Many people are afraid of change. However, people are less afraid of the new than of letting go of existing things. Talking with Edgar H. Schein, the pioneer of organizational development, we were able to work out three sources of fear connected to organizational changes apart from the fear of losing one’s job.

1. The fear of losing one’s identity
Am I going to be able to let go of my identity that has grown over many years? Am I actually capable of newly defining the essence of my professional identity? Many of those working in public administration, for instance, ask themselves: how can a civil servant who makes sure that laws are properly adhered to suddenly turn into a service-oriented customer adviser?

2. The fear of losing one’s social family
People aim for the security of a social environment in which they can rely on the harmony of well-oiled conventions or mutual expectations. They know what makes the others tick. This makes a lot of things more controllable. And now, one is suddenly supposed to move into another office, work closely with new people and face a new group formation process. This situation causes unease, even fear, especially in cases in which people have been used to stable professional relationships for years.

3. The fear of being overwhelmed
People face new developments, be it a new IT system, new customers, foreign cultures or a new language. The central questions will be: am I capable of dealing with this? What if I fail? What existing skills do I have to let go and how can I make sure to get familiar with the new as quickly as possible?


  1. Help those affected by change with creating a new professional identity for themselves. Do not degrade identities that have been built over years in the process. Offer independent coaching.
  2. Support newly assembled teams or departments with their developments related to group dynamics. A two-day team kick-off event is a good start to help them get to know each other and newly define relationships. Monthly ‘team maintenance processes’ help increase emotional satisfaction and relieve anxieties.
  3. Include qualification measures in your plans as early as the beginning of the change process. Offer those affected by change specialist training courses, coaching, supervision sessions, leadership training, e-learning options etc. at an early stage.