Aim of the study and strategies employed
The aim of this study is to systematically review available literature on stressful effects of organizational changes resulting from perceived lack of control.
Ogranisational change is inevitable. Although Schabracq and Cooper (2000) view that individuals tend to indulge in repetitive jobs as it provides skills and expertise. Skills and expertise in turn provide a sense of control and equilibrium in work. Change is welcomed if it means complementing or adding to the already existing skills.
However, in today’s work interface rapid ongoing change has become the new meaning of stability. Skills quickly become obsolete which takes away the employees sense of control.
The paradigmatic changes in organizations include takeovers, mergers, acquisitions, management buy-outs, outsourcing, organisational restructuring, and re-engineering are Globalisation and technological advancements are all examples of organisational change.
Stress resulting from alterations in the work environment is well documented. Research on organizational change leading to stress/strain and decreased well being has been obtained in two ways: studying the factors that lead to the stress (e.g. job demands, lack of control, lack of training, etc) is one way and the other way is obtained by studying the direct effects of organizational change.
This paper intends to provide a systematic review of current literature on organizational change leading to stress due to the loss of control. Although this area of research has been investigated earlier most research lacks the use of control groups or use of rigorous research methods.
Primary source of the study was obtained from Schabracq, Winnubst and Cooper (2003). Further abstracts were obtained from useful search engines like Ovid, Pubmed, Web of Science and Interscience using keywords ‘organisational change’, ‘work-restructuring’, ‘downsizing’, ‘merger’, ‘acquisition’, technological changes’, ‘stress’, ‘strain’, ‘well-being’ and ‘job control’.
Articles and research papers discussing stressful effects of organizational change and those which provide models or evidence for successful innovative implementations were further studied. Since newer research provides better knowledge and due to time constraints and convenience the exploration was narrowed between the years 1996 and 2003.
The search was divided into two combinations: change and stress, and job control and stress. Full articles of the abstracts that qualified for the two combinations were obtained and studied. Those articles for which full text could not be obtained were reviewed by using their abstracts.
The body of the review is divided into three main segments:
- Stressful effects of organizational change
- Stress for the managers and the employees experiencing lack of control, and
- Strategies to reduce stress.
Stressful Effects of Organisational Change
Schabracq,Winnubst, and Cooper (2003) provided a summary of studies to demonstrate that the impact of organizational changes (new technologies) on stress can be extremely varied (Briner and Hockey, 1988; Frese, 1989 and Avergold, 1987). The results of the studies suggest the changes per se do not attribute to increase in stress reactions (Schabracq, Winnubst and Cooper, 2003).
Connecting to this, Michie (2002) suggests that interaction between the situation and the individual is a psychological and physical state that results when the resources of the individual are not sufficient to cope with the demands and pressures of the situation. Thus, stress is more likely in some situations than others and in some individuals than others.
On the same line, Muhonen and Torkelson (unknown date) studied stress among women and men as a result of critical incidences. By using interview method, they found that the major stress incidents were related to organizational change and downsizing processes among other incidents. These stressors were conveyed by both women and men working at the managerial and at the non-managerial levels. Similarly, insecurity about the employment situation, lack of information about the changes and uncertainty about what the new changes were connected to organizational changes and downsizing. Another problematic aspect found was splitting of informal personal networks for information or help had been split up by the new organizational structures.
Other studies also indicate that the consequences of downsizing can be manifold: some employees lose their jobs, and those who retain their jobs (so-called survivors) are expected to work harder, more efficiently and to cope with uncertainty about their own future employment (Sverke & Hellgren, 2002). Several studies have shown that downsizing can influence employees’ health and well-being in a negative way (Hertting & Theorell, 2002; Isaksson & Johansson, 2000).
Walsh (1999) reported in a study of 179 merged or acquired organizations that the majority experienced employee relations problems. Further, he found only 30% had integrated their workforce and just 34% had been able to maintain employee morale throughout the transitions. Thus, insensitive management, poor communication and cultural incompatibility are commonly cited reasons for failure in organizational change implementations (Cartwright and Cooper, 1996).
Utilizing a control group, Gibbons (1998) compared lecturer’s stress levels in colleges that had been reorganized and those that continued with the old patterns of functioning. He found that the experimental group had significant change and reported significantly higher stress levels as compared to the control group.
Thus although organizational changes are popular business strategies they are susceptible to failure. Cartwright and Cooper (1996) have presented research evidence that suggest that no more than 50% of mergers and acquisitions achieve the standard of success initially anticipated.
The researcher could not extract more recent research advocating only positive results form organizational changes. Nevertheless, past studies by Agervold (1987, cited from Schabracq, Winnubst, and Cooper, 2003) into investigations of psychosomatic complaints among groups working with or without changes were found to be similar.
As a result of the differing views, Schabracq, Winnubst, and Cooper (2003) contend that technological changes which result in a deterioration of working conditions (e.g. less personal influence, fewer cognitive demands, greater isolation, more pressure at work, higher mental and physical workload) are due to changes in important psychological aspect of work. Stress seems to increase when there is low decision latitude and high external workload (Karasek, 1990).
