3 Common Employee Reactions to Change

"change" spelled out in scrabble type tiles in top of a notepad

by Richard Highsmith

The old expression “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t,” certainly applies to employee reactions to change. This is true whether the change will benefit or trouble the team. People tend not to look at the results of a pending change, but rather the impact the process of change will have on them.

In 1969 Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying, which outlines the stages or emotions people pass through when they are dying.. Over the years these stages have been applied to any loss. I propose that change in the workplace results in loss and employees will exhibit several of these stages. The process is not linear and every teammate doesn’t check each box. However, recognizing these stages can help all teammates deal with reactions to change and move the team toward its’ goal.

1. Anger and/or depression: Some teammates will become quite angry at what will be required to accomplish the change. Resentment will arise over the extra work, the loss of control and the potential outcome. The opposite side of this reaction is loss of morale or depression over perception of a decrease in prestige or increased responsibility. It is important to keep in mind these are emotional, not logical responses. Arguing with the teammate about the feelings is counter- productive. They are reacting to their perceptions not necessarily the reality of the situation. ACTION: The correct response is listening. Let your teammate know you are interested in their feelings and care about them. Reflect back on what they are telling you without judgment. Be their sounding board. In many cases simply expressing these feelings will allow them to move ahead.

2. Bargaining: Another common reaction is trying to put off the inevitable alterations to the routine. The employee will ask for allowances and postponements. The approach attempts to push the change process off in to the future, allowing the known routine to continue. ACTION: The best approach is to ask sufficient questions to determine if the delay requested can be justified from a business standpoint. No plan is completely infallible and often those implementing it will find a better approach to the same goal. If the request to modify the plan is justified, take it up with management complete with the details and advantages of the suggestion. If you determine the bargaining is simply a stall, let your teammate know the team will be staying with the assigned timetable.

3. Acceptance: Ultimately all of the members of the team will either reach acceptance of the change or leave the company. The issue to examine with this stage is whether your teammates “buy-in” to the change or are simply “rolling with the punch.” Obviously accepting the change is desirable, because this acceptance motivates the team to reach goals quickly and efficiently. ACTION: Some teammates will simply take their anger or depression underground. If the morale of a teammate is low, talking with them privately can help bring out the cause. Ask open-ended questions. “What are your thoughts on the change?” or “How do you think the new procedures are working?” Stay away from closed-ended questions that can be answered with a single word response. “Do you like the change?” or “Are the new procedures working?” By getting the teammate to talk, you can often get them to express their feelings. Sometimes there are misconceptions you can clear up. Other times the changes have resulted in less enjoyment or interest in work. If the employee is no longer happy with work, it might be time for a personal change.

Teams work best when teammates are communicating freely with each other and enjoy working together. Changes in the workplace will have different effects on the team. You can help move your team toward its’ goals by understanding employee reactions to change and taking the appropriate action.

About the author

Richard Highsmith, [email protected], is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at [http://www.qualityteambuilding.com] or call Rick toll-free at 1-888-484-8326 X101.