6 Sources of resistance: implementing new policies and procedures in the workplace

Updated on October 10th, 2022

The global pandemic has forced employers and employees to make unprecedented and rapid changes to their behavior in order to prevent the spread of disease and the closing of their facilities.
When 54% of U.S. employees say they are worried about exposure to COVID-19 at their job, it is critical that all employees consistently follow the new protocols and procedures to ensure the safety of your teams. Otherwise, you might face complaints, refusals to work, and lawsuits about the company risking their employees’ health.
In order to influence employees to adopt new behaviors at work, it helps to understand what is driving their resistance. Here are 6 reasons your employees may ignore or push back on your coronavirus prevention (or any other) safety guidelines.

1. They are uninformed

If employees don’t have the necessary information, then all they need is the right information. You can share videos, articles, and other informative materials to address this. Unfortunately, uninformed is rare and usually temporary. Nevertheless, you should always start with good information.

2. They are confused

Alternatively, employees may have bad or conflicting information. They may be explicitly aware that they’re confused, but more likely they just don’t feel very confident.
This insecurity expresses itself in hesitation
“I’ll wait to buy my face mask”.
Or inconsistency
“Sometimes I wear it when I leave the house and sometimes I don’t”.
Or even in conflicting actions….
“I wear my mask when I go to the grocery store but not when I go to church.”
You have to have good information for the uninformed, but for the confused, you need to be humble about the information you have. It is also important to cultivate nimbleness and flexibility with information. That way, your employees will feel comfortable changing their behavior when they get better information.

3. (They think) they know more than you

Whether it’s because they’ve read more, read the right sources or they have experiences you don’t have, these know-it-all employees derive a sense of significance from their information. Admitting they were wrong or didn’t know something is a blow to their self-esteem. As a result, know-it-alls move the goalposts during the conversation, discount others’ information, and speak in generalities that can’t be proved or disproved.

4. They feel invincible

People are not calculators that rationally weigh the pros and cons to arrive at an accurate assessment of risk. We make guesses, and those guesses change — not just with changing numbers of the death count. People factor in their past experiences, the news they’re reading, the talking heads they’re listening to, and their proximity and vulnerability to incidents or diseases. For example, if an employee knows someone who’s been sick, died from, or is at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, they will be more cautious. Other factors are also at play, like growing tired of precautions like quarantine. It also includes factors like being tired of being in the house, financial obligations, and not wanting to be judged by their coworkers or the culture at large.

5. Tribal Identity

We live in a day and age of polarization. What you drive, where you shop, where you go to church, and what you do with your free time all become more significant because they represent different tribes. The people I know and belong to and whose approval I want— that’s my tribe. They do this. They believe this. They value this. So I do, too.
Similarly, the coronavirus is polarized. As a result, some of the behaviors you’re asking people to adopt have become markers of tribal identity. That means you’re not just asking people to wear a mask, you’re asking them to identify with a particular group. It’s like asking a Broncos fan to wear a Raiders jersey.

6. They are rebelling

There are some people who not only want to make their own decisions, but they thrive on disagreement. They love going their own way— even when it’s obvious that their way is wrong and dangerous. This is especially prominent when it’s also the way everybody else is going. These people do not want to be told what to do and they can be especially difficult and frustrating.

Next Steps

The strategies you use to influence your employees depend on where their resistance is coming from.
For more insight, check out the “But I don’t wanna wear my mask” where you’ll discover more about these 6 reasons, 3 tactics that make the situation worse, and the 5 steps to take to get employees to follow your guidelines.

About the Author:

Sharon Lipinski is the Habit SuperHero and CEO of Habit Mastery Consulting, which helps organizations increase their targeted safety behavior by up to 150%. She is a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist, certified CBT for insomnia instructor, speaker, TV personality and coach dedicated to helping people create the right habits so they can be happier, healthier and safer at home and in their work.

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