All jobs create stress for a variety of reasons. Few things, however, create more stress than ‘Change’ and it is ever present. Change is about dealing with something new and unknown. It conjures up anxiety and trepidation causing stress. This makes the Change even more difficult to handle, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Steps can be taken by companies to reduce apprehension for both the corporation as an entity and for the individual worker.
Stanislao and Stanislao (1983) state that four criteria need to be considered when implementing a change, they are: 1) determining what should be changed, 2) what type of change needs to be made, 3) who will be affected by the change, and 4) who will be the change agent(s). The latter two are really key issues since both groups of individuals will resist change for very different reasons.
Workers that have no real input into the change being proposed, repel it for several key reasons. One is surprise. People need to have advance notice that something is going to be changing. The more notice a person is given regarding change, the more acceptable it is by the time of implementation. The second and third main reasons are lack of information and training. These factors intensify an individual’s negative response to change since they have so little control, thus increasing their feelings of vulnerability.
On the other hand, staff members who have the opportunity and authority to offer input into change, resist for other reasons. Theorists, like Stanislao and Stanislao (1983), note that wanting to hang onto the old way of doing things due to its comfort zone is at the top of the list. Coming in right behind are the fear of failing and/or being wary of the unknown.
Regardless, however, of whether we are the change agent or not it is human nature to resist change for very fundamental reasons. According to Gilley, Godek, and Gilley (2009) they include:
fear of losing one’s position in the hierarchy
not being aware of the company’s vision and/or purpose
fear of losing one’s job entirely
growing apprehensions about taking on additional roles and responsibilities
working longer hours so that personal life becomes severely affected
With the human condition in mind, organizations can put into place actions that counter these negative effects. The first is providing open honest communication (even when the message is not favorable) to all staff members as early as possible. Information should be provided on where the company is going and how the Change will support the vision. During roll-out, management needs to keep cognizant of employee workloads and observe the worker’s balance of life. If additional workloads cannot be helped, allowing flexible work schedules fosters a sense of ownership for the employee and aids in providing a sense of control. Both of these outcomes further the feeling of commitment and enhance support for the Change.
Companies should also provide adequate training for two significant reasons: 1) it lessens fear and 2) provides a forum for communication that allows staff to give feedback and voice concerns. Skill assessments should also be completed to ensure that employees at all levels are equipped to handle the change and sustain it over the long-term.
Other ways to counter change anxiety is to engage staff and make them part of the process. Sharing suggestions for resolutions, not only makes the end result better due to the cross-discussion, but also improves buy-in when it comes to implementation. Celebrating small successes is a great way to keep the change moving forward and helps defuse frustration and angst. Lastly, assign and train a few change agents and strategically locate them throughout the organization. Change agents help motivate the masses, sustain the message, and help overcome conflicts and resistance barriers as they surface. The larger a company is, the more influential Change agents can be…and the more necessary.
In summary, resistance to change is a normal human reaction and should always be expected. Management can overcome it by: communicating regularly and honestly, being accessible, answering questions, acknowledging the employees’ concerns, and rewarding successes Performing these management efforts will aid in building confidence, optimism, and will ultimately breed momentum in support of the change.
It can be hurtful for humans not to accept change and modify behavior accordingly on an individual basis—but for an organization, it is detrimental. Knowing how to successfully manage change is a critical skill set in today’s volatile competitive world.