Overcoming Employee Resistance to Change

Table of contents

Change is a consistent issue for the modern organisation. Discuss the various ways in which the employee may offer effective resistance to this change.


Modern organisations are consistently prone to organisational change. Change reflects business growth and represents the needs of society. Hence, businesses often make changes in accordance with societal needs by focusing on the customer and marketing as opposed to focusing purely on production (The Times, 2012: 1). Whilst change is often viewed positively, this is not always the case and change is sometimes resisted by employees. This happens for a number of different reasons with one of the main ones being surprise.

Employees generally don’t appreciate changes being made unexpectedly as it provides them with a “threatening sense of imbalance in the workplace” (Kreitner, 2008: 434). A lack of understanding and a lack of skills are further reasons why employees may want to resist change and unless effective training on change is provided, employees will most likely view positive changes negatively (Kreitner, 2008: 434). The various ways in which the employee may offer resistance to change will be discussed in this essay by analysing a range of models and frameworks that help to establish the effectiveness of change.


Employee resistance to change can be undesirable as it places an obstacle in the way of business development and organisational change. However, there are certain circumstances where employee resistance to change is viewed in a positive light. By resisting change and demonstrating their reasons for doing so, employees may actually be encouraging change by offering alternative solutions and options. As pointed out by de Jager; “the idea that anyone who questions the need for change has an attitude problem is simply wrong, not only because it discounts past achievements, but also because it makes us vulnerable to indiscriminate and ill-advised change” (de Jager, 2001: 25).

Therefore, whilst some may consider employee resistance to change disrespectful and unfounded (Piderit, 2000: 26), others may be consider it to be “very effective, very powerful” and a “very useful survival mechanism” (de Jager, 2001: 25). An employer may want to instigate organisational change that is inappropriate or wrong and “just as conflict can sometimes be used constructively for change, legitimate resistance might bring about additional organizational change” (Folger and Skarlicki, 1999: 37).

This essay will demonstrate how employees can offer legitimate resistance to change by suggesting alternative organisational change structures that will help to promote sustainability and assist in business development. This will be done by looking at various organisational change models and frameworks that will provide employees with the ability to resist change by offering additional options, which they believe will be in the best interests of the organisation. Employee resistance may lead to proposed change initiatives being revaluated by management who may then consider the most appropriate change for the business, as recommended by the employee.

The process of change within an organisation isn’t just about creating a change that individuals will be able to resist, but rather the transition that will accommodate the change (Bridges, 1991: 3). Unless transition occurs, it is unlikely that the change will be effective. It is thus important that employees are capable of resisting change so that they can offer alternative solutions that may be better suited to organisational needs. Consequently, employee resistance to change is an important contributor to implementing effective change within an organisation.

Main Body

Burke-Litwin Model (1992)

The Organisational Transformation Process, developed by Burke and Litwin (1992: 1), is one of the main models that can be used to implement change within an organisation. Employees can use this model to offer resistance to change by offering alternative solutions that would be better suited to the organisation. Employees can use this model to show the various drivers of change by ranking them in terms of importance (Jex, 2002: 442). The most important factors are featured at the top, with the lower layers becoming progressively less important. By using this model, an employee will be able to demonstrate that all of the factors for change are interrelated and that a change in one factor will affect a change in all of the other factors. Organisations therefore have to consider whether the impact a change will have upon the other factors will help the business to remain sustainable (Hertwich, 2006: 10). As the external environment is at the top of the model, this is the main factor that is likely to influence change. An employee can resist change by offering an alternative solution that takes into account the needs of the external environment (World Commission on Environment and Development, 2011: 1).

