Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Organisational change and emotion

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves- Viktor Frankl 

Sally is a human resources manager in a large company. She has recently been informed that her job role is about to change. Sally’s job responsibilities will increase; she will be managing more staff, conducting more interviews, and will soon be relocated to a new office. Sally is resistant to accept this change. This is because; she is currently experiencing a high level of job satisfaction in her current role. She fears that she will not be as competent in this new role, and her level of satisfaction may decrease as a result. Why is Sally experiencing these emotions towards this workplace change? And how can she manage these emotions more effectively?

This chapter will examine the various changes that are occurring in today’s workplace. It will analyse the affects of these changes, in particular focusing on the emotions that are experienced as a result. The purpose of this chapter is identify what change is, and in particular the characteristics of organisational change. It aims to help people like Sally, to identify various ways to cope with the organisational changes and the emotions experienced. The chapter highlights that change does not have to be a negative. In fact, change can act as an opportunity for learning and development, and even a career change.

Take five and analyse:Before you continue to read this chapter, take five minutes, and think about what “change” means to you. It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in order to reflect back on them at a later time.

What is change?[edit | edit source]

The term, “change”, can be defined in various ways depending on the context in which it is referred. However, generally speaking, change can be defined as, “the process of making something different” (‘Business Dictionary, 2013’). Research conducted by (Loretto, Platt, & Popham, 2010), suggests that continued exposure to change can impair an individual’s wellbeing, thus leading to poor mental health. Due to the negative effects that change can cause, change is frequently resisted. Change threatens the way people make sense of the world, causing them to rethink their values and rationality (Ledford, 1989) as cited in (Bruckman, 2008). In order to grasp an in-depth understanding of change and its impacts, psychologists have developed what they believe to be a “Stages of change” model. This model suggests that as individuals are faced with a change of behaviour, situation, or emotion, he or she then progresses through discrete stages (Napper et al., 2008). If the individual is unable to accept, maintain or even be open to the change in the first place, then there is a failure to progress.


  1. Precontemplation: The individual is unaware of the need to change;
  2. Contemplation: The individual becomes aware of the change and will consider the advantages and disadvantages associated;
  3. Preparation: The individual intends to take immediate action and begins to engage in activities to support the change;
  4. Action: Specific steps are taken to cope with the change;
  5. Maintenance:The change is integrated into the person’s lifestyle;
  6. Relapse: This stage will only occur if the person fails to progress to any of the above stages

To see a diagram of the model follow this link:

This model can be applied to individuals undergoing events such as organisational change. In regards to the above scenario, it is evident that Sally relapsed at stage two, the contemplation stage. Once she became aware of the change that was soon to occur, she considered what this would mean for her. She identified what she believed to be disadvantages, such as, the relocation of her office, an increase in her responsibilities and potential loss of job satisfaction. This is an example of an undesired response to a changing situation. In order for a healthy response to occur, one must progress through each stage effectively (Napper et al., 2008).

Quiz yourself![edit | edit source]

Which of the following best describes the contemplation stage of change?

  1. One has no intention of changing behaviour in the foreseeable future
  2. Individuals are aware there is a problem and are seriously thinking about addressing it
  3. Individuals are intending to take action soon
  4. Individuals begin to modify their behaviour, experiences or environment

(The answer can be found at the end of the chapter)

Organisational change[edit | edit source]

Organisational change can be defined as, “any intentional change in the way an organisation does business” (Smith, 2007, p.27). Modern day organisations are facing changes at a rapid pace, one that has never been seen before (Conner, 1992) as cited in (Wanberg & Banas, 2012). Coping with this rapid change, can be extremely difficult and confronting for individuals. With research conducted by (Loretto et al., 2010), finding a direct link between organisational change and negative consequences regarding psychological well-being. In addition, (Moyle & Parkes, 1999) found that employees who had recently participated in organisational restructuring, had soon after experienced physical and psychological symptoms.

