HR Pros – Employee Resistance to Change

The process of change – how the world of business works is aptly described in Spencer Johnson’s 1998 book Who Moved My Cheese?*

I recently needed an illustration of the maladaptive ways in which employees respond to change, while teaching Psychology in the Workplace.  Students didn’t have the time to read an additional text so I created the following outline based upon Johnson’s book.  I showed my students the book, recommended it and presented the class material.

In this work, I explain the irrational dynamics of people hanging on to old ways even when evidence of change is obvious and failure to change may result in business failure (or starvation for the little mice!). I offer it here for my followers:

  1. People pay more attention to the things-they-need when things are new
  2. People exert effort toward having the things-they-need
  3. People realize that having the things-they-need makes them happy – nice!
  4. As time goes on, things-they-need and already have, are less on their minds
  5. People put less effort into doing what they have to do to keep getting the things-they-need
  6. People assume that the things-they-need will always be there
  7. People stop paying attention to what is going on around the things-they-need
  8. Some smart people (thinkers and planners) understand the dynamics of change and that things-they-need might be difficult to get in the future
  9. Some smart people talk about planning and building contingencies but others don’t listen
  10. Things begin to shift gradually–there are signs of impending change but most people don’t notice
  11. Some smart people notice the subtle shifts, they talk but most people don’t listen
  12. People work harder in the old way to get the things-they-need but it doesn’t work
  13. The world changes in a clear way — the things-they-need may be available, but now they:
    1. Are located in a different place
    2. Require extra work to get them
    3. Are no longer available in the old form
  14. People go into denial — pretending things haven’t changed
  15. People work harder to hold fast to the old ways of the world
  16. Business starts to decline
  17. It becomes clear that the things-they-need are no longer available
  18. People have to notice —  now they begin to react:
    1. People become anxious and over-wrought
    2. People talk about how it isn’t fair
    3. People blame others who should have warned them
  19. People begin blame others for the change
  20. People verbally attack and make complaints about those they see as responsible
  21. People get stuck in the I-want-things-to-go-back-to-the-way-they-were camp
  22. Some smart people have been thinking and planning, they see themselves as responsible for solving the problem
  23. These smart people talk about what needs to be done and try to convince people to change and move
  24. People react to these “change agents” and they begin to resist by:
    1. Overt sabotage of people and processes
    2. Worker’s compensation claims
    3. Staying at work and complaining
    4. Quitting (good turnover — Bye bye!)
  25. Some smart people get discouraged and leave (bad turnover — Oh no!)
  26. Some smart people begin to find new ways and locations to get the things-they-need
  27. Eventually, the people come over to the new way of getting things-they-needbut at a variable pace:
    1. Early adopters
    2. Near-time adopters
    3. Late adopters
    4. Refusers – those who never adopt (performance counselings?)
  28. Finally all the people agree to the new way
  29. People get used to the new way and the process starts over again
  30. Some smart people know things will change and continue to pay attention to clues

* An original deconstruction work based upon:  Spencer Johnson, MD (1998) Who Moved My CheeseNew York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

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  1. I like the list it will definitely help motivated employees more easily adapt to change. Were there stratagies suggested for encouraging change in employees who are comfortable in the know, and so resist change not out of rebellion, but the anxiety that change can create?

    • I think there are different reasons for employees resisting change but I think the strategies for helping them are the same – explaining the vital reasons why things are changing, the consequences for ignoring the change, warning employees in advance and listening to them along the way. No guarantee of success, but more likely to win them over. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


  2. For example, Cheese would certainly be of no usage to those in charge of closing down Cheese Station C or opening up Cheese Terminal N.

    Cheese is no aid to those that have to choose what modifications to present and just what
    adjustments to decline. Business literature contains
    examples of broke firms that enthusiastically adhered to modifications that everyone else was adhering to.
    Any type of initiative by those in fee of “the heating system” to
    take celebrity message seriously would result in particular calamity.

    • Certainly the world of business has become much more complicated in terms of divestiture & start ups in lines of business. Your point is well-taken that every company must decide what modifications make sense for them and not necessarily follow the “crowd.”

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