Porras and Robertson’s Model (1992)

Porras and Robertson’s Model of Organisational Change was developed in 1992 to help individuals understand how to approach organisational change. This model is similar to the Burke-Litwin model in that it suggests that the external environment is the main influencer of organisational change. However, this model also suggests that the objectives of the organisation are the main drivers of change and that organisational arrangement, physical setting, social factors and technology all contribute to the changing environment of any organisation. In effect, an employee will be able to rely on this model to effectively resist change by signifying how the change is not in accordance with the overall objectives of the business. Instead they can offer an alternative change solution that is more akin to the organisational arrangement and physical setting of the business as well as social factors and technology. A change can be offered that improves the performance of the organisation, whilst also seeking to advance individual development. Hence, as has been established; “behaviour change is the key mediating variable in organisational change” (Jex, 2002: 444). If an employee can demonstrate that individual behaviour will be modified in accordance with the needs of the external environment, organisational change will most likely occur. As this model focuses on individual behaviour, desired work behaviours will be better achieved, which will affect the disposition of the organisation overall. This theory does not, however, focus on modern ways of thinking and subsequently fails to adapt to take into account the changing environment.

Lewin’s Force Field Analysis

The Force Field Analysis model, developed by Lewin in 1951 will help an employee to resist change by providing a framework which looks at the restraining factors (forces) to change. In this analysis, there are two different types of forces, which are forces for change (driving forces) and forces against change (resisting forces). An employee can use the resisting forces to prevent a particular change from happening and use the driving forces to offer an alternative change. These forces can help the employee to alleviate any problems that are likely to arise with change management by helping the organisation to understand the effects a change will have upon the organisation. In demonstrating why a particular change should not take place, the employee will be required to show that the restraining forces exceed the driving forces. If this can be ascertained then the organisation change should not take effect. If the employees want to propose an alternative change, they will be required to show that driving forces of the new proposed change exceed the restraining forces. If they can establish this, then the new change should take place as it would be considered beneficial to the organisation. This model is useful to frame a process of change as it is easy to understand, though it seems as though each stage could in fact be expanded so that individuals can understand the process of change a lot more easily.

Porter’s Generic Value Chain Analysis

The Value Chain Theory, developed by Michael Porter, helps organisations to decide whether changes to the structure of the organisation are required (Porter et al; 2007: 706). An employee can use this model to demonstrate how the organisation does not need the change it wants to resist. The employee can do this by analysing the activities of the organisation, and the costs associated with them, to decide whether the proposed activity is profitable or not. The value chain activities consist of primary and support activities. Whilst the primary activities consist of inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing and sales and service, the support activities consist of procurement, infrastructure, human resource management and technological development (Porter et al; 2007: 706). The aim of reviewing these activities is to consider whether the customer can be offered a level of value that exceeds the costs of the activities, resulting in a profit. This will also depend upon whether the organisations activities can be performed efficiently. By using this concept, the employee will be able to demonstrate that the customer cannot be offered a level of value that exceeds the cost of the activities and that no profit can be obtained from the change as a result. This is an effective way an employee will be able to resist change as it provides the employee with the chance to demonstrate how the proposed change does not have any profitable value. Nonetheless, it is likely to prove extremely difficult for an employee to implement this model due to the fact that employees will not have access to certain information about the organisation and the change.

Change Analysis Process

Because of how important it is for organisational changes to be properly analysed before they are implemented in order to minimise any associated risks, an employee could employ the change analysis process to deny the changes they wish to resist. Because an organisation needs to be able to adapt to change (Brier et al, 2011: 1) the identification and codification of change scenarios is necessary for the change process to take effect. The process of change requires organisations to adapt to current situations, as opposed to the creation of solutions (Brier et al, 2011: 1). The change analysis process can therefore be used analyse the change by considering the impact the change is likely to have and then subsequently considering whether it should be approved or denied. In resisting change, employees can use this analysis process to put forward their reasons why the change ought to be denied. Whether an employer will take into account the views of the employee is another matter and it seems as though the employee will still be required to overcome many obstacles when putting forward its views and opinions.

