How to overcome your personal barriers to workplace change

Change is constant, especially within the world of work. But changes taking place at work can also be scary and confusing. The solution: learn to overcome your personal barriers to workplace change (and make change fun!).

The simplest way to do this is to lead change yourself. Have you noticed that?

When you’re leading change yourself it’s mostly just fun and exciting.

Maybe it’s learning a new hobby, or taking a job offer, or starting a family. When you’re making the decisions and in control, change feels a whole lot more fun, and a whole lot less scary.

But often change happens to us. Especially at work.

It might be a reorganization, new responsibilities we’re expected to take up, a new manager, changes to policies and processes.

All these changes can trigger your personal barriers to workplace change.

Personal barriers to changes at work

Understanding your personal barriers to changes at work will help you overcome them. When changes happen to you, you’ll have a pathway forward. A pathway that can be productive, and fun!

The 6 biggest personal barriers to change (especially at work) are:

  1. Fear of letting go
  2. Fixed mindset
  3. Lack of clarity
  4. Lack of skills / knowledge / resources
  5. Lack of a reason ‘why’
  6. Change fatigue

This last point, change fatigue, is the number one reason why change fails in organizations according to this Forbes article. More on that later.

Let’s explore each in turn, together with how to overcome each barrier to change.

1. Fear of letting go

This is by far the biggest barrier to change, and typically our first reaction to change. We focus on all the things that we will lose.

These are not always tangible things, there are many ways that you can experience loss during times of change:

  • Loss of your routine and the comfort that comes with it
  • Loss of confidence and the feeling of being capable
  • Loss of relationships and a sense of belonging
  • Loss of clarity about the future
  • Loss of security and safety

The solution:

  • Be proactive in exploring the change
  • Avoid making assumptions
  • Focus on the positive aspects of change (create your own vision of a brighter future!)
  • Recognize that ‘letting go’ is part of the process

2. Fixed mindset

A fixed mindset is like an amplifier. It makes all the other barriers to change much larger and more intimidating!

A fixed mindset can be defined as:

A belief that personal skills and abilities are fixed, they cannot change. This leads to a fear of being challenged and a “I will stick to what I know” mentality.

The opposite is a growth mindset:

A belief that we can all grow, that “I can learn to do anything I want” and that new experiences are an opportunity to be embraced.

Learn to cultivate a growth mindset: explore these growth mindset activities for adults.

3. Lack of clarity

Most organizations are dysfunctional (in their own special way!), and this is particularly true during times of change.  

It may be local, functionally-specific change, or global, organization-wide change.

Either way, there’s plenty of opportunity for mixed messages.  

The solution:

  • Clarify what you do know for sure
  • Proactively reach out to resolve ambiguity
  • Focus on your immediate next steps
  • Get comfortable with a degree of uncertainty

4. Lack of skills / knowledge / resources

Sometimes there are legitimate barriers to change. It’s not about fear or mindset or lack of clarity. You’re onboard, you just don’t have what you need to change.

The solution:

  • Reach out for the information you need
  • Make a business case for the resources
  • Take a little time to focus on what you should stop doing (an often-forgotten part of change)
  • Recognize that you’re going to be ‘learning by doing’ for a while
  • Find a Mentor
  • Minimize personal risk by putting a plan together and getting it signed off

This last point is particularly important. During times of change at work, address issues up-front. Have the difficult conversations and put a plan together that is agreed by all your important stakeholders.

5. Lack of a personal reason ‘why’

This is the final and most dangerous of all the personal barriers to change. If you don’t have a personal reason ‘why’ to change, then it’s going to be tough to find the grit and determination to stick with it.

I mentioned earlier that organizations are dysfunctional, this is a great example. When communicating change there is very rarely any discussion about the reasons ‘why change’ for individuals. It’s all about the organization. But organizations don’t change, individuals change (and all that individual change ultimately adds up to organizational change!).

If you find yourself in an organization that is expecting you to change, but not giving you a good reason to change, then align your pursuit of purpose at work with the change that is taking place.

6. Change fatigue

Change fatigue is real, and a significant personal barrier to change. The rate of change we’re experiencing at work simply overwhelms our ability to cope.

One ‘transformation’ overlaps with another ‘transformation’ and we become tired and cynical of the expectation for ‘transformation’. It becomes meaningless and we stop trying to make sense of it. We become passive observers.

There’s no easy answer to this one. Things you can do include:

  • Focus on what you can control
  • Find a trusted colleague and share your thoughts (try to do this positively!)
  • Take it one step at a time
  • Don’t worry about what you can’t control (mindfulness practices help)

Personal barriers to change, in summary

Change can be scary, especially when it’s happening to us. Recognizing your personal barriers to change can help you overcome this and make change fun.

Don’t expect your organization to give you all the answers. You’re going to have to be proactive and navigate the change yourself.

A growth mindset, a personal reason ‘why’ and a willingness to reflect and create clarity for yourself are the strengths to cultivate during times of change.

Dive deeper

Learn more about your responses to change and how to become a ‘Navigator’.