Types of organisational change[edit | edit source]

Research suggests that the major changes that are taking place are the following:

-> Restructuring;
-> Downsizing;
-> Work Intensification;
-> Role Redesign;
-> Redundancies;
-> Termination;
-> Mergers; and
-> Redeployment.

(Loretto et al., 2008; Weller & Gramberg, 2007)

Understanding the impacts[edit | edit source]

Models have been developed in order to understand the relationship between organisational change and emotional impact (Vinberg, 2006). One example is the well-known ‘Demand-Control-Support’ model. This model was developed by (Karasek et al., 2006) as cited in (Kristensen, 2006) in the 1980s. This model postulates that the most adverse health effects occur as a result of high psychological demands, low control and low social support (Vinberg, 2006). During workplace change such as, downsizing of employees, if employees have no control over this change and are not being provided with support by peers and/or managers, adverse health effects may occur such as depression, distress and burnout (Loretto et al., 2008).

In addition, the Effort-Reward Imbalance model, developed by (Siegrist, 1986) as cited in (Vegchel, Jonge, Bosma & Schaufeli, 2005), also attempts to understand the relationship between work characteristics and employee health. The idea proposed by this model, is that an imbalance between high efforts and low rewards leads to sustained strain reactions (Vegchel et al., 2005). Efforts represent the job demands and obligations that are imposed upon an employee, and the rewards refer to the job security, and career opportunities given by the employer (Vegchel et al., 2005). In relation to organisational change, this model would say that, change such as; termination and redundancies diminish the rewards that are meant for employees, thus an imbalance occurs.

Organistional change impact model[edit | edit source]

As identified in (Bruckman, 2008), the “Organisational change impact model”, is a further model that attempts to explain and understand the relationship between organisational change and well-being. This model examines the major changes or “organisational stressors” that cause negative, physiological, psychological, corporate and societal impacts. The model was developed based on 39 years of observations in over 300 organisations worldwide (Bruckman, 2008).

The major organisational stressors that are identified within this model include:

  • Uncertainty
  • Loss of identity
  • Loss of job or demotion
  • Job Transfers
  • New rules and regulations

These major stressors have found to be the cause of various chronic health problems (Bruckman, 2008). For the purpose of this chapter, the “psychological” impacts such as resistance, Fear and anxiety will be examined.

Emotion and organisational change[edit | edit source]

It is evident from the research discussed thus far, that there exists a relationship between organisational change and emotions. Reeve (2009), defines emotions as, “short-lived, feeling-arousal-purposive-expressive phenomena that help us to adapt to the opportunities and challenges we face during important life events” (p.301). Essentially, emotions are subjective feelings, as they make us feel a particular way, when faced with various situations (Reeve, 2009). During times of organisational change, individuals experience a range of emotions, both negative and positive. Some of the most common emotional responses to such change are resistance, fear and anxiety.

Resistance[edit | edit source]

Resistance to change is a common emotional response amongst individuals (Boohene & Williams, 2012). Change is resisted as it threatens the way people make sense of the world (Bruckman, 2008). Resistance to change can be defined as, an employee’s “negative attitude towards change, which includes affective, behavioural and cognitive components” (Oregs, 2006, p.40) as cited in (Boohene & Williams, 2012). The negative response toward this change, is largely due to the fact that such change brings with it increased pressure, stress and uncertainty for employees.

Studies conducted by (Bruckman, 2008), found that change was also resisted for the following reasons:

-Embracing change takes time and effort that individuals may not be willing to invest;
-Taking on something new means giving up on something familiar, comfortable and predictable;
-Loss of job satisfaction;

Resistance to change can also be associated with an individual’s ‘locus of control’. Rotter (1966) as cited in (Judge, Thoresen, Pucik & Welbourne, 1999), describe the locus of control, as the perception by an individual of his or her ability to exercise control over one’s environment. It is suggested, that those with an internal locus of control believe that they have control over their personal environment and will therefore adapt to change effectively. An employee, whose life circumstances such as their job, are being controlled by an external source, such as a manager, will have an external locus of control. This will cause them to resist the proposed changes, as it will mean a decrease in their internal locus of control (Judge, 1999).

