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Why do people fear change?

The Management Centre

In this blog, =mc’s Senior Learning & Development Consultant Charlotte Scott shares practical advice on dealing with organisational change on a personal level.

Charlotte ScottWe’re embarking on an organisational change programme and it’s likely my team will have to work very differently. A lot of them are already starting to look anxious and nothing’s happened yet. What can I do?

With change now an inevitable part of working life, managing the change well for both your organisation and your team has become a core manager competence. But for many people – maybe including you – change means uncertainty, anxiety and stress. If you can identify why specific individuals in your team may be worried, then you can be proactive in your approach. Here are the five most common reasons people fear change.

Loss

People fear change because of what they might be losing – ‘What am I being asked to give up?’ Will they have to stop focusing on work they enjoy? Or stop working with people they like? Some will see a change in job title as an attack on their self-esteem. Even a change of desk can make someone very unhappy if it means losing a window or a useful wall.

Anticipate how people might respond and listen to their concerns. Give them time to absorb the change. Stress any positives but be honest with them.

Confusion

People fear change if they don’t understand the reason for it – and then they resist it. Change causes uncertainty and means pushing people out of their comfort zones. However much we might complain about them, it’s our ‘routines’ that make us feel secure.

People have to know why the change is necessary if you want them to engage with it positively. Make sure you can explain how it will help – or why it’s it not ok for things to continue as they are.

Lack of competence

People fear change if they’re worried they won’t be able to do what you’re asking – will their skills be side lined? Are they going to look stupid? But rather than telling you this is their concern they make it clear they disagree with the new approach, or challenge the very reason for the change.

Consider what knowledge, information and skills your team will need, during and following the change. Set a plan to help each person gain the necessary competencies. Spend time with everyone individually and encourage them to identify their own development needs.

More work

People fear change because they see it as more work – and they are probably right. Change takes time, and inevitably people have to design and test new approaches while also continuing business as usual. The resulting struggle with workloads and lack of time, can make the change feel like a failure.

Change is never perfect – recognise that there will be unexpected obstacles as the change rolls out. Ask your team to look for issues and help you problem-solve so they feel part of the change. Help people prioritise their increased workload, and acknowledge their hard work. If it’s a very big change, break it down into phased steps.

Losing control

People fear change because they lose control over their role. The larger the change, the more they are going to feel like the change is being done to them. No one likes feeling powerless.

During change, information is power. If people don’t get enough information, they may think things are being kept from them. And any gaps will be filled with rumours and gossip. Share as much information as you can, as early as you can. Be honest if some decisions have not yet been made. Also, involve your team in planning the change as early as you can. Ask for their input on areas they will be responsible for delivering to help them feel ownership of the change.

Finally remember that every member of your team is likely to respond differently to the upcoming change and if they fear it they will do so for different reasons. You’ll need to spend more time with each of them individually than you do normally. And give them time to come together to discuss the change and their concerns so they can identify opportunities to help each other.

Yes, this means more work for you. But if you can support your team well during this change, they are much more likely to engage positively now and in the future. 

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