28 Important and Dangerous Causes of Resistance to Change

Managing resistance to change is an important part of the success of all change efforts in each company. Dealing with resistance largely depends on your ability to recognize the real sources or causes of resistance to change.

Organizational change is an activity of transformation or modification of something in your organizational system. The main purpose of this activity is to make improvements to your business performance. You can’t find a person who would like to implement change if that change process brings results with which the organization will become worse, or there will not be any improvements.

Why We Need Organizational Changes

An organization, business, or company is interacting with its environment. Each environmental change will affect the organization’s work and performances, and because of that, the organization will need to adapt itself regarding changes in the environment.

So, the organizational change is the activity of differentiation or modification of the organization with the main purpose to bring improvements to overall business processes and to bring an adaptation concerning the ongoing changes in the environment.

On the other side, there will always be some types of sources of organizational changes.

Why There Is a Resistance to Change?

When we talk about organizational change, we need to mention that this process isn’t simply a journey from point A to point B. You will need to pass many barriers if you want to succeed in improving your business. One of the biggest barriers is resistance to change as an integral part of each change process.

Managers will need to be aware that there will always be persons in their organizations that will resist the proposed changes. Thus, the efficiency and effectiveness of the change process will be in direct relation with resistance to change and successful managing resistance to change.

The practice of managing resistance to change recognizes four types of persons regarding their responses to changes. So, we can have:

  • Persons who will initiate the change process.
  • Persons who will accept the proposed change.
  • Those who will be indifferent to the proposed change.
  • Persons who will not accept the proposed change.

Those persons that will not belong in any of the above-mentioned categories are more likely to be resistant to proposed changes, and at the same time, to accept or initiate other types of changes.

28 Causes of Resistance to Change

I have conducted a literature review and practical research to discover 28 possible causes of resistance to change. Here, I will shortly present these 28 causes of resistance to change:

1. The threat of power on an individual level. 

It is more likely that managers will resist changes that will decrease their power and transfers it to their subordinates. In such a way, the threat of power is one of the causes of resistance to change;

2. The threat of power on an organizational level.

With the change process, some groups, departments, or sectors of the organization become more powerful. Because of that, some persons will be opposed to such a proposal or processes where they will lose their organizational power;

3. Losing control of employees.

The change process can sometimes reduce the level of control that managers can conduct. In such a way, managers or employees can resist the proposed changes if the change process will require a reduction of their control power;

4. Increasing the control of the employees.

Organizational changes can increase the managerial control of the employees, and this process can produce employees to become resistant to such proposal proposals of change;

5. Economic factors.

Organizational changes sometimes can be seen from the employee’s side simply as something that will decrease or increase their salary or other economic privileges that some workplace brings to them before implementing the change process. It is normal to expect that those who feel that they will lose a portion of their salary will resist the change.

6. Image, prestige, and reputation.

Each workplace brings adequate image, prestige, and reputation that are important to all employees. Organizational changes can make a drastic shift in these employee’s benefits. If this is the case with the proposed change, then it will produce dissatisfaction. So, image, prestige, and reputation is one of the causes of resistance to change;

7. The threat of comfort.

Organizational changes, in many cases, result in personal discomfort and make employee’s life more difficult. They make a transfer from the comfort of the status quo to the discomfort of the new situation. Employees have the skills to do an old job without some special attention to accomplishing the task. Each new task requires forgetting the old methods of doing the job and learning new things that lead to a waste of energy and causes dissatisfaction;

8. Job’s security.

Organizational change can eliminate some workplaces, can produce technological excess, layoffs, and so on. Job’s security simply is one of the causes of resistance to change;

9. Reallocation of resources.

With organizational changes, some groups, departments, or sectors of the organization can receive more resources while others will lose. This will bring resistance from the individuals, groups, or departments who will lose some of their currently available resources.

10. Already gained the interests of some organized groups in the company.

Organizational change can make new groups more significant for the success of the organization. That’s a big threat for old coalitions that will cause resistance to change in those groups that will become more insignificant with the proposals;

11. Implications on personal plans.

Organizational change can stop other plans, projects, or other personal or family activities. In such a way, this become one of the causes of resistance to change for those persons who will be reached by this change;

12. Too much dependence on others.

In an organization, there are employees who too much depend on other individuals. This dependence is based on the current support that they receive from powerful individuals. If the change process brings the threat of that dependence, it will cause resistance to change of those persons that will be threatened by this change;

13. Misunderstanding the process. 

Organizational individuals usually resist change when they do not understand the real purpose of the proposed changes. When employees don’t understand the process, they usually assume something bad. This will cause resistance to change;

14. Mistrust to initiators of change.

When employees don’t have trust in the initiators of the process, the process will not be accepted, and this will cause resistance to change;

15. Different evaluations and perceptions.

Different evaluation and perception can affect organizational changes if persons consider the proposed changes as a bad idea. Because of that, they are resistant to proposed changes.

16. Fear of unknown.

Organizational change, in many cases, leads to uncertainty and some dose of fear. It is normal for people to feel the fear of uncertainty. When employees feel uncertainty in the process of transformation, they think that changes are something dangerous. This uncertainty affects organizational members to resist the proposed change;

17. Organizational members’ habits.

Employees’ work is based on habits, and work tasks are performed in a certain way based on those habits. Organizational changes require shifts of those habits and because of that dissatisfaction from these proposals.

18. Previous Experience.

All employees already have some experience with a previous organizational change process. So, they know that this process is not easy. That experience simply will tell them that most of the change processes in the past were a failure. So, this can cause resistance to change;

19. The threat to interpersonal relations.

Employees are often friends with each other, and they have a strong social and interpersonal relationship inside and outside the organization. If an organizational change process can be seen as a threat to these powerful social networks in the organization, the affected employees will resist that change.

20. The weakness of the proposed changes.

Sometimes proposed change might have a weakness that can be recognized by the employees. So, those employees will resist implementing the process until these weaknesses are not removed or solved.

21. Limited resources.

A normal problem in every organization is to have limited resources. When resources are limited, and with the proposed organizational changes, those resources are threatened, the resistance to change is more likely to occur;

22. Bureaucratic inertia.

Every organization has its own mechanisms as rules, policies, and procedures. Sometimes, when individuals want to change their behavior, these mechanisms in many cases can resist the proposed changes;

23. Selective information processing.

Individuals usually have selective information processing or hear only something that they want to hear. They simply ignore information that is opposite of the current situation, and with this, they don’t want to accept important aspects of the proposed changes. Because of that, appear resistant to change;

24. Uninformed employees.

Often, employees are not provided with adequate information about organizational changes that must be implemented.  And normally, this can cause resistance to change;

25. Peer pressure.

We can often have informal punishment for employees who support change by other employees who don’t support the same change. This situation can have a large impact on increasing the level of resistance to change;

26. Skepticism about the need for change.

If the problem is not a personal thing of employees, they will not see the real need to change themselves. Those that can’t see the need for change will have a low readiness level for the change process;

27. Increasing workload.

In organizational change, except normal working activities, employees usually will implement activities of a new change process. These increases of workloads affect the appearing of resistance to change;

28. Short time to perform the change process.

Because organizational systems are open systems that interact with their environment, the need for change often comes from outside. In such a way, the performing time is dictated from the outside of an organization. These situations lead to a short time for implementing the organizational change process and cause resistance to change.

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Reference List

The reference list of literature sources: 28 Factors That Causes Resistance to Change: Reference List.

Posted by Dragan Sutevski

Dragan Sutevski is a founder and CEO of Sutevski Consulting, creating business excellence through innovative thinking. Get more from Dragan on Twitter. Contact Dragan