Fear[edit | edit source]

Fear is an emotional response that arises out of one’s interpretation that the situation that he or she is facing is dangerous and a threat to one’s wellbeing (Reeve, 2009). In terms of organisational change, individuals can experience a fear of failure and a fear of the unknown. This fear arises out of the occurrence of the major changes or organisational stressors as identified in the ‘organisational change impact model’ above. Weeks, Roberts, Chonko & Jones, (2004), suggest that the fear of change is potentially one reason why employees differ in their willingness to accept the change.

Fear of failure

The fear of failure refers to the disposition to expect negative outcomes in performance situations (Cook & Halvari, 1999) as cited in (Berger & Freund, 2012). Fear of failure, can be closely linked with what (Bandura, 1997) as cited in (Judge et al., 1999), has termed as “self-efficacy”. According to (Lent, 1996) as cited in (Cherian & Jacob, 2013, p.80), self-efficacy refers to, “an individual’s judgement of their capabilities to organise and execute courses of action”. In addition, Bandura (1997) as cited in (Cherian & Jacob, 2013), suggests that self-efficacy serves as a function of self-beliefs. If an individual has low self-efficacy, they are more inclined to fear a change such as a job transfer. This is because; a job transfer may require the individual to adopt new skills, and perform in unfamiliar ways. If the person is experiencing low self-efficacy, it is likely that they will experience a fear of failure when faced with change such as a job transfer.

Fear of the unknown

The fear of the unknown can be referred to as being afraid, or uncertain about the unexpected and unfamiliar. This fear of the unknown is believed to be a powerful reason as to why individuals do not change, or at least do not change quickly (Eagle, 1999) as cited in (Weeks et al., 2004). From a psychoanalytic perspective, it is evident that, a key reason why some individuals do not support change is due to the fear of the dangers that it brings (Weeks et al., 2004). When it comes to specific changes within an organisation, such as redundancy, individuals fear the dangers or threats that may exist beyond the change event. This fear of uncertainty produces a loss of security, causing people to feel pain and distress (Weeks et al., 2004).

Anxiety[edit | edit source]

Anxiety was defined by psychologist Sigmund Freud, as “an emotional state that includes feelings of apprehension, tension, nervousness and worry, accompanied by physiological arousal” (Spielberger, 2010). When faced with anxiety, individuals may choose one of two responses, they may choose to stay and deal with the perceived threat, or run away from the situation. This is what physiologist Bradford Cannon described as the “fight or flight” response (Bryson, Barth & Dale-Olsen, 2013). During the “fight or flight” response, hormonal activity, such as the release of adrenalin occurs and causes symptoms such as:

  • An increased heart rate;
  • Rapid breathing;
  • Sweaty palms
  • Tingling sensation in hands and feet; and
  • Nausea.

These physiological symptoms can acts as a response that helps individuals to defend and protect themselves against perceived threats, or flee from the situation. Bryson et al., (2013), have identified anxiety as a further emotional response to workplace change. When faced with workplace change such as job redesign etc, an employee may choose to “fight” the situation, or flee from the situation. An example of this can be seen in research conducted by (Paterson & Cary 2002). This research found a relationship between downsizing, and increased absenteeism. A study was conducted that consisted of 71 employees working within an organisation that was undergoing downsizing. The study found, that there was an increase in employee absenteeism during the process of downsizing. This indicates that the majority of employees, when faced with a “fight” or “flight” situation, chose the flight response. The anxiety of such change was obviously too much for the employees to cope with, thus avoiding the change by not showing up for work.

