Resistance to change in TV newsrooms

July 24, 2017 01:30

By Aaron Day, KCPQ-TV
Twelve newsroom leaders took part in a recent study on emotional resistance to organizational change in local television newsrooms.  They were interviewed to better understand how leaders perceived, responded to, and countered emotional resistance to change.  The newsroom leaders answered the following questions:
  1. How do television newsroom leaders perceive emotional resistance, and what does it look like?
  2. When emotional resistance, as perceived by the leader, presents itself, what do newsroom leaders do to counter it, if anything?
  3. What do newsroom leaders think are the sources of employee emotional resistance?
Perceptions and Types of Emotional Resistance
The overall perceptions were neutral with some leaders viewing people who displayed emotional resistance as immature or too inexperienced to cope with the changes that come with being a television journalist. Other newsroom leaders perceived resisters as individuals who presented opportunities to emphasize the need to hire and train journalists for the speedy, yet every day, changes that occur in local television newsrooms.

Mary, a News Director, said emotionally resistant workers in her newsroom were, “Sometimes difficult, sometimes unyielding, and unwilling to compromise.”

Laura, who worked as an Executive Producer, said she’s hired many people fresh out of college, which she said made them unprepared to cope with the pace and size of change in her newsroom. It also appeared that her perceptions stemmed from younger journalists who came into her newsroom with goals that did not align with the needs of the organization.

Common responses explaining what emotional resistance looked like were frustration, fear, distrust, and shock. Of these types of emotional resistance, the most repeated was frustration.
Mike, an Executive Producer in the West said, “It’s frustrating that they [employees] have to learn again and they know that they have to learn again, to be in the job.”
Countering Emotional Resistance
The second question asked leaders what they did to counter emotional resistance to change when it showed up in their newsrooms. The strategies leaders used were listening to concerns, communicating openly and honestly, and sharing relevant information and data about the market forces that prompted the changes.

Steve, an Executive Producer explained that he achieves open and honest communication by trying to understand each person on his team. He said, “I can’t be the same way across the board and just say do it. It doesn’t work that way. I wouldn’t want anyone to do that to me.”
Sources of Employee Emotional Resistance
The third question asked what leaders saw as the causes of emotional resistance in their newsrooms.  Change burnout, impact on personal lives, and fear of failure were the primary sources of employee emotional resistance.

In identifying change burnout as a source of emotional resistance, John, an Executive Producer said, “If this newsroom has been undergoing a lot of change and not seeing very much success from that change, you’re going to get resistance, because at some point the people that are in that newsroom are going to get burned out or they’re going to have a defeatist attitude.

Mary said, “The greatest resistance comes with change that affects people’s personal lives. For example, if you change a schedule or you change responsibilities or anything that has to do with personal life or work-life balance or your job responsibility.”          

The purpose of this study was to provide leaders with effective approaches to use when confronted with emotional resistance in their own organizations.   Using the findings, below are some recommendations for action newsroom leaders can take to work more effectively with employees who show emotional resistance to change.  

#1 Embrace Resistance
Mindfully expect and embrace emotional resistance from workers before it happens.  More than likely you’ve already experienced and overcome some level of emotional resistance so give your staff a chance to do the same. Leaders usually go through a cycle of emotional resistance long before their employees do. This head start puts leaders far ahead of the transition curve.  One way to embrace resistance is to remember you’ve been there too.
#2 Build a Network through Positive Interactions
Accepting and committing to change cannot be taken as an indication of engagement and enthusiasm. For that reason, to minimize emotional resistance to change, newsroom leaders should continuously build and retain positive interactions with their staff.  Do this long before change is needed. Leaders can reduce the fear of failure and distrust employees have in leadership by fostering positive relationships in between transitions.

#3 Communicate the Emotional Aspects
Because people who emotionally resist change often do not know they are resisting, and they are not easily identified, a leader’s core message about change should incorporate an emotional argument.  Making employees aware of the risks, losses, and other negative side effects at the beginning of a change process is a good way to establish an open line of communication. Whether it is a change to their work schedule, job title and responsibilities, path to career advancements, or the interpersonal relationships they built with colleagues, it is recommended that leaders of change be open and honest about the reality of what changes mean for people personally. 

Aaron Day is a Supervising News Producer at KCPQ-TV in Seattle.  This article was adapted from his dissertation titled Investigating Emotional Resistance to Organizational Change:  A Descriptive Qualitative Research Study of Local Television Newsroom Leaders.


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