low levels of worrying, experience less anger, and have lower levels of emotional distress after natural disasters.  Compared with Baby Boomers, Generation X refers to those people who were born between 1965 to 1980. This generation of employee tend to more independent, self-motivated and self-sufficient. This is because most X generations did not have enough of their family attention as children because their parent may have been single or working parents. X generations therefore became adaptive at handling things on their own and in their own ways. Their work value is perceived more on personal satisfaction, and their attitudes towards work are focus on flexibility empowerment, loyal to skills. Hence, when the change conflict with their own interest such as against what they used to do, their skills, or leave less empowerment to them, they will feel unmotivated towards to commit to the change. However, since Xers entered the workforce under the employment of “deal”, in which career planning and development are largely individual responsibilities and where the average worker can expect to make several changes during their working lives. In this regards, it seems like Xers are more adaptive to change.
  2. Gender:  There is a difference between male and female, their emotional expressiveness and women are regarded to process better skill at encoding and decoding emotions. Emotions are intensive feelings that are directed at someone or something. Goleman-the founder of emotional intelligence theory also mentioned that women are good at reading others’ feelings than men averagely in his book published in 1995. The skills to encode and decode emotions generally have advantage to develop and maintain relationships, because skilled encoders have ability to express their internal emotional state so that other people can decode their emotions more easily and accurately. In this regard, the chances such as misunderstanding and conflict due to implicit or unclear message delivered or received prone to be decreased, the communication becomes more easily and effective. “Women focus on relational aspect of how to do things,  while men tend to be expected to think what to do.” It appears that women are emotionally discreet on how they are going to process the information, express and interpret their view points to react to change before making any decision. Combined with women’s secondary position in labor market due to gender discrimination, especially in Confucian countries, in addition to their greater responsibilities in family and child care than men, which cause women are relatively powerless to challenge the situation. Hence women in change management appear to be positioned as performing an interpersonal function associated with safety; providing security in times of unexpected turbulence and anticipating.
  3. Personality Traits (Locus of Control): Some people are quiet and reserved, while others are aggressive and outgoing. Some people are trustworthy, some are not. People differ with each other in various dimensions as a result of different behavior and attitude towards things in personal life and working. The individual’s differences are shaped by personalities. Personality refers to the traits and characteristics that make individuals unique.  Locus of control refers to the degree people believe their own behaviors determine what happens to them. People believes they have more control over their destiny are referred as internal, and people who believe they have less control over their life and the results are attributing to the will of God, or to the fortune of being born in the right social class or family are referred as external. At this point, it is suggested that people behave differently towards change. Those who are overcommitted deterministic view of change may be inclined to believe that the locus of control is external to themselves and the organization and may therefore develop view that there is little they can do to influence events. Hence, people who think this way is less likely to attempt to adopt a proactive approach to the management of change than those who have more internal view about locus of control.
  4. Educational Level:  It is widely acknowledged that higher education improves employees’ personal management, time management, communication skills and problem solving skills. Higher education refers to the instruction that was obtained at university or colleague. Higher education of employees will be more likely to support and commit organization change with more positive thinking of why the change is needed. Since it is a logic factor that higher education equipped with employees’ more knowledge and broader thinking and believe, which reduce the tendency to be dogmatic and to be more creative.

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