Anxiety quiz[edit | edit source]

Take a moment to reflect on your own experiences of anxiety. How anxious are you on a day to day basis? Do you run away from change or difficult situations? Or do you stay and fight the anxiety? Follow the link below to take a quick quiz that will help measure your symptoms of anxiety.

Follow this link:

Coping mechanisms[edit | edit source]

Change in the workplace is inevitable. However, what is interesting is that most people are experts at rationalising their own behaviours and finding excuses to avoid change (Donde & Hart, 2012). Evidently, change and the emotional responses that occur need to be coped with effectively in order for the change to be successful. Folkman, Lazarus, Gruen & DeLongis (1986) as cited in (Judge et al., 1999, p. 107), define coping as, “the person’s cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage the internal and external demands of the person-environment transaction that is believed to be taxing or exceeding the individual’s resources”. Research has identified that problem coping strategies, which involve dealing directly with the stressor, to be more effective than emotion- focused strategies, which are seen as focusing on the emotional changes such as resistance, fear and anxiety (Judge, 1999). In this section of the chapter, when discussing the various ways of coping with organisational change, the focus will be on both problem coping strategies and emotion focused strategies.

Participation[edit | edit source]

Employee participation has been identified as a successful problem-coping strategy (Boohene & Williams, 2012). Participation in an organisational context refers to, “the active involvement of employees in the decision-making process of an organisation” (Chirico & Salvato, 2008) as cited in (Boohene & Williams, 2012, p.137). An experiment conducted by Harwood Manufacturing Plant, observed two groups of employees during a workplace change. They found that the group of employees who were allowed to participate in the development of the change had a lower resistance to the change than those who did not participate (Boohene and Williams, 2012). This is because; giving employees the opportunity to participate in the change process increases their internal locus of control (Boohene & William, 2012). This means that they believe they have control over their environment and personal successes, and as a result will feel more positive and engaged when undergoing the change.

caption:Maslows hierarchy of needs model.

In addition, a relationship between the adaptation to change and an individual’s self-esteem has been identified (Judge et al., 1999). Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed what he referred to as the “Hierarchy of Needs”.The fourth need proposed by Maslow is the ‘self-esteem’ need (Goelbel & Brown, 1981). This involves an individual’s need for respect by others, achievement, attention and appreciation. If an individual is given the opportunity to participate in workplace changes, as discussed above, their opinions are being expressed and listened to. This in turn, can enhance an individual’s self-esteem, and therefore their ability to cope with, and adapt to the change.

Social support[edit | edit source]

Asking for support from co-workers, management or external sources, when confronted with change, may seem like the most obvious coping strategy. However, surprisingly, the majority of individuals are apprehensive when it comes to approaching others for support. Social support refers to actions and/or information that lead an individual to believe they he or she is cared for, esteemed, and a member of a mutual network (Cobb, 2001). Social support is identified as a problem-coping strategy. It is identified as one of the most rational strategies that involve the individual attempting to understand the problematic situation. Budge, Adelson & Howard (2013) suggest that the more social support an individual experiences, the less distress will be evident.

According to the ‘Attachment Theory’, proposed by psychologist John Bowlby, humans are social beings whom form attachments from the moment they are born (Budge, et al., 2013). This need for attachment and security is brought into adult life, and without it can cause feelings of anxiety and distress (Lac, Crano, Berger & Alvaro, 2013). Obtaining support from others, such as mentors, management, workplace psychologists, or friends and family members, enables a person to form a supportive attachment to another. In doing this, the individual can express their stress, and have the other person take on a portion of the stress burden. As a result, the individual feels a sense of comfort and belonging, and thus their own anxiety is reduced (Budge et al., 2013).

Self-efficacy[edit | edit source]

As discussed previously, an individual’s perceived ability, referred to as “self-efficacy”, can impact on how one accepts and copes with change. Attempting to enhance an individual self-efficacy can be identified as an emotion coping strategy. Research has found that an individual will avoid activities they believe to exceed their capabilities, and will not perform well if their self-efficacy is low. In casual tests conducted in, (Bandura, 1982), the higher the level of induced self-efficacy, the higher the performance accomplishments and the lower the emotional arousal. Based on this research, it is evident that having high self-efficacy will enable an individual to cope better with workplace change. The question is how can one obtain this high level of perceived ability?

