How to keep long-term employees from becoming change resisters

resistanceJust as every leader understands the cost of employee turnover, they understand the challenges of keeping long-term employees engaged, positive and supportive of change initiatives. New employees are easier to train, coach and mold into your company culture. It’s an entirely different story with long-term employees. Like a marriage, long-term employees have been with you through the good and bad times. They’ve seen it all, and they know your strengths and weaknesses just as well as you know theirs.

When it comes to embracing change, new procedures and systems, long-term employees can either be your biggest advocates – or your most hardened change resisters. But resistance doesn’t mean they’re “not on the bus”; it just means they really like their seat. They’re comfortable in it … and everyone knows not to sit in or mess with their spot. Everything else can change as long as their seat – and their work – is left alone. The problem is that “the bus” is the company and it can’t remain competitive, innovative and fast if it cannot collectively adapt and change – including long-term employees.

Here are my no-compromise strategies to make long-term employees your company’s best and fiercest supporters and change agents:

  • Move their seat: When it comes to implementing change, comfort zones are like concrete blocks. Once they settle in, it takes heavy equipment to move them. As companies evolve and grow, long-term employees can become territorial and inflexible when not challenged to grow with new skills, responsibilities, projects and work content. Leaders allow employees to hunker down and become complacent. Sometimes it’s easier to allow long-term employees to “do their thing” than push them to change. I call that “compromise.” When was the last time you moved a long-term employee’s seat – even a little bit?
  • Never maintenance free: The great thing about long-term employees is that they know their work and require less supervision than the newbies. They earn your trust and you can count on their consistency and experience. For leaders, it’s easy to focus on newbies, driving revenues, operations and projects … all while believing that your long-term employees have just kept cranking away. In reality, long-term employees can feel unappreciated, neglected and resentful. That’s when they withdraw, become indifferent and inflexible. No employee is maintenance free – especially your long-term employees.
  • Same page – same rules: The moment you allow long-term employees to play by a different set of rules than the rest of the team, you create a toxic double standard that compromises your company’s culture. Long-term employees are role models, mentors and protectors of the company culture. Leaders that give in to entitlement behavior are opening the door to hostage management. Once you allow long-term employees to play by different rules, your ability to lead based on trust, integrity and fairness is compromised – and difficult to regain.
  • Achieving full potential: No-compromise leadership is not only about achieving your full potential as a leader, it’s about coaching and mentoring employees to achieve theirs – especially your long-term employees. They need to feel challenged. They need to see and know that leadership is committed to their personal development and growth. This is the essence of people and culture building. This is what turns a change resister into a change agent and champion for the company’s vision of innovation and excellence. Ignore your long-term employees and they’ll throw a wrench in just about everything you try to do.
  • Boundaries: There is personal and there is business. There is employee and employer. The employer and employee must be able to communicate openly and respectfully. Sometimes, that communication can be about tough stuff that needs to be addressed. When the lines between personal and business become blurred, communication and conversation likewise become strained. To avoid confrontation, what needs to be said becomes filtered and diluted. But when things are left unsaid, everyone loses. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a friendship with an employee – it simply means that boundaries need to be established and understood to maintain the employee/employer relationship.
  • Honor the relationship: Long-term employees devote years to your company and your vision. They stand by you and believe in you – as long as you continue to demonstrate that you stand by and believe in them. Like any long-term relationship, making it last takes work by both sides. But it begins with you, the leader. You must honor and respect years of devoted service. When taken for granted, the relationship will deteriorate and eventually become toxic.

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