Addressing Employee Resistance to Cultural Shifts in the Workplace

Change is essential to running any successful business. Without the ability to quickly adapt to changes in technology, markets, and customer expectations, no organization can thrive in the long run. But what happens when the change required of a business is cultural?

With COVID-19 still impacting businesses across the country, preserving and strengthening company culture has been on everyone’s minds. Yet many businesses are discovering that cultural change can be challenging to implement, especially when it comes to overcoming employee resistance and ensuring everyone’s on board with the cultural shift.

As necessary as cultural changes are to staying competitive, the need to be compliant within the ever-changing compliance landscape – like the one we find ourselves in today – is just as critical. It is equally as essential to have a plan in place before such changes occur.

With that in mind, here’s how compliance and learning teams on the front lines are identifying the issues that could arise before changes happen and how they are effectively managing employee resistance throughout the process.

Why Employees Resist Cultural Change

There are many reasons employees might resist change, but they typically boil down to a few key points:

  • Fear of the unknown: Employees may be wary of changes because they’re not always sure how their role or work life could be affected once they’re implemented.
  • Fear of failure: Big or sudden changes can make employees doubt their capabilities, lower their self-confidence, and potentially hurt their growth and development.
  • Feeling overchallenged: Changes often require employees to make adjustments that test the bounds of their comfort zone, so they could feel overwhelmed until a new normal is achieved.
  • Unseen rewards: Employees could view cultural changes as adding pressure to their daily work routine without a foreseeable payoff, which makes them less likely to support the transition.
  • Status loss: A cultural shift could make some employees feel their job is being threatened or that they’ll have less influence in the organization as it continues to evolve.

Helping Employees Rise Above These Challenges

From defining your company’s new cultural vision to implementing cultural changes through training programs, transparency, and leadership support, here are some helpful tips to make cultural changes work for your organization.

Share the Vision

More often than not, changes happen when an organization isn’t reaching its full potential, or the culture isn’t aligned with its mission. This puts management in the position of not only figuring out what changes are necessary to strengthen and realign the business, but also selling the idea to employees.

Once solutions are identified, teams involved with implementing the changes will be required to share the company vision of an ideal future state. When a vision is conveyed clearly and implementation plans are laid out in a way that makes sense (and demonstrates benefits) to employees, it’s easier to get people excited, which inherently leads to less pushback.

Assess Impact

Because even small changes can bother employees enough to hurt a company’s culture, it’s important for organizations to involve staff in the decision-making process sooner rather than later. Or at the very least, signal that a change may be in the works to help them get prepared.

A great way to gauge employee sentiment on potential or upcoming changes is to collect feedback through employee engagement surveys. By asking employees what they think about a change, how it can help the company, what could be improved, and any concerns they have, management can better understand the short- and long-term impact of changes in company culture. Moreover, it gives deeper insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the culture itself.

If change is coming for the benefit of the company whether employees agree or not, making the case for implementation is the next best thing management can do to prevent major disagreements. After all, positive company cultures usually rely on corporate transparency to thrive, so securing trust before changes occur can go a long way in establishing the right mindset ahead of time.

Take a Phased Approach

Big or continuous changes can upend a company’s culture and cause employee productivity to nosedive. In smaller doses, however, changes can be viewed by employees as a welcomed transition to a stronger company and culture.

Organizations that roll out major changes in phases tend to experience fewer disruptions to everyday work activities – and reduced conflict – whereas making changes all at once can create an environment where employees feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to adapt. Many times, avoiding pushback is as simple as making changes over a longer period.

When major change initiatives are necessary, businesses must pay careful attention to how employees are reacting and address their fears and concerns effectively. This might entail having more frequent meetings with those most deeply affected or sending out emails that highlight the positive impact the changes have made in the business.

Provide Ongoing Support

For culture shifts to take hold, businesses must achieve employee buy-in. In addition to engaging employees before changes happen and communicating successes after implementation, it’s important for businesses to provide ongoing training and support as the culture heads in a new direction. Here’s how:

  • Resolve conflicts quickly and effectively by offering learning programs and communications that foster an environment of honesty, mutual trust, and respect.
  • Show passion and compassion by embracing change at the highest levels and being understanding when employees aren’t ready to shift with the culture right away.
  • Be a positive, inspirational influence who demonstrates the company’s new values and behaviors, focusing on the opportunities these culture changes represent instead of the challenges.

Ensuring employees are supported during a cultural transition helps changes successfully integrate and become a permanent part of a company culture, which is an important goal of any progressing organization.

Interactive Services is a leader in helping organizations establish cultural changes effectively through our award-winning ethics and compliance training solutions and custom learning programs. Discover how we can help your business by signing up for our free 7-day trial.

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