Workplace strategy
6 min read

Tips to Help Overcome Employee Resistance to Change

With businesses, schools and government either opened or having identified dates by which they will reopen in-person activities, a greater sense of pre-pandemic normalcy is settling in. However, the pandemic is not over and public health concerns are still the top priority for employers and policy makers. And now that workers have shown they can be productive remotely, many employers and employees may never fully return to the exact same workplace norms from before COVID-19. As a result, workers across all industries are adjusting to the new realities in the workplace. Whether the changes with your employer or industry are major, minor or somewhere in the middle compared to pre-pandemic, after many employees spent over a year in a remote modality, there is likely to be some level of resistance with a return to in-person work. Read on as we offer some tips and guidance to help your employees overcome these obstacles.

Why the reluctance?

Let’s start by taking a look at some reasons why people might be reluctant to change the work modality they have come to embrace since March 2020.

First and foremost, understanding why people don’t want things to change is an important initial step in combating reluctance when change is necessary.

Forbes article written by Lisa Quast, author, career coach, business consultant / organizational trainer and former Fortune 500 executive, shares 5 reasons why people commonly resist change, and we are sharing her list below:

  1. Fear of the unknown/surprise
  2. Mistrust
  3. Loss of job security/control
  4. Bad timing
  5. An individual’s predisposition toward change

Writing for the Balance careers, Susan Heathfield offers an important perspective in an article entitled, “How to Reduce Employee Resistance to Change.” According to Heathfield, “Change is uncomfortable and requires new ways of thinking and doing. People have trouble developing a vision of what life will look like on the other side of a change. So, they tend to cling to the known rather than embrace the unknown. Employees don’t fear change, though, they fear the unknown. They fear being changed. They fear being out of control.”

Change in the era of COVID

Woman Face Mask

The COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt change in workplace modality on a large scale for companies across the globe. For the first time, many companies and industries shifted to full-time remote work, and for companies that needed to maintain in-person services, the landscape still changed dramatically. Where changes of such great magnitude surely would have been handled more delicately before the pandemic, COVID-19 did not allow for nuance so many businesses acted quickly to implement major changes out of necessity to stay competitive and viable.

To that end, Frederic Gilbert and Jean Gagnon – partner and counsel, respectively, at Fasken, an international business law firm – offer the following suggestion: “To develop a proactive culture of seeking change within a franchise network, a first step is to actively involve all members of the network (franchisor and franchisees) in the process of researching, designing, selecting, experimenting and executing change. This may seem cumbersome, at least initially, but it is an essential prerequisite for building a culture open to change. This initial heaviness will be more than compensated for by faster, more efficient and coordinated acceptance and implementation of the changes so accepted.”

While every organization is different, it can be helpful to learn what others are doing to change workplace culture, that way you can use best practices to ensure successful implementation. Gilbert and Gagnon offer these words of wisdom:

“In the new Post-COVID-19 environment, it is therefore important to put in place processes and tools that:

  • Promote and value new ideas and proposals for change, and ensure that they are given due consideration regardless of their provenance (franchisor, franchisee, employee, partner, supplier, consultant, etc.);
  • Permit rapid, direct, frank, open and multi-directional (franchisor-franchisee(s), franchisee-franchisor(s) and franchisee-franchisee(s)) exchanges on issues, challenges, difficulties and opportunities facing the network;
  • Ensure that ideas and plans for change are open to comments, improvements and criticisms from all those who will have to live with them;
  • Ensure that changes are properly evaluated and tested before being implemented throughout the network. Some franchisees may well, on a voluntary basis, participate in this evaluation and in this experimentation phase;
  • Ensure that the changes decided upon are communicated promptly and well explained before implementation;
  • Finally, ensure real-time monitoring of the implementation of the changes, both to ensure that they are properly executed and to make any corrections or improvements that may prove relevant to improve them better or make them easier to execute.”

Strategies to conquer resistance

Planning Resized Blog

There are many schools of thought to help battle employee reluctance to change. In this section, based on our research, we are going to look at different pieces of advice from industry experts.

An article written by author, speaker and former operating executive Lin Coughlin published in Forbes reads in part, “Many of us find ourselves suddenly confronted by the need to change at core. How we did things six months ago simply does not work today and might not work for the foreseeable future. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Coughlin goes on to offer the following advice that we are sharing with you:

  1. Create an agile go-forward plan that can evolve with changing times.
  2. Define short-term metrics for success. Make them highly transparent and accessible.
  3. Create different incentives.
  4. Seed the development of passionate champions of change.
  5. Create and continuously refine a robust communications process.

Another helpful resource we found comes from Beth Williams, President and Owner of Forward Focus, a change management consulting company. Williams authored a post entitled “7 Strategies for Overcoming Resistance to Change i the Workplace,” and we are sharing her tips below:

  1. Structure the team to maximize potential
  2. Set challenging, achievable and engaging targets
  3. Resolve conflicts quickly and effectively
  4. Show passion
  5. Be persuasive
  6. Empower innovation and creativity
  7. Remain positive and supportive

If you are looking for another perspective to help with implementing changes in your workplace, Prosci, a change management solution company, published an informative article on the subject.

In a piece entitled “5 Tips for Managing Resistance to Change,” according to Prosci, “While resistance is the normal human reaction in times of change, good change management can mitigate much of this resistance. Change management is not just a tool for managing resistance when it occurs; it is most effective as a tool for activating and engaging employees in a change. Capturing and leveraging the passion and positive emotion surrounding a change can many times prevent resistance from occurring—this is the power of utilizing structured change management from the initiation of a project.”

The solution company offers the following tips:

  • Do change management right the first time
  • Expect resistance to change
  • Address resistance formally
  • Identify the root causes of resistance
  • Engage the “right” resistance managers

Succeeding through change

Woman Red Jacket

For employees, who may be fearful or anxious about change, there are some useful coping mechanisms that can help with the adjustment.

Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner at Millennial Branding and a New York Times best-selling author, writing for Quickbase, an application development platform, shares the following  10 tips:

  1. Maintain a positive attitude.
  2. Recognize that change is constant. 
  3. Stay connected to previous co-workers. 
  4. Communicate with others to learn your new role.
  5. Be optimistic even though you might not be currently happy. 
  6. Self-reflect.
  7. Learn new skills. 
  8. Over communicate. 
  9. Ask as many questions as possible.
  10. Look for ways to help others cope with change. 

If you’re figuring out the best way to return to the office or implement hybrid, flexible working, check out our recent webinars.

Smartway2 can help you to optimize your workplace experience, make rooms, desks and other resources bookable in advance. That way you can leverage utilization data to create your ideal employee experience. To see how it works book a demo.


Hannah Cresswell

Last updated November 1, 2021