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Employee Resistance to Change: Dissertation

Chapter 1- Introduction

Change comes from anywhere, and is the only constant. Propelled by the driving force of technology and globalization, the economic landscape continuously transform in a way that has come to undermine the relevance of received wisdom on how a firm should be managed and what underlies its success (Gregory Prastacos, et al., 2002). In this new millennium, it is more challenging for an organization to sustain its competency or even survive in the diversity market. When an organization is threatened by environmental changes such as crisis or competition, it results in the increasing needs for communication as technology develops rapidly and higher customer demands will be foreseen. Organizational change is not an option; it constitutes a fundamental necessity for success within the new competitive landscape (Hamel and Prahalad, 1996). An organization need to evaluate its performance and review its business strategies, corporate structure, operational process and HR policies to identify the areas that need transformation. To maintain its competitive advantages, an organization must make effort to implement changes accordingly. Usually changes to be made in an organization is for the seeking of extending the ability of the organization to achieve the strategic goals but sometime changes do not necessarily contribute to the improvement of the organization (Stroh, 2001). The expected result of the change might vary due to other unexpected factors, such as resistance to change.

Resistance is a phenomenon that affects the change process, delaying or slowing down its beginning, obstructing or hindering its implementation, and increasing its costs (Ansoff, 1990). Effect of resistance of changes in organization will cause distorted perception, interpretation barriers and vague strategic priorities, low motivation among the people and lack of creative response (Val, 2003). It is crucial for change initiators to deal with resistance for a successful change.

Forasmuch as employees are the one who get the job done, and they the one who possess the knowledge, skills, tools and experiences, it is clear that organizational changes cannot be achieved without employee’s support and involvement. Employee’ acceptance and commitment are the key factors for successful changes. Effective change management should recognize the importance of its employees and the way to minimize the resistant from employees. Therefore, understand why it is caused, the forms of resistance and the factors determine employees reactions to change is significant.

1.1 Research Objective

This research will study on the factors of resistance to change from employees’ prospective. The aim of this research is to review the factor and find out the correlates among the factors. By better understanding these which a shift in perception could occur, the paper hope to develop a framework to change initiators of how certain group of employees is the likely to react and behave to change that being unleashed by the value and perception, this knowledge will enable change initiators to design change plan and training programs which recognize the values of employees, and to interact with diverse others in order to optimize the expected change affect.

The research attempt to explore the followings areas as a systematic way to rationalize the value of this project study:

  • To identify the natural of employee resistance to change.
  • To identify the symptoms of employee resistance to change.
  • To identify the reasons of employee resistance to change
  • To determine the various factors to effect employees’ resistance to changes.
  • To evaluate the effect of these factors on organization’s future development.

1.2 Chapter Summary

Chapter 1 of Introduction has provided a background of the circumstances that force organization to change, and examined the inevitable resistance can undermined organizational change. By identifying the importance of employee in the organizational change, research objectives were generated to study on the resistance of change from employee’s perspectives and listed done the areas of the study to be explored on. The research was planned in a systematic way to rationalize the value of this project.

Next chapter of this project will touch on a review of current literatures on the natural, symptoms and the reasons of employee resistance to change and factors affect employee resistance, followed by the research methodology, samples and limitation of the research. The subsequent chapter will be the questionnaire data analysis presentation and lastly the paper will conclude the findings and its implications for change initiators. The aim of this research is to review the factors that affect employee resistance and evaluate it thought the target samples.

Chapter 2- Literature Review

2.1 Employee Resistance to Change

2.1.1 The nature

Organizations can be confronted with incremental changes that focus on ‘doing things better through a process of continuous tinkering, adaptation and modification’ or transformational changes that are regarded as revolutionary and break with the past.(John Hayes, 2010) Although the incremental changes rarely presented any abrupt challenges to the assumptions people make about how they related to the world (John Hayes, 2010), this is not always that case. People are not duplicate, the values, beliefs, assumption and knowledge of that person will be developed over the time, formed as a set of personal opinion, perceptions, views of the world to guide their behaviors (Hallie Preskill and Rosalie Torres, 1999). It is concerned with whether employees regards view change can bring present or future personal benefit and opportunities or change is a threat to their job, skills or any other interests. The implementation of changes inevitably involves the vital interests of various shareholders, and especially employees.Resistance occurs since most employees desire to be successful in their work environments due to they have basic needs which must be satisfied. To begin with, employees want to know their role and their responsibilities within the organization. In additional, employees want to be able to predict what they will face in the future (Appelbaum, S.H. et al, 1998). Even though old procedures that were initially regarded as cumbersome, costly or ineffective, after a prolonged recursive execution, employees become comfortable and are used to the ways things were done. Employee might fear in a changing organization, therefore change are frequently be seen as a threat to one’s existence within an organization if upgrading or acquiring new skills are a problem because of time constraints , or the inability of the person to learn these new techniques. Change within an organizational setting usually poses several problems and challenged by the pressure in aspect of money, ego, and power for those who resist it. Employees resist change because they have learned to associate it negative feelings since their basic needs may now be threatened (Mealiea, 1978). Thus it is human nature that employees look at ‘Change’ negatively, resistance thereby coming into play.

