The rise of the workplace skeptic – and what to do about it


The impact of relentless and compounding change over the last several years has led to a decline in loyal and committed employees.  

Notion Consulting’s 2023 Change Report on the attitudes, perceptions and impact of workplace change found that people who may have believed their companies were changing for the better in the early pandemic years are now beginning to wonder whether all this transformation is getting them anywhere.  

The result: People who believe in the future of their organization – or at least their organization’s efforts to change – are no longer in the majority. Instead, we are seeing a growing group of people who are skeptical about change or want to avoid it altogether.  

The study mapped survey respondents to four types of reactions based on their intellectual and emotional commitment to change. (While not everyone will feel the same way about every change, the survey captured general reactions.)  

  • Nearly half of the workforce (48%) are Skeptics. This group is curious about what’s going on but has a show-me streak – and is significantly on the rise, up from 37% in the 2022 study. They’re known to grumble loudly and ask discerning questions.  
  • Bystanders are low on both emotional and intellectual commitment. Think of a bear in deep hibernation and waiting for the worst to pass. This group sits at 12%, triple last year’s size. You’ll recognize them as being quiet and disengaged, waiting to make a decision as more facts emerge. 
  • Enthusiasts (22%) are ready and happy to follow their leaders anywhere – even if they don’t know what the future holds.  
  • Champions are eager for change, can embrace uncertainty, and clearly see the benefits of the future path. Mostly senior leaders, Champions represent 16% of the workforce, down from 27%. 

In addition, 2% of the workforce is already disengaged, on par with last year. They are birds on the wing, already looking for a new place to land. 

Added together, the 62% super majority that is less than enthusiastic about change is a force to be reckoned with.  

Winning strategies 

All is not lost for leaders who understand and embrace these different reactions to change – in fact, with a little effort, they can win at the change game. Take time to build out a plan to address employees in unique and tailored ways.  

Here are strategies to move people to a greater level of commitment and involvement:  

  1. Skeptics: Appeal to their intellect with the facts and figures – they will appreciate the transparency.  Show empathy with their reluctance by sharing personal reasons to be enthusiastic about the future. Learn to appreciate them – skepticism can actually help reveal potential gaps in the strategy. Provide opportunities to get their feedback. Help them feel heard. Make sure their managers are equipped to respond and engage. 
  2. Bystanders: It’s not uncommon for people to tune out. People are tired, especially coming out of all the change the pandemic unleashed! Give bystanders space to feel their emotions and share their perspectives – perhaps through an anonymous channel. Give them a reason to connect. Figure out what motivates them. Empathy and understanding go a long way to changing the engagement levels of bystanders. Make them see a future they want to be part of.  
  3. Enthusiasts: Get them the information they need to get all the way on board. Include them in meetings that provide early access to information, then let their enthusiasm loose in the organization. Assign them responsibilities to make them more engaged and empower them to make decisions. These are often leaders and managers – provide them with communication tools that will help them cascade critical information to their teams.  
  4. Champions: Find ways to use their enthusiasm to influence others. Put them on discussion panels or advisory groups. Focus on their efforts in a success story, video, or newsletter. Make sure they are members (or leaders) of a champion network and serve as ambassadors and mentors throughout the organization. Bring your champions together for brainstorms and equip them to lead others.  

Most want the same things from their leaders during times of uncertainty: sensitive validation of their reactions, up-to-date information about what’s going on (and why and how they will be impacted), answers to their questions, and, perhaps most importantly, an opportunity to provide their feedback and ideas.  

Planning a thoughtful strategy and communicating is key if you want to stem the rising tide of skeptics within your organization. 


Notion’s 2023 Change Report, conducted earlier this year, sampled 550 members of the U.S. workforce, ranging from C-suite executives to front-line employees, mostly in companies of 5,000+. 

Contact Notion for more on this change strategy and other ways to engage all types of people at work!