Overcoming the Fear of Change in the Workplace

file9861310649818“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” —Sydney J. Harris


By Elizabeth Stincelli, DM


I love the above quote from Sydney Harris; what an oxymoron, we want things to get better but we don’t want anything to change. This applies in both our personal lives and in the workplace. As leaders, our fear of change is compounded in the workplace. We have learned to control people and things the way they are but, what will happen if things change? Will we lose control? Or, might we get left behind? Does the need to change mean we were wrong in the first place? How will change impact our progress? So, how can we overcome the fear of change in the workplace?

This is the way we’ve always done it

We have to start with doing away with the mindset that “this is the way we’ve always done it, so this is the way we’re going to do it.” There is no guarantee that what has worked for us in the past will continue to work for us in the future. In fact, quite the opposite is true. If we don’t challenge the status quo we will not be prepared to meet the demands we will encounter in the future. You must develop the courage to reexamine the situation and reevaluate your thinking. Are your decisions influenced by your biases? How can you be prepared to confront the unexpected and seize new opportunities if you do not encourage and embrace the change and innovation necessary to stay ahead of the pack?

You fear the unknown

Change forces you to step out of your comfort zone; it exposes you to a new world and new experiences. We fear that change is unpredictable and the thought of the unknown can be terrifying. While facing the unknown requires taking on a certain amount of risk, it is also a great way to build confidence and open yourself up to a whole new perspective and a world of new opportunities. To overcome the fear of change in the workplace, learn to embrace the opportunities that await you on the other side of uncertainty.

You think you know everything

When you think you know everything you are going to fear change. Effective change requires the participation of employees throughout your organization. And guess what, you are going to find that some of them know things that you don’t. No one knows everything, not even you. That’s where shared responsibility and cooperation comes into play. Successful organizations capitalize on the individual strengths and knowledge of their employees. To overcome the fear of change in the workplace, learn to accept the fact that you do not, nor should you, know everything.

You don’t trust your employees

In order to overcome the fear of change in the workplace, you must hire the right people, give them the training they need, and then let them do their jobs. When you don’t trust your employees, you will fear change. You will question their ability to make the decisions and take the actions necessary to implement change effectively without disrupting business operations. Encourage an attitude of teamwork and set the example by developing trusting relationships with your employees.

You will lose control

As a leader, your biggest fear is that you will lose control. This fear is magnified whenever change is involved. This fear rolls the fear of the unknown, thinking that you know everything, and lack of trust in your employees into a demon that will kill any effort at change, innovation, and progress. If you fear the loss of control you probably have a micromanagement problem. Employees need to feel competent and in control of their own work. Micromanagement and excessive control undermines relationships, trust, engagement, performance, and loyalty. To overcome the fear of change in the workplace, focus on helping your teams work well together and make sure employees are engaged and feel valued instead of fearing that you will lose control.

Overcome the Fear of Change

Things cannot get better yet remain the same. Change is a necessity; we must change or we become obsolete. As a leader, you must learn to be comfortable questioning the status quo. Then, you must embrace the change that is required to achieve success today, tomorrow, and into the future.


© 2016 Elizabeth Stincelli


Liz Stincelli is passionate about recognizing and inspiring the leader in each of us. She is the Founder of Stincelli Advisors where she focuses on helping organizations engage employees and improve organizational culture. Liz holds a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership.

Learn more about Liz by visiting her website, stincelliadvisors.com and connect with her on Twitter @infinitestin, Google+, and LinkedIn. You can contact her by email at stincelliadvisors@gmail.com.


6 thoughts on “Overcoming the Fear of Change in the Workplace”

  1. Doesn’t it seem incredible that for 8,000 years or more, humans have experienced change, yet we are still trying to accept it, embrace it, stop fearing it. I love what you said, Liz. “We don’t want change, but we want things to get better.” In 1984, I had become so fearfull of change I was practically paralyzed. I signed up for 6 counseling sessions, which was all I could afford, and worked really hard on the homework I was given. What I put into practice and have not forgotten is that Change is neither good nor bad, it’s only different.

    If you stop and think about it, it’s true. We really don’t know if one change is better over another. You give super good advice. Thank you for sharing your perspectives from your experiences with your clients.

    1. I love your real life experiences, Jane. I absolutely agree with you “change is neither good nor bad, it’s only different.”

  2. Interesting interpretation.
    Marshall Goldsmith has a slightly different take (which I summarised here: http://bit.ly/1YhlpSd). In brief, Marshall says that the very beliefs that empower leaders to become successful go on to make him/her resist change. These beliefs are:

    I have succeeded (therefore I will succeed)
    I can succeed (therefore I will succeed)
    I will succeed
    I choose to succeed (therefore I will succeed)

    I prefer this model because, as an Executive Coach, it gives me something to work with – make the leader aware of his beliefs, examine them, see if they still add value, modify/eliminate as needed…

    1. Thank you for sharing your point of view. The key, as you point out is to be “…aware of our beliefs, examine them, see if they still add value, and then modify or eliminate as needed.” The problem lies in refusing to even consider that we may need to consider change.

  3. Excellent article Liz. Important for all leaders to read and share with their teams. I appreciate your valuable content on a consistent basis. You are extraordinary!

Comments are closed.