employees resist integrating new technologies into workplace duties, and what can be done to prevent employee resistance to technology changes?
You know, I'm all for progress. It's change I object to." - Mark Twain
The Key Question to be addressed: The salient topic of this paper approaches the question of why there is a predictable and often across-the-board degree of resistance from employees when it comes to approaching - and adapting to - new technologies in the workplace. Moreover, the issue of resistance to workplace change - technology-related workplace change in particular - cries out for a close examination from several perspectives.
Firstly, this paper will discuss the issue of why people often fear any type of dramatic or workplace change, and are frequently reticent to go along with significant adjustments and modifications in lifestyle or workplace situations. The psychological reasons for human resistance to change is an important foundation for understanding workplace issues. Secondly, examples of the dynamics of workplace reticence - fundamental to understanding the more specific question of why employees resist new technologies - will be examined. Thirdly, this paper projects that while there will be a continuing "outsourcing" of technology jobs to foreign countries - not necessarily a result of technology-challenged employees in America - the smart companies and the visionary workers of the future must adjust to the new global marketplace reality with better strategies.
Additionally, the paper discusses what the negative results will be - and are - for companies which, in the present global environment and for the future, fail to properly prepare their workers and the work culture within their ranks, for the advent of new technologies, and for the outsourcing strategies now enlisted by many companies.
Background to the Key Question:
There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of new systems," Machiavelli wrote in 1513. "For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones," he concluded. His words are relevant in the changing workplace of the new millennium.
Change, by definition, alters the status quo and disrupts established patterns of behavior and relationships," according to an article in the Journal of Labor Research (Taras, et al., 2002). "Change is particularly disturbing if it occurs rapidly..." And that is because when there is "rapid and sweeping" change injected into a comfortable workplace, employees feel their lives becoming "complex and unsettling."
No matter what the change, chances are that few people will like it," writes Karen Jansen in Human Resource Planning (Jansen 2000). And the range of behaviors associated with employee resistance to any change, according to Jansen, runs the gambit from "passive resistance" to "active resistance" and even on to "aggressive resistance."
One of the key conundrums in implementing technological change, and getting employees to accept it, writes Jansen, is that "virtually all discussions of change take the change agent's perspective." Hence, "behavior that is not in line with the change agent's" strategy for implementing that change "is perceived as resistance." With this in mind, it is possible that consultants, change agents, and even HRD professionals, "create the very resistance they are trying to overcome," Jansen contends. The way to get around this problem is by "creating readiness" for change, and by "building momentum" within management for employees' acceptance for change.
Think beyond resistance," Jansen suggests, as the first step for change leaders, because there will always be resistance and leadership must not contribute to resistance. The second step is to "create and foster readiness and momentum," and the third step is "keep in mind the social energy of change," i.e., use "early adapters" to "help spread the word about the need for change."
Why do workers resist technological changes?
Resistance to new technologies in libraries, for example, is explained in a research paper by Penn State University and Clarion University researchers (Horan, et al., 2000) as attitude-related. The attitudes of library staffs - which can result in resistance to new technologies - is that technology would: "result in the loss of control and privacy"; "erode interpersonal relationships"; "replace people in their jobs"; and "replace familiar, traditional and useful library processes." study that was alluded to in the Horan paper, by Sara Fine, of the University of Pittsburgh, "identified behaviors among library staff members," according to Horan, which showed their resistance. Those behaviors included: "a decline in work"; "an...unwillingness to be trained...refusal to even try technology"; "absenteeism" and "withdrawal...general negativism, criticism or rage at the administration."
It is not unusual for some users [of new technologies] to see new technology as a threat," according to the Hurst Technologies (http://www.hcinc.com/success)"Work With The People" report. "Some users find it to be an insult to the manner in which they were performing their tasks before," the report continues. "...Others simply see it as an annoying interruption to the 'daily grind'." To be sure they had the full cooperation of the employees prior to installing new technologies, Hurst interviewed their workers, observed their workplace habits, and included them in the decision-making process.
Literature Review - What happens when change hits the workplace? Proof that change effects workplace dynamics is found within actual cases authors discuss
Vested Interests and Resistance to Technology Adoption." Three researchers (Canton, et al., 2000), including Erik J.F. Canton, CPB of the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, have put together a scholarly examination of resistance to new technologies; their Abstract asserts that "many technologies that would obviously improve firms' efficiency are not adopted" in some countries. And the reason why those technologies are not adopted is that, according to the study, "If the costs of adoption for workers exceed the benefits, they will aim at keeping the old technology in place." And, further, "for resistance to arise there should be losers alongside the winners."
The report breaks these obstacles to change (resistance) down into three components. 1) The concept of sticking to the "status quo" avoids the protests and violence and efforts to achieve political fame, which has, in the past, been visited upon companies when new technologies (such as the spinning machines introduced on the American Continent during the Industrial Revolution) are introduced. 2) Another obstacle to the adoption of new technologies may be unions (which resist laborsaving technologies as a general rule, thus protecting their members' jobs). A third obstacle, according to Canton, et al., is "regulations and laws that formally prevent technological improvements."
The researchers also allude to the fact that "introduction of a new technology makes old experience worthless," which suggests a potential drop in productivity (whether real or not) for those who adopt. Secondly, new technology implies schooling for those who will operate the technology, and an implied "temporary slowdown in growth." Overall, in their conclusion, the researchers suggest resistance to change might go a long way towards explaining "huge productivity differences across countries...as well as differences in technologies employed by different firms."
Resistance to technology, according to the president of Currid & Co., a technology analysis and consulting firm (Currid, 1996), equates to "higher operating costs, lower customer service and lagging competitive reactions." An example of a resister of technological change is the customer service manager who "refuses to automate" the handling of certain customer service issues with a "voice and fax-back system." Why the resistance? "Secretly," the report states, "he reasons that if the technology works, it will shrink his department, reducing his power base."
The FUD Factor / Journal of Business Strategy. As is so aptly pointed out in a Journal of Business Strategy (Pietersen 2002) article, change over the past and certainly today does cause tension and stress, and indeed there are predictable responses across the board when dramatic technological changes are introduced into nearly any workplace environment: "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt." The "losses" that many employees experience when there is dramatic change to their working space, according to Pietersen, include losing "certainty" (the "comfort of the known and the familiar"), "the sense of competency, financial security, and the status we enjoy in the existing order."
As a result of what the FUD Factor, which is reality for most businesses today, means to workers and the company, specific management strategies must be administered to make the case for smooth change. Those strategies are spelled out and will be summarized in this paper.
Industrial Relations (Canada) / "Unions and new office technology": The researchers who put together this study (Gattiker & Paulson, 1999) in Canada were seeking to determine what the attitudes were of unionized and non-unionized white collar workers regarding technological changes in the workplace. On the one hand, the research shows that union members generally agree that their union leadership should accept technological change "if bread-and-butter issues (e.g., wages, benefits, job security) have been safeguarded." On the other hand, few "technological change clauses and provisions" have been included in collective agreements, suggesting that the unions as…
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