2.1.2 The symptoms

Resistance, described by Kilian M. Bennebroek Gravenhorst (2003) is commonly considered to be standard or even natural in reaction to organizational change. It is described as an most inevitable psychological and organizational response that seems to apply to any kind of change, ranging from rather modest improvement to far-reaching change and organizational transformation. Symptoms are the specific behaviors exhibited when employee resistance to change (Albert F. Bolognese, 2002) According to Bhutan (1995), it is important to distinguish between the symptoms of resistance to change and the causes behind them. Symptoms can be reflected in varies of forms, which Marc Maltz (2008) categorized it into the two varieties: overt and covert. Overt resistance is concern with obvious opposition, disagreement, arguing, debating, etc., to any change effort. While, covert resistance comes in two forms: one is conscious covert which employees are concerned about the consequences of their actions that they apparently agreed but actually not following though or withhold information and avoid implementation. Secondly is the unconscious covert resistance, which is the most difficult to see symptoms among employees as employees are unaware their resistance.

2.1.3 The Reasons

There are many causes attribute to employees’ resistance to change, such as Coch & French (1948), studied the workers of a clothing manufacturer and find that lower employee participitation causing the mistrust of management and increase their resistance to change. Kotter and Schlesinger (1979) identify four common reasons why people resist organizational change: people focus on their own interest and fear of losing something of value, it can be power and status, autonomy and control, or specific skills; Misunderstanding the change will cost them more than they will gain and lack of trust to the person who initiating change; Different assessment of the necessity and benefit of change situations; Low tolerance for change, sometimes people just resist to change emotionally even they understand the need for change. Several studies have acknowledged what Kotter and Schlesinger’s publication and enhance these categories with further researches, according to Prosci- A business process reengineering directory and resource company’s study (2003) in past six years in 288 organizations from 51 countries, result shows the top reasons employee resist to change is because of corporate history and culture, which the organizations past performance of change project failed or did not make much sense, employees are less interested to take initiatives to support the current change, they are not in the ‘flavor the month’ , thus employee expected it go away like what happened in the past. Lorenzo (2000) also acknowledge that one attribute to employees’ resistance is that past failures leaves negative image for future changes. Another reason added on in Prosci (2003)’s research is that employee often opposes to change because of the added job responsibilities, new processes or technologies. Changes with lower motivation to get employees involved and less consideration of employees’ interest and their emotional and perceptual perspectives thereby eliminate their initiatives and level of commitment. Pardo Del Val, Manuela and Martinez Fuentes, Clara (2005) conclude above sources to employee’s resistance are most likely happen in change formulation stage, they further identify some reason rise resistance that consist of: (a) organizational values in relation to change values that cause a strong implementation climate to determine whether employee to accept or oppose to change; (b) departmental politics that form employee’s resistance.

2.2 Factors affect employee’s resistance to change

Literatures have identified variety of factors affect employee resistance to change, the most cited views of the factors fall on the organizational level, for instance the communication process, employee participation, change facilitation procedures in change process (Ricky Griffin ,2008) to improve organizational effectiveness. Moreover, employee motivation (David Clarence and McClelland, 1987) and quality of leadership (Ken W. Parry, 1999) have been widely acknowledged to have influence on employee’s work initiatives, involvement and commitment, so that it can argues to be a significant factor to affect employee’s willingness to change.

Above factors virtually are the ways to deal with the subtext of organizational humanity on the stage of change process. However, one must understand the root factors played to affect employee’s perception towards organizational change. Fail to understand the intrinsic factors govern employee’s values and beliefs guided behavior in the context of the way they were doing and expected in the future, and all the necessities organization attempt or should to do to implement and facilitate change is crucial.

