Employee Resistance to Change

An employee who resists change by not participating or making contrary choices can hinder the success of the change as well as employee productivity and morale. For the good of the employees and the organization, managers must learn to facilitate the introduction of changes into the workplace.

According to Bolognese (2002), we must first define the meaning of resistance in order to understand it better. For the purposes of this article, resistance may be defined as a cognitive state, an emotional state and as a behavior. The cognitive state refers to the negative mind set toward the change. The emotional state addresses the emotional factors, such as frustration and aggression, which are caused by the change. As a behavior, resistance is defined as an action or inaction towards the change. Resistance in any form is intended to protect the employee from the perceived or real effects of change. Understanding the different types of resistance will help managers in preparing employees for change.

McConnell (2007) states that employees usually resist change not because they disagree with it but because there is a lack of knowledge about what will happen, or because of the manner in which the change was communicated to them. Either they have to learn something new and they fear their ability to adapt to it, or there is a lack of communication causing confusion or misunderstanding. Employees function best in situations when they are fully prepared and informed. The manager’s role in preparing employees for change involves up-front communication. He or she must be prepared to answer questions about the nature and source of the proposed change.

Outram (2005) discusses some suggestions for managing change and working with resistance. He states that “to be effective, you need to be trustworthy.” Managers must learn to build and enhance trust relations with employees. He suggests that managers should be influential. Having influence means having specific outcomes with clear anticipated results. Besides opening communication lines with employees, managers should be conscientious about the way they speak and even the way they look, because it will have an impact on persuading others.

Coombs (2007) notes that in her career as librarian she has often had to introduce her employees to new technology, and she has many opportunities to observe employee resistance. She outlines several lessons she has learned from this experience. For instance, Coombs recommends that all employees should be trained on the new technology, even if the technology is easy to use. She suggests providing handouts to enhance post-training results. She also suggests that managers organize a group of employees who support the new technology and can spread the word about the benefits of the new tool. Coombs mentions that administrators should also provide employee incentives. Incentives will help employees realize that the change is not just one person’s idea and that administrators expect everyone to use the new technology.

Scott (2007) writes that implementing change in libraries is a difficult process. He argues that although change does happen, it will never occur fast enough or go far enough for those who are early adopters. He mentions that it is “tough enough to implement change from the top of an organization, and it is even tougher when you have less apparent authority.” Managers need to make connections between the implementation of a particular change and the solving of a corresponding problem in order for the change to appear relevant to employees.

There is tremendous literature available on managing change and dealing with resistance. Managers must realize that while resistance cannot be prevented it can still be managed. Being prepared, communicating effectively and knowing how to handle different types of resistance can facilitate the transition. Most importantly, it can build the trust between managers and employees, and perhaps reduce apprehensions toward future change.


Suzette Caneda attends the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. Ravonne Green, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Valdosta State University. Contact Dr. Green at ravonneg@yahoo.com.