Why Change Is So Difficult in an Office (and How to Cope)
By Meredith Summers Posted November 21, 2017
Trying to get an individual to change their behavior can be an uphill battle, let alone attempting to get an entire office to change. If your marketing and sales departments have had a long-standing rivalry since the business began, their feud likely won't be solved over a few beers and icebreaker games. If only one person in the office is meeting their monthly productivity goals, then one motivational speech to the team isn't going to be the answer. See why these habits and ideas are so deeply ingrained, and what you can do to work around them.
Fear or discomfort is usually the first reason people resist change, and it's often the most difficult to overcome. Not only does change require relearning habits that may have taken years to perfect, it also brings conjures up scary questions about competency and adequacy. Some people will be afraid to try because they worry they're not up to the task. There are also far more tangible concerns that employees may worry about. Will a new piece of technology ultimately replace workers? Will this new change just be followed by another huge change a month or two down the line? Sometimes workers feel a tangle of emotions when they're confronted with change, making it impossible for them to understand the driving forces behind their abject resistance. It's usually up to the employer to see the forest through the trees.
Employees are always making risk-reward calculations at all times when they're on the clock. They're weighing what they're being asked to do with the resources they have to do the job and the rewards they'll get after it's done. If they feel as though their employer is asking too much of them or they feel like they don't have help to complete the work, they may actually choose to undermine change whenever they can get away with it. Employee contracts are vague enough that employees are meant to agree and comply with leadership decisions, but management often forgets there are many other factors at play than formal contracts. Even if an office can clearly define a problem and come up with a detailed and thoughtful plan of change, they can't expect employees to buy into the idea without giving them concrete reasons to do so.
Loyalty and Passion
All workers are motivated by incentives, but few employers have time to dissect each employee's true feelings and goals. However, when it comes to change, you should make the effort to put yourself in a different pair of shoes. Employees are not necessarily loyal to an employer because of their paycheck (or at least, not directly because of their paycheck.) Their loyalty is usually determined by whether or not they feel their manager will acknowledge their performance. If they feel their efforts are largely overlooked, they aren't likely to jump on board with any new changes that you propose — even if it makes their lives easier.
Solution No. 1: Better Communication
There's always going to be an element of uncertainty when you announce there's going to be a change in the company. Even seemingly tiny adjustments end up having ripple effects that can carry far further than you thought. Researchers say that one of the biggest ways you can skirt resentment and confusion to let employees be a part of the decision rather than bystanders. Talk to them about what they think the changes should look like and then really take their feedback into consideration. Explain your thought process, and let them ask questions about what the real-world implications will look like. This strategy is ultimately more complicated and time-consuming than going it alone, but the extra effort will be worth it.
Solution No. 2: Better Awards
You may also want to reconsider how you recognize employee accomplishments while you're going through a transition. It will be more critical than ever to provide reinforcement to employees struggling to fit these new changes into their already full workday. It's impossible to eliminate all of the negative emotions that come with disruption, but understanding where your employees are coming from can cut down on the amount of sabotage you see from employees. Awards do not have to come in the form of raises or bonuses, they can be as simple as taking employees aside to talk to them about what they're doing right.
Solution No. 3: Better Changes
One of the best ways to implement change in the office without resistance is to make changes that address specific problem areas for your employees. When it comes to making better changes, timing also needs to be an important factor. For example, you don't want to introduce a groundbreaking solution that's going to fix all of the company's problems immediately if you made that exact same announcement last month. One of the best ways you can appease your employees is to choose solutions that streamline their day. Instituting new technology that can automate some of the more time-consuming processes for workers can be one change that everyone can get behind. While technology can be a double-edged sword at times, few workers can deny its efficiency and practicality in everyday life.
Whether you're trying to change an entire company culture or just reminding people to put cover sheets on their TPS reports, change has to come from the top. While low-level and mid-level employees should be consulted, it's the leaders who really need to believe in the changes being made. From there, decision-makers can address the realities of the situation with employees so they can make smarter plans. By balancing communication, rewards, and employee concerns, you can reduce the risk of the pitfalls of change.