Therefore, the research will mainly explore on the personal factors played to affect employee resistance to change including age, gender, personality traits (Locus of control) and employee educational level as follows:


Baby Boomers refer to people who are born between 1945-1964. This generation grew up in an era of unprecedented economic growth and stability, so as to be regarded as a generation that finds comfort with long term employment with one organization. This has provided them with a false sense of stability (Loomis, 2000).Their perceived working values emphasize on chain of command, teamwork, technically challenged, team work and loyal to employer As they born after War II, which they entered the economic boom era, Money and job security such as life time employment are definitely extremely important for them to sustain their living. In this regard, it is argued that Baby Boomers are easier to accept organizational change as their working value of chain of command which they tend to commit to the hierarchical order. Moreover, the inception of organization loyalty also attributes them to be more committed rather than resistant or any other negative reactions. (Hui-Chun, Yu and Peter Miller, 2003) Another neuropsychological research held by (Stanford University professor Laura L. Carstensen et al. 2000) on the relationship between age and emotional experiences found that the periods of highly positive emotional experience were more likely to endure among older people and periods of highly negative emotional experience were less stable. With age, older adults report relatively low levels of worrying (Sandra Hunt, Patricia Wisocki and Julianne Yanko, 2003), experience less anger (Schieman,1999), and have lower levels of emotional distress after natural disasters (Bolin & Klenow, 1982-1983). The implication of these findings are older employees have better capability to regulate their negative emotions with organizational change and adjust themselves to adapt the environment.Employee’s adaptability has been seen a key attribute to a successful organizational change (Heslin , 2005).

Compared with Baby Boomers, Generation X refers to those people who were born between 1965 to 1980. This generation of employee tend to more independent, self-motivated and self-sufficient (Loomis, 2000). This is because most X generations did not have enough of their family attention as children because their parent may have been single or working parents. X generations therefore became adaptive at handling things on their own and in their own ways. Their work value is perceived more on personal satisfaction, and their attitudes towards work are focus on flexibility empowerment, loyal to skills. (Hui-Chun, Yu and Peter Miller, 2003). Hence, when the change conflict with their own interest such as against what they used to do , their skills, or leave less empowerment to them, they will feel unmotivated towards to commit to the change. However, David J. O’Connell, Eileen McNeely and Douglas (2004) argue that since Xers entered the workforce under the employment of ‘deal’, in which career planning and development are largely individual responsibilities and where the average worker can expect to make several changes during their working lives. In this regards, it seems like Xers are more adaptive to change.

However, there are also many scholars debate the relationship between the age and the personal adaptability to change, such as Mirvis and Hall, 1996. Recent research held by O’Conell, McNeely and Hall, 2008 also support this assertion, reporting that age is limited measured as a categorical variable namely the characteristics about an individual .

2.2.2 Gender

Although many literatures have acknowledged the impact of gender difference on the management practice, there had been little systematic attention focus on identifying the gender roles on effective change management relatively. Feminist perspectives have tended to highlight not only the impact of organizational change on women’s relatively marginalized position but also the role of women in the change management (Melissa Tyler, 2005). Jamie L, Michael G and Homer Tolson (2005) research findings suggest that there is a difference between male and female executive of their emotional expressiveness, and women are regarded to process better skill at encoding and decoding emotions (Laura K. Guerrero and Kory Floyd, 2008). Emotions are intensive feelings that are directed at someone or something (Stephen P. Robbins and Timothy A. Judge, 2010). Goleman-the founder of emotional intelligence theory also mentioned that women are good at reading others’ feelings than men averagely in his book published in 1995. The skills to encode and decode emotions generally have advantage to develop and maintain relationships (Laura K. Guerrero and Kory Floyd, 2008), because skilled encoders have ability to express their internal emotional state so that other people can decode their emotions more easily and accurately (Burgoon and Bacue, 2003). In this regard, the chances such as misunderstanding and conflict due to implicit or unclear message delivered or received prone to be decreased, the communication becomes more easily and effective. In many literatures, communication has been widely acknowledged as a useful approach to eliminate resistance to change. Therefore, women are deems to be more successfully engaged in change circumstances.

Maddock (1999) added that ‘Women focus on relational aspect of how to do things,

while men tend to be expected to think what to do.’ It appears that women are emotionally discreet on how they are going to process the information, express and interpret their view points to react to change before making any decision. Combined with women’s secondary position in labor market due to gender discrimination, especially in Confucian countries, in addition to their greater responsibilities in family and child care than men, which cause women are relatively powerless to challenge the situation (Melissa Tyler, 2005). Hence Melissa argues that women in change management appear to be positioned as performing an interpersonal function associated with safety; providing security in times of unexpected turbulence and anticipating. On the basis of these arguments, it seems that women tend to avoid conflict in working in this regard and to accept the change accordingly.

