Although resistance to change (RTC) is a very popular topic amongst academics and practitioners, only few of its aspects have received systematic attention in the literature.
The adoption of the change agent's point of view, the negative perception of RTC and the determination of ways on how to overcome it, are the most recurrent characteristics of RTC research. In addition, the relevant literature seems to lack a clear theoretical framework within which RTC might be examined. As a consequence of its negative connotations, a large number of factors have been blamed for causing RTC, which has mostly been measured either purely qualitatively or in terms of more indirect quantitative variables (e.g. turnover, absence, productivity, etc.). Based on a study of middle managers in the Italian National Electricity Company (ENEL), this research approaches RTC from an alternative assumption and perspective, which is already present in a minority of the relevant literature. RTC is seen as a natural consequence of any change and conceptualised in terms of a broader theoretical framework linked to notions of whistle blowing and principled organisational dissent.
Based on different strands of literature, this study first provides a systematic conceptualisation and operationalisation of RTC. It then develops and tests a progressively more complex set of explanatory models of RTC designed to identify and understand the main factors influencing individual RTC in organisations. The models are tested using structured survey data from a sample of over 300 middle managers in ENEL which, over the past decade, has undergone a number of major processes of change. The survey responses are examined with the support of qualitative data that help to contextualise and interpret the results of the quantitative analysis.
The research indicates that RTC is a function of personal, organisational and circumstantial factors, where the individual's perception of whether the change implies costs or benefits, along a number of key dimensions, plays a central role. Furthermore, individuals' attitudes towards the change, their personal orientation to change and their commitment to the organisation are also shown to have a very important impact on RTC, since they also mediate the effect of other factors. Finally, the way change is planned and implemented is also shown to have a significant impact on RTC.