According to Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, expectations of self-efficacy are derived from four sources (Joet, Usher & Bressoux, 2011). Firstly, personal history; this is the interpretation of one’s own performance or course of action that was enacted in the past. If actions from the past are perceived as successful, this will raise self-efficacy. Therefore, if an individual were to focus only on the positive aspects of past performance, they will be more inclined to feel capable of performing future actions. Secondly, individuals can obtain information regarding their own capabilities from the vicarious experience of observing others (Joet, et al., 2011). If an individual observes a friend, family member or even a colleague, enacting a task or action that he or she is about to enact, this can either lower or raise their self-efficacy, depending on the outcome of the action (Reeve, 2009). Therefore, if individuals choose to observe successful others, such as competent co-workers during workplace change, chances are they will feel more competent themselves. Finally, self-efficacy can arise from verbal persuasion from others. This refers to the evaluative feedback from significant others such as family, friends, co-workers etc. This can be of both an encouraging and discouraging nature (Joet et al., 2011). Therefore, if employees, during workplace change, choose to discuss their concerns with a valued friend or family member, they will more than likely receive advice and encouragement, which again will boost their self-efficacy.

Turning change into an opportunity[edit | edit source]

One final thing to consider is that organisational change does not have to be identified as negative. In fact, such change can act as an opportunity for learning and development, career change and other such positive prospects. For example, (Barbereau, 2010), suggests that a major workplace change such as a redundancy can act as an opportunity rather than a threat. Barbereau (2010) discusses that although it may not feel like it at the time of the change event, it may be a chance to move forward, and lead a new and more fulfilling life. In addition, organisational change can act as a motivator. Motivation can be referred to as, the process that directs and energises behaviour (Reeve, 2009). An organisational change such as a job re-design, or job transfer, may motivate an individual to seek training, internal or external to their organisation, in order to develop new skills and abilities.

caption:Take every opportunity

Sally's options[edit | edit source]

If Sally had of chosen to actively participate in the change process, she may have had more internal locus of control, thus leading to increased levels of self-esteem. In addition, Sally could have chosen to seek social support. Sally was expressing feelings of incompetence, thus demonstrating feelings of low self-efficacy. If Sally had of chosen to identify herself as capable, by focusing on past achievements instead of failures, by observing competent others, and seeking feedback from valued others, it is possible that her self-efficacy may have been increased. Finally, this change of job role could actually pose as an opportunity. Sally may learn new skills and she will be challenged mentally and emotionally.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Whether your organisation is undergoing minor restructuring or major downsizing, chances are, this change will impact on you emotionally. As identified, there are five stages of change. Some individuals may relapse at any stage if not they are unable to cope. Models such as the demand-control-support model, the effort-reward imbalance model and the organisational change impact model, have been developed in order to understand the relationship between organisational change and emotion. Resistance, fear and anxiety have been identified as three major emotional responses arising from organisational change. Employee participation, social support and sources of self-efficacy have been identified as three coping strategies to manage various workplace changes. In addition, it is suggested that change does not have to be negative; in fact, it can act as an opportunity. After reading this chapter, ask yourself- what would you do if you were Sally?

Note: the answer to above quiz is B

External Links[edit | edit source]

Social Contributions

  1. Talk:Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Blood donation
  2. Talk:Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Fear of failure
  3. Talk:Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Goal setting
  4. Talk:Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Caffeine and motivation
  5. Talk:Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Smell and emotion
  6. Talk:Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Illicit substances and motivation

See Also:

  1. Self-esteem Chapter
  2. Anxiety
  3. Change management
  4. Fear

References[edit | edit source]

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