The website of the ICOH Committee on Shiftwork and Working Time, a committee of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH)


Thoughts & Lessons learned from the ‘Resistance to Change’ session

November the 5th, 2013, at the 21st International Symposium on Shiftwork and Working Time

Chair: Johannes Gaertner (Austria). Co-chair: Adam Fletcher (Australia)


From the presentations and interactions with participants, the following notes were captured. These may be both immediately useful to researchers and practitioners, and also be of value to inform sessions at future meetings. These overlap to some degree since they are not all independent factors.




Communication is crucial

Listening to stakeholder’s fears and hopes is important, to help release tension around the general issues and more clearly identify specific issues.

A blog may help to discuss fears in an open and efficient way.

Staff has to be able to see change as personally valuable.

Buy in at multiple levels and change champions are necessary.

Rules may help to structure discussions: E.g., every objection to the change of the roster should be discussed with the head nurse within the ward.

Don’t dictate to staff; help them understand realistically what is in it for them.

An important precondition to successful and sustainable change is buy-in

Do employees buy in and genuinely believe in positive aspects of the change?

Sometimes the tensions playing out are a struggle for power (between ‘us’ and ‘them’). If there is a way to create the conversation as a ‘we’ process instead, where we are all in this together, a lot of barriers and tensions can be more easily worked through.

Reasons other than safety may well hinder change

Salary, change of content of work, team structures, etc.

Other incentives that exist: E.g., if employees historically got a reward for missing meals, and unions liked the money instead of healthy food, moving to a better situation may well be resisted by some.

It is necessary to consider the broader context to understand and better work with difficulties and differences.

There are different stakeholder groups that resist: Managers, Unions, Staff… each one’s perspectives need to be considered and respected.

While perhaps it is a little controversial to say it, the age and gender of any consultants can be important


It has been observed that younger women can get more support from middle-aged and older men. More mature, confident men can get more support from women.

Is there are role for an Organizational  Sociologist

In some or many cases their perspectives could be helpful to better think about resistance. We could invite them to our meetings to explore this further.


It is important to ask the question ‘How to keep the focus – how to keep up the energy – to achieve the change that will serve the stakeholders?’


We will see more change with technology, social expectations, etc. So it is important organizations and employees learn to deal with change. Success won’t happen by accident, only by careful and broad thinking, planning, execution, monitoring, etc.

Medical fitness

Organizational problems can become medical problems at the same time. It is much better to understand the risks and manage them proactively than have to deal with a higher proportion reactively.

Roster changes

Often a change to a roster uncovers a necessary change to the entire rostering system. This is a significantly more complex issue to deal with in most cases and requires a bigger change process.


In practice, the funds needed to properly evaluate the success and failures of a change (10-20% of the whole project depending on size/scale) are rarely approved by management. Better cases need to be made for thorough evaluations, so that lessons can be learned and processes can be less haphazard and much more effective in a measurable way.


Next conference

Should we continue this conversation?

Are specific cases useful to discuss change? – The participants of this workshop think YES.

Further ideas for fostering exchange

Bring in some experts on change.

Collection of cases: Presentations on the collection.

Use the experience and wisdom in the room to work on specific challenges to then be shared.

Companies might present their experience.

Bring more companies, bring more unions … some of them are very experienced in describing their changes – from the workers’ perspective as well as their own.

Discuss other interventions E.g., training.


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