January 31, 2019

Understanding Your Employees’ Resistance to Change and How to Help Them Overcome It

Overcoming Employee Resistance to Technology Updates


When your job revolves around technology, every new product is more exciting than the last. Take someone like David Akridge, the Chief Information Officer of Mobile County Public School District. Day in and day out, he’s thinking about how to best incorporate the latest in tech to enhance the school system. His role requires enthusiasm for progress.

But “progress” is, of course, a more attractive way of saying “change.” And change scares people. Especially employees.

There are a lot of reasons why people fear change, in and out of their work lives. The idea of the unknown can be, quite frankly, terrifying. And change is antithetical to stability, which is what most people are looking for in their jobs: They want to feel confident that their jobs are secure.

Technology intimidates people in the workplace because, on some level, they’re afraid that they -- as less-than-perfect humans -- will become obsolete. They also worry that incorporating technology implies that they’re not doing their jobs as well as possible. And many people are concerned that they won’t be able to fully understand how to use new tools.

Akridge recognized this in his school district’s teachers, who were highly resistant to folding new technology into their classrooms. But it’s in no way limited to the education sphere. In fact, when Akridge attended a recent Microsoft conference, he was informed that the most prevalent issue hindering businesses from progress was “tradition” and a general lack of willingness to try something new.

“That tells you right there -- it’s not the tech that’s the problem. It’s not the things we’re coming up with,” Akridge said. “It’s trying to overcome the fear factor, the complacency and comfort.”

You’ve recognized the resistance. Now what?

Once you’ve identified a sense of employee hesitation (or full-on combat) to technological advances within the company, take some time to think carefully about the root. What are they afraid of? How can you assure your employees that their fears will be addressed and resolved?

It’s important for employees to understand that their roles are not going to be diminished with the incorporation of new tech products and systems. The intention is to enhance -- to make their jobs easier, to make their results bigger and better.

Akridge saw that many of his district’s teachers had been teaching the exact same lesson plan in their exact same way for years upon years. They resented the idea that adding new equipment to the classroom could fix something that, in their opinions, simply wasn’t broken.


Old School Meets New School

This is largely a symptom of generational divide. Older employees may not totally recognize that Gen Z relies heavily on tech in order to learn. The internet is not, contrary to many parents’ and teachers’ beliefs, a crutch. It is a new medium by which people, especially those who have grown up on it, come to understand the world.

To use Akridge’s words, the students are “demanding” that their schools at least try to keep up with the fast-changing times. That’s not because they’re entitled. It’s because this is the world they know, and this is how they study, learn and grow. That doesn’t mean that books or worksheets are obsolete. It just means that the classroom should be supplemented with certain digital tools that serve the ultimate purpose of best teaching important material to students.

We took a tour through one of Mobile County’s schools, and the tech integrations spoke for themselves. They help teachers teach. They help students learn. They aren’t flashy or even particularly noticeable. For example, many of the classrooms are now equipped with smart boards, which are essentially digitally-enhanced chalkboards.

They have advanced functions that help the teacher demonstrate concepts much better than traditional chalk-drawn diagrams ever could. And more functionality means that students of all different learning levels will be able to follow along in ways that work for them.

Unless you work among people who are all technologically savvy, you should expect a level of resistance to change. Understand that this pushback comes out of fear, which is a powerful emotion. But with detailed explanation and comprehensive training, your employees will ultimately feel comfortable and confident as they begin incorporating tech into their work lives.