The COVID-19 outbreak has had an unprecedented impact on many businesses worldwide. As a result, many organizations were forced to quickly adapt to a work-from-home setup to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees.
Now that vaccines and booster shots were already distributed and infection rates are beginning to stabilize in the country, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority decided for all ecozone-registered firms to return to office starting April 1, 2022. This short notice to return to onsite work exacerbated the employees’ resistance to the sudden change in work arrangement.
An action research project was initiated to address the issue of employee resistance to the sudden transition to onsite work. Albeit the company has been very generous in supporting employees during the work-from-home setup, it is also imperative for the company to help their workforce prepare for the return to onsite work. As stated under the Occupational Safety and Health law, employers are responsible for providing safe workplaces for employees to perform their jobs.
An intervention program was developed to help explain the reasons for returning to onsite work. Likewise, the primary goal was to prepare employees to return to the physical office and reduce resistance to the sudden change in work arrangement. The collaborators applied the Work Adaptation Theory by Petrini and Hultman (1995) to address issues that caused resistance to change.
After the intervention, the collaborators were pleased that their concerns and questions were answered. They were delighted that the company would support a hybrid workforce instead of full onsite work. Some even said they could not wait to return to the office and hang out with their teammates again. Although the collaborators should have paid more attention to why PEZA was imposing such an order, they agreed that working side by side is important. They were more concerned about achieving our organizational goals as we will benefit from them.
The team was happy to know that we would not be working for five days in the office, but instead, the company will support a hybrid workforce wherein we will only be required to work in the office three days a week. One of their concerns was our work-from-home allowance for consuming electricity and internet at home. Everyone was happy to know that it will not be withdrawn from our benefits since there will still be days that we will still be working at home. Another question they raised is when the hybrid workforce will be supported, as they hoped it would be permanent. We relayed the information from the management that it would last until September and that they would reevaluate the situation again after that.
Even though resistance to change developed over time, even after the intervention was implemented, the team felt that the intervention helped them understand the company’s objectives more. However, we realized that there needs to be more than just a competitive benefits package and other perks for an employee to avoid resisting any change happening to the organization. It may motivate them and deter them from leaving the company. However, not having adequate explanations regarding any change and not being able to satisfy the employees’ needs for personal security and belonging may result in resistance to change, especially if it will hurt their current status. With the intervention using the Work Adaptation Theory, open communication, and detailed explanations are keys to reducing resistance to change.
When dealing with employee resistance, we must understand those adjusting to the change. The framework we used, the Work Adaptation Theory, helped us understand their beliefs, feelings, and reasons for resistance. The importance of clear and effective communication: providing all the facts—what, why, who, and when—and answering all employee questions thoroughly was also highlighted. The company’s employees resisted the RTO order because we did not know the reason behind it initially. The team’s mood suddenly shifted when we discovered that the company was supporting a hybrid workforce. We realized that we must listen and reflect before reacting in all situations.
The action research conducted focused on reducing resistance to the Return-to-Office setup. Resistance is a function of disruption, an inherent part of any change, often an emotional response to change and an indirect response to an underlying concern. This organizational issue identified does not only exist in the workplace but also in different settings where change is implemented. Change is inevitable. If we are not changing, we are not moving forward.
Even if the change is for the better, many prefer the status quo that is safe and predictable. Additionally, our need for more understanding is one of the reasons for resisting any change. Hence, the Work Adaptation Theory framework used was beneficial in explaining the sudden change in work arrangement.
Through this action research, my team and I appreciated the reasons for the company’s decision to return to the office. It was not only because the company is required to comply with the government requirements but also to ensure we continue to foster a strong and rewarding culture within our organization.
The authors presented this Action Research project during the 10th National Business and Management Conference held in November 2022. The proceedings of the conference can be accessed through this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/10Q5si-aPzR4h_qIBorY1oNYCN5Jnup-H/view?usp=drive_web.
The views expressed above are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the position of De La Salle University, its faculty and its administrators.