5 Common Causes of Resistance to Change in Organizations

Common Causes of Resistance to Change in Organizations

It’s easy to get excited about making changes in an organization when you’re the force behind the change, but everyone else may not share your enthusiasm.

Imagine a scenario where you’re implementing a new CRM for your organization. You’ve been working on this project in the background for a while, so you are ready to get started, but you’re getting resistance to change from all sides that are greatly impacting your change management plan.

Some people are digging in their heels and refusing to adopt the new system. Others are frustrated and confused by the software but are afraid to speak up. Meanwhile, morale is low, and tensions are high. If the situation is mishandled, the transition to the new CRM is bound to fail.

While resistance is inevitable, it’s not insurmountable. To overcome it, you must understand the reasons behind the resistance and work to get past them.

What Is Resistance to Change?

Resistance to change is the reluctance of adapting to change when it is presented. Employees can be either overt or covert about their unwillingness to adapt to organizational changes. This can range from expressing their resistance publicly to unknowingly resisting change through their language or general actions.

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5 Most Common Reasons for Organizational Change Resistance in 2022

While there can be an endless number of reasons why an employee is resistant to organizational change, here are the five most common reasons.

1. Mistrust and Lack Of Confidence

When employees do not trust or feel confident in the person making the change, their resistance to it can be a huge barrier. In fact, change advisor and author Rick Maurer believes that lack of confidence in change-makers is a cause of resistance to change in organizations that are most often overlooked.


Maurer’s 3 Levels of Resistance to Change are: I don’t get it, I don’t like it, and I don’t like you. That’s right — people may not resist the change itself but rather the person making it. Of course, “you” does not always refer to the change-maker specifically. It could also be someone the change-maker represents, such as corporate headquarters or a faceless CEO.

2. Emotional Responses

Changing the status quo is difficult, and many people will have emotional reactions to anything that upsets their routine. This is a natural and inevitable response. Brushing it off will only lead to stronger resistance.

Use change management models that focus on emotional reactions to change, such as the Kübler-Ross Change Curve or Bridges Transition Model, to mitigate this common cause of resistance to change. Both models recognize that change sometimes leads to feelings of loss and grief. As such, change-makers must be prepared to manage these emotions and move people towards acceptance of the change.


Begin by coaching change leaders to approach resistance to change with empathy, recognizing that people will have a wide range of emotional reactions. Some may even skip steps in the Kübler-Ross Change Curve or slide back to negative reactions multiple times throughout the transition.

In order to manage these reactions, change leaders should clearly explain the need for change while also listening attentively to the feedback from those affected by it. People want to feel heard. Make it clear that their opinions are valuable to the change process. Additionally, change leaders should check in frequently to provide support, gather additional feedback, and nudge people towards change acceptance and adoption.

3. Fear of Failure

People will not support a change if they’re not confident in their own abilities to adapt to it. When people feel threatened by their own shortcomings (real or imagined), they protect themselves from failure by resisting the change.

The ADKAR Model has two goals that address the fear of failure: knowledge and ability.


Knowledge is about training. The goal is to give people the tools they need to make the change, including those needed to handle transitions. Let’s take a technological change as an example. If your company is integrating a new software system, employees should know how to move existing information into it, as well as how to make the most of the new system in the future.

Ability is more about self-confidence. After training, people need to feel comfortable applying the knowledge they have acquired. Give employees enough hands-on experience to develop and test their new skills before fully launching the change.

4. Poor Communication

The key to great change management communication is to create an active conversation. When you talk at people as opposed to with people, you’re bound to get resistance to change.

Start by making a change communication plan. Before you initiate change, you should have several communication actions planned, such as the announcement of the change, small group discussions, one-on-one meetings, and methods for gathering feedback.

When talking with employees about change, answer the questions, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) and “What does it mean to me?” (WDIMTM). When you appeal to individual concerns, you increase their engagement. People want to know how the change will benefit them specifically and what they will need to do to implement and solidify the change.

Furthermore, providing continuous motivation throughout the change process is essential. In fact, Kotter’s 8-Step Change Theory highlights the importance of focusing on short-term wins in step six of the eight-step change process. When employees are recognized for their efforts, it builds their enthusiasm as well as their desire to support the change.

5. Unrealistic Timelines

Find a balance between creating a sense of urgency and allowing time to transition. Don’t force change too quickly. When you push too hard for a change to happen, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and neglect important elements of your change plan.

Begin with a change implementation timeline. Map out every action and set deadlines so that you have a general idea of how long the entire transformation will take. Often, designing the path between the current state and change adoption helps you identify additional steps that are needed to facilitate the transition.

Of course, you should not be afraid to make adjustments. If your team needs more time to understand the change or would benefit from additional training — make it happen.

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5 Tips to Overcome Resistance to Change

Here are a few of the best strategies to overcome change resistance in your organization.

1. Show the Value in the New Change by Educating Employees

A few of the main reasons why employees resistance change is a lack of trust and a lack of communication. To avoid change resistance, provide proof that a new process, tool, or change will greatly benefit them. Educate your employees on how this new change will directly make their lives better. 

2. Collect Employee Input Before a Change

Many times, employees resist change because they believe their opinion doesn’t matter and wouldn’t impact the decision to make an organizational change. Run surveys with your team on how they feel about the change and how they would make the process easier. 

3. Come to an Agreement with Your Employees

Never make a decision without consulting those on the front lines – your employees. This is the case with making the decision to implement a large change. After consulting with your team, come to an agreement on the timeline and overall plan for managing and implementing a new change.

4. Include Employees in the Change Management Plan

Employees feel they are taken seriously and their opinion matters when they’re included in processes. Be sure to add key members of your team into the change management and implementation process so they feel ownership of the project.

5. Support Your Employees During Organizational Transformation

Finally, don’t leave your employees out on an island – support your team members with resources, change management tools, knowledge bases, and training on the new process or tool you’re implementing. This will help your employees find value in a new system quickly, causing them to build trust with you when it comes time for a future change.

Conclusion: You Cannot Avoid It, But You Can Work Through It

Anticipating and planning for resistance is an essential aspect of implementing organizational change. When you dig into the reasons behind the resistance to change, you are better prepared to address it and move past it, regardless of which type of organizational change you undergo within your company.

If you’re looking to build on your change management skills, we’ve compiled a list of the best certification programs to opt for to attain an attestation of being an expert in the field.

Lastly, be sure to gather support for your change through change leaders, training tools, and employee engagement.

Get started with Whatfix to learn how we can design solutions that help in overcoming resistance to change through detailed guidance, faster onboarding, and ongoing support.

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