2.2.3 Personality Traits

Some people are quiet and reserved, while others are aggressive and outgoing. Some people are trustworthy, some are not. People differ with each other in various dimensions as a result of different behavior and attitude towards things in personal life and working. The individual’s differences are shaped by personalities (Stephen P. Robbins and Timothy A. Judge, 2010) Personality refers to the traits and characteristics that make individuals unique (Greenberg and Baron, 2002). The most frequent used definition of personality was produced by Gordon Allport nearly 70 years ago which he commented that personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his unique adjustment to his environment. Personality thus becomes an important reason mangers need to know to generate a view of employees’ likely behaviors and examine their coping reaction. Meselaar and Cozijnsen (1997) further highlighted the personality is a determinate of individual reaction to organizational change.

Locus of control refers to the degree people believe their own behaviours determine what happens to them. People believes they have more control over their destiny are referred as internal, and people who believe they have less control over their life and the results are attributing to the will of God, or to the fortune of being born in the right social class or family are referred as external. At this point, it is suggested that people behave differently towards change. Wilson (1992) developed an approach referred as’ determinism’ to study change management portrays the manager and other organizational members as pawns affected by change rather than as agents who can initiate and secure change. Their ability to influence is limited because of the main determinates lie outside the organization. John Hayes (2010) argues that those who are overcommitted deterministic view of change may be inclined to believe that the locus of control is external to themselves and the organization and may therefore develop view that there is little they can do to influence events. Hence, people who think this way is less likely to attempt to adopt a proactive approach to the management of change than those who have more internal view about locus of control.

2.2.4 Educational Level

Although there were not many literatures specifically emphasize the employees’ educational level to their resistance to organizational change, it is widely acknowledged (e.g.: George H. McCall, Karl E. Ristow and Daniel J. Cimini, 2004) that higher education improves employees’ personal management, time management, communication skills and problem solving skills. Higher education defined by Roberg (1987) refers to the instruction that was obtained at university or colleague. According to Thomas Kent Gaylor (2001)’s research on 286 police officer from two North Texas Police department in 2001, result shows no significance relationship between the educational level and employees’ openness to change. However the limitation of his research was lack of variation in respondent’s education level. Nevertheless, the author believe that higher education of employees will be more likely to support and commit organization change with more positive thinking of why the change is needed, hence the research intend to do further evaluation with different samples on the relationship of educational level to employee resistance to change since it is a logic factor that higher education equipped with employees’ more knowledge and broader thinking and believe, which reduce the tendency to be dogmatic and to be more creative.

2.3 Chapter Summary

Chapter 2 of Literature Review has explored on the current literatures on employee resistance to change in terms of the natural, symptoms and reasons. The inevitable resistances from employee impulse the research to further find out the factors that affect employee resistance to change. The research noted many factors including communication process, employee participations, change facilitation process, employee motivation and quality of leadership, and lastly mainly reviewed the personal factors played consist of age, gender, personality traits (locus of control) and employee educational level influence various aspects from values and beliefs and emotions as a result of different behavior and levels of adaptability reacted to change

After exposit the literature review of factors affect employee’s resistance to change, the paper will tackle the main objectives of this research. Starting with the description of research methodology, samples and limitation of the research, then paper will touch on the analysis part of the questionnaire, to examine the reflected results against with the literatures reviewed earlier on, so as to evaluate its universality of the factors in the sampling organization.

Chapter 3- Research Methodology

3.1 Secondary Research

The research was carried out at the beginning though a secondary research to review the current literatures on the areas of the study, which contains of the nature, symptoms and the reasons of employee resistance to change and the factors affect employee resistance to change from a more intrinsic view by looking at employee’ personal factors. The factors focus on the employee’s adaptability to change determined by age and gender, one dimension of personality traits -locus of control, and employee educational level. The information is collected from textbooks, journals and articles from reliable and creditable online Journal Publications, National Library and Campus Library.

3.2 Primary Research

In order to evaluate the factors been presented in literature review, the research will primarily employ questionnaires as the main methodologies for information gathering. The questionnaire will be carried out with various employees working in a large organization. The methods allow directly and original information to be gathered from participants. Questionnaire results are to be consolidated, and will be analyzed using various questionnaire analyze techniques, to interpret the data.

The main reason of using questionnaire and interview is because data is collected directly from specific target respondents. Interviewers have the ability to ask extra intensive questions of the respondent concerning survey responses.

3.2.1 Research Samples

The research was conducted using data collected from a large size agribusiness organization located in Singapore, mainly doing palm oil plantation and trading. The reason of choosing this organization is because it is currently undergoing turbulence and change on merger with one small size palm oil trading company and one ship chartering company. And it also has experienced many merger and change in the past. Therefore the target samples of the questionnaire participants in the organization must have many varies views on organizational change to enable the research generate more practical reflections from employees perspective on organizational change and change effect on them, aims to evaluate the universality application of all those factors on employee resistance to change presented in literature on the target sampling.