Realistic Evaluation Model

The Realistic Evaluation Model could also be used to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the proposed change. This will provide the employee with the ability to demonstrate the impact the change will have upon the organisation through proper evaluation. This model is suitable for employees to offer effective resistance to change as the evidence will be based upon realistic ideas and concepts about the change. A proper assessment can then be made about the ineffectiveness of the change so that it can be resisted (Rycroft-Malone et al, 2010: 38). This model is quite similar to Lewin’s Force Field Analysis in that it will enable the employee to review what is expected from the change, whilst also identifying any problems. The employee will also be able to put forward any associated risks with the change, which will most likely ensure that their resistance is effective. This approach provides a useful framework for helping employees to develop explanations about why the change should be resisted, which it will then be able to present in a coherent way” (Rycroft-Malone et al, 2010: 38).


Given the impact organisational change has upon employees, it is unsurprising that resistance to change will often occur. Whilst such resistance to change can have a negative impact upon the organisation, it can also be considered positive on the basis that employees may be encouraging further change by offering alternative solutions and options. In resisting change employees may consequently be able to demonstrate alternative options for change, which may generate better ideas that are more suited to organisational needs. Not only do organisations need to be able to satisfy the needs of its consumers, but they will also be required to satisfy the needs of their employees. This will not only promote the success of the business but it will also lead to economic growth. Employees need to be able to identify and develop change strategies which help to meet organisational objectives and prevent undesirable changes from being made. Any risks that are associated with change will be capable of being overcome by the adoption of alternative change structures. In order to effectively resist change, employees will thus be required to adopt various change management models and frameworks so that they can offer appropriate solutions to the proposed changes. Not only will this prevent undesirable changes from being implemented, but additional strategies will also be developed. In resisting change, employees will be able to demonstrate that the possible risks associated with the particular change outweigh any benefits. Once this can be established, it is unlikely that the organisation will implement the change and any alternative suggestions will most likely be welcomed. It is important that organisations listen to the views of employees as they may be able to offer solutions that are more applicable and better suited to the needs of the organisation.


Bridges, W. (1991). Managing transitions: making the most of change. Reading, MA: Wesley Publishing Company.

Brier, J. Rapanotti, L. and Hall, J. G. (2011) Problem Based Analysis of Organisational Change: A Real World Example, [Online] Available: mcs.open.ac.uk/jb9242/jbwebpapers/submittediwaapf06paper.pdf [18 August 2014].

Burke, W. W. and Litwin, G. H. (1992) Transformational Change and Transactional Change. Explanation of the Casual Model of Organisational Performance and Change, [Online] Available: http://www.12manage.com/methods_burke_litwin_model.html [18 August 2014].

de Jager, P. (2001). Resistance to change: a new view of an old problem. The Futurist, 24-27.

Folger, R. & Skarlicki, D. (1999). Unfairness and resistance to change: hardship as mistreatment, Journal of Organizational Change Management, 35-50.

Jex, S. M. (2002) Organisational Psychology: A Scientist-Practitioner Approach London: John Wiley & Sons.

Kreitner, R. (2008) Principles of Management, London: Cengage Learning, 11th Edition, London: Business & Economics.

Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science, New York: Harper and Row.

Piderit, S.K. (2000). Rethinking resistance and recognizing ambivalence: a multidimensional view of attitudes toward an organizational change. Academy of Management -794. A, 783.

Porter, M. E., Marciano, S., and Warhurst, S. (2007) De Beers: Addressing the New Competitiveness Challenges, Harvard Business School Case 0-706-501.

The Times. (2012) The Organisation and Change, Operations Theory, [Online] Available: http://businesscasestudies.co.uk/business-theory/operations/the-organisation-and-change.html#axzz2H6FILJP6 [18 August 2014].

Walonick, D. S. (1993) General Systems Theory, [Online] Available: http://www.statpac.org/walonick/systems-theory.htm [18 August 2014].

Wendell, F. and Bell, C. (1999) Organisation Development, New Jersey; Prentice Hall.

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