Reasons Why People Resist or Support Organizational Change

Change Management | Credit: annatodica
Change Management | Credit: annatodica

“Change can generate deep resistance in people and in organizations, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to implement organizational improvements.”
—Thomas Cummings & Christopher Worley

Oreg, Vakola, and Armenakis (2011), in their 60-year review of quantitative studies involving change recipients’ reactions to organizational change, discovered that recipients’ reactions to organizational change involve cognitive (what they think), affective (how they feel), and behavioral (what they intend to do) reactions.

The authors developed a model of change recipients’ reactions to organizational change that include the antecedents (reasons for the reactions or variables that predict change recipients’ reactions), explicit reactions [how change recipients feel (affect), what they think (cognition), or what they intend to do (behavior) in response to the change], and change consequences of organizational change (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, Figure 1, p. 4).

So what does a review of the research literature tell us about why people resist change? Oreg, Vakola, and Armenakis’ 60-year review of change recipients’ reactions to organizational change reveals four reasons why people resist change: (1) Personality Traits and Coping Styles, (2) Level of Trust in Management & Organization, (3) How Change Is Implemented, and (4) Perceived Benefit/Harm From the Change.

Four Reasons Why People Resist Organizational Change (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011):

1. Personality Traits and Coping Styles.

  • Personality Traits – Personality traits that are linked to reactions to change include locus of control, self-efficacy, positive and negative affectivity, tolerance for ambiguity, dispositional resistance to change, dispositional cynicism, openness to experience, and neuroticism and conscientiousness (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011).
  • Coping Styles – “change recipients who adopted a problem-focused coping style reported greater readiness for the organizational change, increased participation in the change process, and an overall greater contribution to it” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 27).

2. Level of Trust in Management & Organization. The most consistent and strongest relationship with change reactions is the degree to which change recipients trust management (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011).

3. How Change Is Implemented (Change Process). “A participative and supportive process, with open lines of communication, and management that is perceived as competent and fair in its implementation of the change, is effective in producing positive reactions toward the change” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 33).

4. Perceived Benefit/Harm From the Change. “A key determinant of whether change recipients will accept or resist change is the extent to which the change is perceived as personally beneficial or harmful. Anticipated benefit and harm constitute straightforward and sensible reasons change recipients may have for supporting or resisting a particular change” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 33).

In her Pocket Mentor book, “Managing Change,” Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill (2009) shared reasons for people’s reactions to organizational change. Dr. Hill listed nine reasons why people resist change and six reasons why people support change.

Nine Reasons Why People Resist Change (Hill, 2009, p. 47):

  1. They believe the change is unnecessary or will make things worse.
  2. They don’t trust the people leading the change effort.
  3. They don’t like the way the change was introduced.
  4. They are not confident the change will succeed.
  5. They did not have any input or in planning and implementing the change effort.
  6. They feel that change will mean personal loss — of security, money, status, or friends.
  7. They believe in the status quo.
  8. They’ve already experienced a lot of change and can’t handle any more disruption.
  9. They’re afraid they don’t have the skills to do their work in new ways required by the change.

Six Reasons Why People Support Change (Hill, 2009, p. 47):

  1. They believe the change makes sense and that it is the right course of action.
  2. They respect the people leading the change effort.
  3. They anticipate new opportunities and challenges that come from the change.
  4. They were involved in planning and implementing the change effort.
  5. They believe the change will lead to personal gain.
  6. They like and enjoy the excitement of change.

“The difficulty in mastering change lies in the fact that we can’t “program” ourselves to adjust. Human beings are complex and emotional, and some of the stress of change comes from a gap between what we want to feel and do, and what we actually feel. The gap will not go away by ignoring it, but it can be easier to take by recognizing and facing up to one’s real difficulty with change.”
—Dennis Jaffe & Cynthia Scott

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Consultant

References

Cummings, T. G., & Worley, C. G. (2009). Organization development and change (9th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Hill, L. A. (2009). Managing change: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Jaffe, D. T., & Scott, C. D. (2003). Mastering the Change Curve: Theoretical background (2nd edition). West Chester, PA: HRDQ. Retrieved from http://www.traininglocation.com/mastering-change-curve-theory.pdf

Oreg, S., Vakola, M., & Armenakis, A. (2011). Change recipients’ reactions to organizational change: A 60-year review of quantitative studies. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(4), 461-524.