Overcoming Resistance to Workplace Change with Employee Participation

By Keti Malkoski / April 24, 2013

It’s no secret that most people are adverse to change. When it comes to workplace change, this adversity is especially important to manage, as the impact on people can have a direct impact on business.

The ultimate objective of a workplace change management program is to ensure that the relevant change is embedded into the organisation and continuously improves employee and business outcomes. To achieve this, structured change management programs need to actively manage resistance to change and promote employee engagement.

This post will discuss how employee participation, as just one proactive change initiative, can assist in promoting commitment to workplace change. Planned employee participation, through activities such as steering committees, can become the ‘voice’ employees need in the change and can promote ownership and responsibility over the change. We all have a need to be heard:

As Maslow suggested, employers should “assume that everyone prefers to feel important, needed, useful, successful, proud, respected, rather than unimportant, interchangeable, anonymous, wasted, unused, expendable, disrespected”.

Employee participation is typically initiated by management as a technique to ensure that change outcomes are relevant and harness employee expertise and insights.  Prior to obtaining the opinions and inputs of employees in workplace change, the change management team should develop a participation plan to ensure that the employee participation is structured and meaningful. This plan should identify the level of input required by different groups of employees, such as change planning, goal setting, problem solving, and decision-making. This plan should also identify the level of control employees will have over the change, considering inputs such as budgets, timelines, and more.

Importantly, participation plans should be directly linked to the change communication and education plans, ensuring that employees have the right information and competencies to contribute to the workplace change. These plans should ensure that participation is active and not passive (which may have a negative impact and be viewed as tokenism).

So why incorporate employee participation in your workplace change management program?

Research demonstrates that employee participation in workplace change can promote ‘buy-in’ to the change initiative and feelings that the change is ‘fair’.  Participation can help employees feel more in control of the change and empowered to direct outcomes that impact them and their work whilst reducing negative change perceptions of fear, frustration and ambiguity.

I recently attended a flexible working workshop and one of the keynote speakers said something very significant that demonstrated the importance of employee participation. When asked why he wasn’t engaged in the change from the beginning, his response was ‘Because I was told, instead of being involved’.

Check out some of Keti’s previous articles as well: