Individual reactions to change

Workplace Principle 5: Insights Through Participation

A change to a more flexible way of working can have significant positive effects on each and every individual within an organisation. But change can also be tough. Moreover, it will impact each employee differently on an individual level. 

Insights Through Participation is one of the five principles in the development of a workplace strategy. It focuses on figuring out how employees feel about the change and involving them in the process. This article will cover some of the ways people might react emotionally to a workplace transformation. 

Emotional stages

The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross model is regularly used across change management scholarship to address human reaction to organisational changes. You’ve probably come across it in a different context – it was originally formulated as a model for how people deal with grief.

According to the model, an individual can go through several emotional stages over the course of a major change. They are: 

  1. Denial. At this stage, the individual has a hard time accepting that the change is going to occur. It is common to think that there must be a misunderstanding or that the information given is wrong. 
  2. Anger. When the individual has understood that the information is accurate, he or she might feel anger or rage. They might question how the decision was made. It’s not uncommon to make threats, like of leaving the job if the deal is sealed.
  3. Bargaining. At the third stage, the individual might try to bargain and reduce the negative consequences he or she sees before them. They might make suggestions that aren’t significant on their own, but that can prevent the actual change from occurring. For example: ‘If I’m going to get to work early and leave late, then I don’t want to clear my desk’, or ’Sure, good idea, that works for everyone else in my group but I can’t work like that because of several reasons.’
  4. Depression. The next stage entails a feeling of sadness and low mood in which you work through the loss. The individual might experience resignation and could even switch back and forth between the previous stages.
  5. Acceptance. The final stage in the change involves the individual starting to accept the change and reflecting on how to adapt to it. He or she might think about learning new tools, what types of materials might be needed, and how a day at work will look after the transformation.

Everyone handles change differently

The Kübler-Ross model tells us several things. The first is that a change won’t be as big for everyone. We also differ in the way we react to change. Some won’t react at all or will more or less accept the change right away, while others will remain in earlier phases without truly reaching acceptance. Within an organisation you will find people who react drastically differently. 

We all react to change in our own way, and a workplace change is no different.

The purpose behind careful surveying, participation, and execution of a well thought out solution is to simplify the change in order to reduce the time between denial and acceptance, and curtail the negative reactions. 

One goal of the transformation process is for the majority of employees to get to the end of the fourth stage or the start of the fifth at the time of the move to new locations or the start of a new way of working. If the majority of employees are in an earlier stage of the journey, they will find their own solutions that are compromises between the intended way of working and the previous one. This runs the risk of undermining the strategy, with the strategy failing as a consequence. 

Further reading

There are more articles available for information on understanding the scope of a change and how change impacts different levels within a business. 

This article is based on the five principles for the development of a workplace strategy that we at WeOffice use to create bespoke workplace strategies. You can read more about them here.

References are taken from the book Workplace Strategy for the Flexible Office by Aram Seddigh. For more information on the book and workplace strategy in general, click here.


Kübler-Ross, E. 1969. On Death and Dying, London, Routledge.

Seddigh, A. 2022. Arbetsplatsstrategi för det flexibla kontoret : metoder, verktyg och case med fokus på hybrid och aktivitetsbaserat arbetssätt, Stockholm, Blue Publishing.

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