The questionnaire attempt to invite 150 employees in this organization from four departments who are affected by the merger plan, respectively 25 employee from IT department, 35 employees from logistic department, 25 employee from finance department and 65 employees from operation department.

3.2.2 Limitation of This Research

During the research, data collected could be deviated due to limitation in the research methodology as follows:

Data may not represent the entire population due to the limitation of sampling size

As the four department employees may experience different kinds of minor changes in their department respectively, whether the change offend their interest or not might bring subjective bias towards their response to the questionnaire, hence the accuracy of data collected will be deviated.

Respondent who experience the past organizational change may bring different perceptions towards new change.

The choice of the question may limited respondents response.

3.3 Chapter Summary

Chapter 3 presented the methodology of this research which employed on secondary research to review the current literatures on the area of the study, and also the primary research using questionnaires to collect data. Research Samples chosen was a large agribusiness organization who is experiencing turbulence and undergoing merger and work structural change. The limitations of the research were also discussed including the sample size, respondents’ bias, past organizational change experience as well as the choice of questions may also affect the accuracy of the survey result. Next chapter will touch on the research result analysis and discussion.

Chapter 4- Result Analysis and Discussion

The questionnaires were distributed to 150 employees in IT, Logistic, Finance and Operation department respectively as planned in Chapter 3, the responding rate is about 76%, namely 114 employees attend the questionnaire. Following are the result of each factors being tested.

4.1 Age

The research finding on age factors shows that respondents in different age group perceived change differently and appears with different level of resistance. In contrary with literatures presented earlier on demonstrating age have negative relationship with organizational change where people are more emotional stable and adaptable to organizational change as they age. Instead, the result shows that in the age group of 20 to 65+, employees are more resistant to change as they age; an interesting finding is that for employees aged below 20, whom were surprisingly scored higher marks on resistance. Figure 4.1.2 shows details of scores on resistance in each age group.

Figure 4.1.2- Age group vs Resist to change score

The possible causes lead to this result might because when younger people firstly enter the workforce with no experience and lower educational background, they are uncertain about their skills and abilities. They may behave self-concerned and less flexible dealing with working matters, and not mature enough to regulate their emotions as they are undergoing a transition from childhood to adult, school life to working life with increased responsibilities, time is needed to help them accept such big changes and adapt themselves in the new environment. As they age and become more mature, they seek for competence, career movement and relationship, they are more flexible and motivated to change themselves in the organization to achieve their objectives. As time goes on, they feel tired and queried about what supposed to be. They are loyalty to their skills and fear losing it in the future. Stability, job security and sense of seniority may become the main values after they age 46. Hence they might act more resisting to change as demonstrated in below figure. Super (1980)’s Life Stage Theory displayed some common characteristics against to the above analysis and assumptions, which the author would like to research further.

4.2 Gender

Out of total 114 respondents, 78 are women, and 36 are men, most of men respond strongly agree that organizational change is necessary and beneficial, and express their willingness to take challenges. Although there is no strong evidence to show that women are more resistance to change, most of women strongly agreed with the statement that when things are not going as plan, they tend to feel stress and if there is significant change regarding the way things are done, they would probably feel stressed. At this point, the research result suggested that women tend to be trapped in stress situation more easily than men. Hellriegel, D. Slocom, J. W., and Woodman, R.W.(2001) has pointed out that organizational change can be viewed as greatest source of stress on job and perhaps employees’ life. Stress cause low morale, high desertion rate and consequently reduce in job satisfaction and organizational commitment. The women research samples in this study reflect lower ability to regulate stress in working and life that affect their job performance. When organizational changes go against their interest, plan or principles, family life, it easily get women feel stress emotionally and potentially raise their resistance level which can be described as ‘unconscious covert resistance’ (Marc Maltz, 2008) whereby employees are unaware of their resistance to change. Such symptom as mentioned in Chapter 2 is difficult to recognize and manage. The result urges the management to recognize gender-related problems in the organizational process. The implication of the result underlines the importance of evaluating and managing performance between women and men employees in implementing change.

4.3 Locus of Control

Figure 4.3.1 shows the relationship between Locus of Control versus Resist to Change scale. The extent of Locus of Control are divided into 5 category based on the score respondents received on answering 10 specially designed question (Q7-Q16) catered to identify the individual level of locus of Control. For each correct answer that suggested Internal Locus of Control, the participant are give 1 point, the end results are totaled up with a formula (N/10)x100. The result are categ

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