If you’ve been frustrated trying to lead change or felt all alone trying to execute change — know you are not alone: The pace at which change is happening is rapidly increased across nearly every industry sector. As a learning and development (L&D) professional, it’s your responsibility to ensure your teams and organizations have the tools necessary to move through change successfully while maintaining employee mental well-being and health.

Right now, leaders are looking for ways to better understand change, the role of change in organizations, how change is experienced at both a behavioral and emotional level, and what actually works (and what to avoid!) when leading and executing change in the workplace.

A first-of-its-kind national study, conducted by Change Enthusiasm Global in partnership with the Center for Generational Kinetics, included 1,000 U.S. participants representing Americans ages 16 to 65 (in addition to an oversample of another 500 participants) who are currently employed full-time, part-time or are self-employed. This unique snapshot of “working America” is the research sample leaders need to draw insights with high integrity and high accuracy to inform their thinking, strategy, actions and plans for creating training content for effective change management.

Read on for seven research-based insights uncovered from the study to inform and advance the conversation about what most influences change, derails change, and can help the least experienced leader take actions that lead to the embracing of and enthusiasm for change within both themselves and an organization. These are the insights you need to inform your training and resource development programs moving through 2023 and beyond. Let’s dive in!

7 Insights Discovered About Change and Emotion in the Workplace

Problem and Opportunity Insights – Facing the Challenge

  • Study Insight 1: In order to solve the challenges created by change, you first have to recognize the persistent problems and opportunities facing Americans in the workplace today. The national study uncovered that 64% of Americans wish they were better or more skilled at navigating change at work. This creates an enormous opportunity for leaders to be empathetic, supportive, and patient as they lead change that affects their employees and provides them with the necessary tools to build confidence.
  • Study Insight 2: Americans are most resistant to change at work because they are comfortable with the way things are now and worried that change won’t make things better. However, the national study uncovered an interesting disparity between the way workers see themselves and how they see others. 41% of Americans consider themselves resistant to change at work, while 56% of Americans think their co-workers are resistant to change at work. Many individuals believe they are better at navigating difficult situations than others, but this difference reinforces the need for leaders to personalize their approach to supporting workers’ navigation of change.
  • Study Insight 3: When people believe doing something new won’t make things better or even work at all they are much less likely to be motivated to participate let alone go through the learning journey it requires for the change to be successful. The study found that 59% of Americans feel powerless when change happens to them like there is nothing they can do about it. To combat this, leaders must enroll and inspire individuals into the change journey by understanding and role modeling the belief(s) necessary to sustain the change.
  • Study Insight 4: Over one-half (56%) of Americans feel anxiety when experiencing change at work, by far the most of any emotion. What’s more, women are significantly more likely than men to feel anxiety when experiencing change at work, and employees (full-time, part-time, associates, staff, etc.) are significantly more likely than management (C-Level, vice presidents, directors, managers, etc.) to feel anxiety when experiencing change at work. Feeling anxious doesn’t make workers unprepared, but rather it makes them human. Leaders must be prepared to step up and support their people’s growth through change.


Solution-Oriented Insights – Addressing the Challenges

  • Study Insight 5: The national study highlighted many opportunities for navigating change at work, but where should leaders start when trying to address these challenges? One of the most powerful solution-oriented insights from the study discovered that 78% of Americans are more likely to adapt to change if they feel comfortable expressing their true emotions in the workplace. Leaders that establish a workplace foundation and culture of emotional trust and acceptance will dramatically improve worker’s likelihood and success of adapting to change.
  • Study Insight 6: Another significant solutions-oriented finding from the national study centers on leaders’ approach to listening and communication. The study found that 80% of Americans are more motivated to adopt change when they feel truly heard and understood by their manager and peers. What’s more, women are significantly more motivated than men to adopt change when they feel truly heard and understood by their managers and peers. Clear and regular communication makes the process of adopting change easier which leads to the progress sought through the change being led. This means that leaders need to be keenly aware of their communication cadence, content, platforms and strategy. Leaders also need to ensure the communication is free to flow in both directions — down from and up to leadership.

Benefit Insights – Results of Addressing Change

Study Insight 7: For Americans, the most beneficial outcome for them personally and professionally when successfully navigating change at work is more confidence, feeling more supported and valued, and being more engaged. The study also found that employees report a significantly more beneficial outcome than management in more confidence and more engaged and focused, and management report a significantly more beneficial outcome than employees in more fulfilled, more creative, and more authentically me. Understanding the true benefits of successfully navigating change is invaluable and can motivate leaders to continue to take action to lead change in a way that makes people free valued, seen, included and energized.

Resilience or effective change navigation that evokes growth is a mindset and a skill set that can be learned, practiced, continuously improved, and embraced to create the present and the future that leaders need to deliver now.

You cannot experience growth without change. The two are inextricably linked. When we get better at navigating change, we get better at accelerating our personal evolution.

Are you ready to help your organization grow through change?

Cassandra Worthy is a two-time keynote speaker for the Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE). TICE  is focused on building effective leaders of corporate learning and development. TICE is designed to help current and aspiring learning leaders make new professional connections while tackling some of their most pressing learning challenges.