People resist change

How much has failed, or poorly implemented change cost your business In your experience, why does change fail, or not bed down successfully? In many cases, it is because people resist change.

One of the biggest myths about change is that people don’t like it. They are difficult and immovable.  Whatever managers do will make little difference.   While it is true that some personality types find change more challenging than others, there are many people who love change and will initiate it themselves. So why do so many people resist change?

Why change is resisted

If it were true that people don’t like change, nobody would ever buy new clothes, change a hairstyle, move house or have children. What people don’t like is change they didn’t choose. And why they don’t like it is they don’t want to lose something in the change. Humans are hard-wired to resist loss. Roughly speaking, losing something makes you twice as miserable as gaining that thing will make you happy.

The greater the expected loss, the greater the resistance to the change. People’s fear is based on their perception of the situation – it doesn’t matter whether their beliefs are accurate. If people sense loss they will resist the change. If they don’t have enough information to determine if the change is going to result in a loss, they will resist until they have enough information to decide.

Gains must exceed the loss

Even a good change can result in loss. For example, Diane gets a promotion to a new role, with a new team and a corner office. All good? Let’s consider what she might lose as a result. Diane is losing her relationships with her old team and for a time, until she gets up to speed, her sense of competence. Now in this scenario, for Diane, the gains outweigh the losses, so she will make the change.


But consider this scenario. Amanda is also offered a promotion. Amanda has a very strong sense of belonging to her existing team and she is also not a confident person. She agonises about the decision, and her fear of failing in the new role (loss of competence) and concerns about losing her relationships with her work friends eventually sways her to decline the opportunity.


A business relocates its offices from the outer suburbs to the CBD. Everyone will gain access to shopping, banking and cafes within a short walk. The offices are new, great fit out, new furniture and in a great location with water views. However, at the old site, there was ample free parking and the new site has none. People will have to take public transport or pay for parking in the city. Depending on people’s priorities they react very differently. Some are thrilled at the move and others are very unhappy. The very unhappy ones are opposed to the loss of car parking and for them, no fancy office will make up for that.

New billing system

Jonathon is a billing systems operator for a large utility. He has used the system for 14 years and is considered the “go-to expert” for anything to do with setting up difficult payment plans. The business implements a new billing system and Jonathon is very opposed. He criticises the system at every opportunity and makes his unhappiness at the changes obvious. Jonathon’s manager is at a loss to understand. “We had to get a new system, the old one was hopelessly out of date! Jonathon is doing the same job he has been doing for years and everyone is in the same boat, we all have to learn how to use the new system”.

There is the issue. Jonathon has lost his expert status. He is no longer the “go to guy”. His level of expertise is now the same as everyone else and that is a significant loss of competence and status for him.

Assessing the perceived loss

In a change, it is vital to think about the people and what they are going to lose (and also what their perceived losses will be). Some of the possible losses are:


No longer feeling in control, not knowing what the future holds, or where you are in the organisation.


No longer feeling that you know what to do, or how to do it, new unfamiliar tasks, fear of increased workload.


Losing contact with customers, colleagues, managers – or the nature of the contact changes. Losing a sense of belonging to a team, group or organisation. Loss of social networks.

Sense of direction

Losing understanding of where you are going and why.


Physical workspace, job roles and assignments, psychological space.


Feeling that your old ways of doing things are being criticised.

Expert knowledge

Losing the esteem that comes from being an expert and feeling important.

Disruption of routine

Loss of familiar and predictable ways of doing things.


Loss of career prospects, wages and benefits, increased job demands.

The threat to position, power and security

Loss of status and prestige.

How to deal with the perceived loss

Once you have identified possible losses, you need to plan for how you will deal with them. You could:

  • Reframe it – Involves challenging the assumption the loss will have only negative impacts. It involves focusing instead on what is positive and controllable about the situation.
  • Replace it – Involves looking for other ways to get what people have lost, or finding gains that outweigh the losses.

Redirecting resistance

Let’s take another look at Jonathon and rewind the change to the beginning. When the business decided to get a new billing system, each manager was asked to consider the people in their team, which was important to them and what they would lose. Jonathon’s manager identified that Jonathon places a great deal of value on his expert status and competence in using the old system. Once that is identified, Jonathon is brought into the change team as an “expert user” to help define the scope for the new system. When the system is selected, Jonathon is given additional training in the new processes and becomes the identified “super user” for others to go to for help. Jonathon is a passionate advocate for the new system and helps others through their resistance to the change.

Managing change is never easy, but it can be managed more effectively by remembering that people are not resisting change – they are resisting loss.

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

Ros Cardinal

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a consultancy specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and leadership coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, emotional intelligence, organisational behaviour, employee engagement, strategic direction and management.
Ros is a Certified Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute (CAHRI), a member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) and a Professional Member of the Australian Association for Psychological Type (AusAPT). She holds a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Deakin University, an Australian Human Resources Institute Professional Diploma in Human Resources and has completed the Australian Graduate School of Management Executive Program, Strategic Human Resource Management.