Resistance to Change in Business


The process of altering major and minor components of an organization faces resistance from members of the organization. In other words, employees from different organizational departments can be reluctant to adapt to change when presented. For effective change management or change implementation, managers need to understand and anticipate resistance, know different strategies for overcoming change-resistant, and acknowledge the importance of change resistance in an organization.

Definition and Background of Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is opposing or rejecting modifications or the unwillingness to cope with new or altered circumstances in the organization to maintain the status quo. Resistance to change can occur at individual levels or organizational levels. At individual levels, employees resist change due to fear of the unknown, mistrust in the management, undesired commitment to the process, insecurity, and inferiority (Tasselli et al., 2018). On the other hand, as described afterward, groups or organizational level resistance usually occur when a bonded group of employees feel threatened, questioned, or fear being disbanded by the change process; they typically result in resisting.

Individual resistance, also identified as overt resistance, is a situation where one employee of a few team members is not willing to cope with the changes implemented. Overt resistance happens when introducing change to a team for senior management. Senior or top management as they usually consider themselves superior for facilitation. On the contrary, organizational resistance or covert resistance is when a particular group stages resistance to change. Covert resistance transpires with groups that are currently well functioning with established norms and cohesion.

For a successful change or transition process, it is essential that change facilitators or managers identify overt and covert change resistance. Overt resistance to change is when parties openly point out the downfalls of the adjustments or new implementation; parties are usually reluctant to look at the merits of a proposed change and often focus on the downsides. On the other hand, covert resistance to change is when parties show resistance signs but remain silent—for instance, lack of participation and commitment to the change process.

The best approach when dealing with overt and covert resistance is using the pull and push methods, respectively. The pull approach enables change facilitators to see resistant parties through their statuses in ways they deem appropriate. In contrast, the push approach removes resisting employees from their silence. When change is critical, the management can singly use the push method, mostly known as the crisis model. However, when change is presented as an opportunity, the management can singly use the pull method to overcome resistance.

Strategies for Overcoming Change Resistance

Strategies for overcoming change resistance are widely categorized as attraction and contingency strategies. Most change practitioners argue that the best way of overcoming change resistance is to make the change attractive to the employees. These attractions can be both tangible and intangible. However, the attractions should be communicated effectively to prevent overt and covert resistance. Mangers present change compellingly and attractively to the individuals who can potentially resist. Therefore, managers need to understand what might bring change resistance- Which involves investigating underlying organizational issues that might trigger change resistance. Additionally, individuals with excellent communication skills and influence in the organization can be used to influence the rest of the organization into being part of the change process. However, if the attraction strategy is not adequate, the manager can use contingency strategies.

For the contingency approach, managers chiefly implement the following strategies. Firstly, educate and communicate to employees about the change. Often, people are driven by fear of the unknown. In many cases, employees’ lack of information on the importance and benefits of change leads to change resistance (Tasselli et al., 2018). Therefore, educating employees on the needs and benefits of change places them on the same page as the managers, making them more dynamic and receptive to change. Even though educating employees is a naturally slow process that takes time, it will increase their commitment and motivation levels and ultimately enable them to reconcile with opposing views.

Secondly, change managers should involve employees in the change process. Change is usually experienced when employees are neither engaged nor consulted at the onset of the process. Employees’ lack of involvement in the change process triggers uncertainty and fear of the unknown future, resulting in change resistance. Since they become a part of the process, fear and uncertainty can be resolved by having everyone on board at the onset of the change process.

Thirdly, managers should offer support and facilitation during the process. Fear of the unknown and uncertainty usually result in employees being anxious about their positions or careers. Anxiety can consequently lead to resistance to change. Managers should continually offer support to affected employees for an effective change implementation process. Even though this requires additional resources, it increases awareness of the change process and enables employees to embrace change. When necessary, change facilitators should negotiate with employees when implementing a change process. Offering employees well-planned incentives benefits helps convince them of the vision and rationale of the change. Negotiating with employees will help contain widespread resistance that can ultimately jeopardize the change process. As much as it is an expensive process, successful negotiations can eliminate resistance in the organization.

As a last resort, managers can use explicit manipulation to drive organizational change. Change managers can engage influential individuals who oppose change and have them as change agents. The agents can be offered benefits and positions to have them sell the change process to the rest of the organization, taming resistance. Moreover, the leader can firmly push the process is necessary. However, if excessively stretched, employees might consider the change coerced.

Change Resistance as an Opportunity for Transformation

Covert and overt resistance to change can be of importance to the growth and transformation of an organization. Firstly, resistance to change means that employees are no longer in denial and have acknowledged the change process and have to change to adapt to new ways of working. Secondly, overt change resistance enables managers to get employee feedback regarding the change process since they are part of the change process. When resistance occurs, the organization at large learns and adapts throughout the process (Tasselli et al., 2018). Thirdly, resistance to change gives a platform for reconsideration and reevaluation of ideas. Reconsideration and examination enable an organization to move forward with the changes it needs.

Types of Change Resistance in an Organization

There are three types of change resistance managers can face in an organization. Firstly, individuals can have logical and rational resistance. These kinds of resistance arise from disagreement with rational facts, reasoning, and logic. In other words, the opposition stems from the time and efforts needed to adjust to change—for instance, new responsibilities that must be learned and questionable technical feasibility. Secondly, resistance can be for psychological reasons. These types of resistance are based on emotions and individual attitudes; in other words, they can be expressed as the employees’ fear of the unknown, mistrust in management, inferiority, satisfaction with the status quo, and insecurity. Lastly is the sociological resistance. These kinds of resistance are commonly associated with covert resistance. Resistance is related to challenged group interests, political affiliations, opposing group values, vested interests, and the desire to sustain cohesive groups.

As a result of logical and rational, psychological, and sociological resistance, employees mostly show resistance to change in the following ways. Firstly, absenteeism- employees will miss meetings, briefings, and work if they do not want to be part of the change process. Secondly, low productivity- employees will tend to perform poorly due to low motivation. Job transfer- if employees are uncertain about their positions or are left with job insecurity, some will opt to get work in other companies (Tasselli et al., 2018). Lastly is poor communication- employees will be unresponsive to organizational communication and become least interested in formal communication; this creates a communication gap.


Change managers or practitioners usually encounter resistance in the process of implementing a change process. The resistance is generally on an individual level or group/organizational level. Individual or overt resistance is when one member of the organization or group is resistant to change. In group or overt resistance, a group of employees or a particular department is reluctant to embrace or comply with the change process. Therefore, managers need to have mechanisms for identifying resistance and establishing the most suitable approach for handling resistance. The managers can use the pull approach for overt relationships, while the manager can use the push approach for covert. In addition to this, managers need to have strategies for overcoming resistance: attraction and contingency strategies. Finally, change managers need to understand the importance of change resistance in their organization to effectively implement the change processes in their various organizations’.


Tasselli, S., Kilduff, M., & Landis, B. (2018). Personality change: Implications for organizational behavior. Academy of Management Annals, 12(2), 467-493. Web.

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