Fisher’s (1994) view on organizational is quoted below “Change requires coping or adaptive responses from the individual. When individuals perceive that they have little or no control over changes or challenges, their stress levels may increase. On the other hand, when individual’s feel that control is possible, they view the challenge positively and believe that it can be met. It follows then that individuals would be able to reduce discrepancies between perceived control and lack of control and would therefore be less likely to experience distress”.
Stress perceived by Managers as a result of organizational change
In any organisation undergoing change it is the people and the processes that change. Therefore it is not only the employees who undergo stress but managers are equally vulnerable.
Schabracq, Winnubst and Cooper (2003) view that organizational changes provide an ‘option’ for improvement working conditions and stress is expected to decline as a consequence. However, there is enough evidence that on the contrary organizational change often leads to increase in stress and strain.
Worrall & Cooper (1999b) have provided with a list of logical assumptions behind the organizational changes. First, the complex relationship between organization and environment leads to increase in competition. Our research is based on our work with a 5,000 longitudinal panel of UK managers. The technology base mediating the relationship between an organisation and its environment has also become more dynamic, and this has affected both the pace at which organisations have had to change, and the scale of that change. Pressure to bring down costs and improve productivity to retain competitiveness is the second logical assumptions. Third is the radical change in the psychological contracts. This has caused employees to reinterpret their relationship with their organization.
Such forces working behind organizational changes have had its impact at all levels: organizational, managerial and employee levels. While the organizations overwhelmingly focus on cost reductions (Worrall & Cooper 1999a) by the use of redundancy, delaying, outsourcing, “rightsizing” (down-sizing) and replacing staff on permanent contracts with those on temporary contracts (often by the increased use of agency staff); the managers and employees have created new concepts of organisational analysis. These include ‘presenteeism’ (where managers make themselves conspicuously present, often as a fear reaction to redundancy), ‘withdrawal’ (where managers are present in body but not in mind) and the growing view of ‘managers as mercenaries’ (indicative of the breakdown of existing employer-employee relationships based on a sense of mutual loyalty) (Worrall & Cooper 1999a).
Based on these assumptions Worrall & Cooper (2000a and b) conducted a four year research on 5000 longitudinal panel of UK manager focusing on a) the impact of organisational change on the hours that managers felt compelled to work and b) on the impact that these long working hours on managers’ non-working lives.
The results on assumptions that change is badly managed indicated that change is rarely perceived to be well-managed in UK business organisations, particularly at the lower end of the managerial hierarchy. For example, in 47% of cases managers who had been affected by restructuring did not think that the reasons for restructuring had been clearly communicated to them.
Worrall & Cooper (2001) also found that working long hours was not ‘just something that managers enjoy doing’ nor a ‘worthwhile sacrifice to get ahead in ones’ career’. It was only a way to deal with workload.
Siu et.al. (2002) investigated the direct and moderator effects of coping strategies (control and support coping) and work locus of control (externality) on the stressor-strain relationships among managers in Greater China (the People’s Republic of China [PRC], Hong Kong, and Taiwan) using a self-administered survey method confirmed the direct and moderator effects of control coping, support coping, and work locus of control on some stressor-strain relationships were demonstrated in the studied samples.
van Eyk, et.al., (2001) findings on managers stress after organisational change reflect on the above findings. van Eyk, et.al., (2001) also points to ‘reform fatigue’ and low morale resulting from lack of well- articulated vision for continual change among health care providers in southern Adelaide.
Cartwright and Cooper (1996) discuss the effect of downsizing on managers who are forced to start their own enterprise after redundancy. They point to the fact that many individuals lack career advancements and clear future goals which was once taken over by the organisations. With the result, the managers feel a sense of insecurity about their future.
The study indicates negative consequences of improper management of change. When change is not communicated to the change recipients (managers and employees) they feel a sense of loss of control which in turn reduces their motivation and morale. These have implications for changes initiative to focus on subjective experiences of the individuals who undergo change.
Stress perceived by employees following organizational change
Change is endemic and integral to every organisation. The lack of control during organizational changes occurs due to the interplay of three different variables: individual characteristics, job characteristics and organizational characteristics Cooper, Dewe, and O’Driscoll (2001).
Individual factors include personality, emotions, locus of control and affectivity. Whereas job demands, work load are intrinsic to the job; and correspondingly, roles, relationships at work (social support), career development issues, organisational climate, culture and political environment encompass organizational characteristics.
Recent researches in occupational stress has identified a range of individual factors which moderate the stress response and which include such factors as type A behaviour, tolerance of ambiguity, locus of control and coping resources in the context of merger stress (Cartwright and Hudson, 2000)
Likewise, in their study of Chinese employees, Siu et. al (2002) discovered strong effects of locus of control, on satisfaction and intention to leave. Lu, Tseng and Cooper (1999) in a study of Taiwanese managers also found that internal locus of control was related to higher job satisfactions and positive mental health.
To add to this, Cunningham et. al., (2002) proposed that individuals differ in their levels of self-efficacy, or their perceived capacity to cope with change. Employees who believe that changes proposed will exceed their coping capabilities usually resist change. In contrast, employees with high levels of self-efficacy are less likely to resist change and are more likely to positively participate in change efforts.
Vakola et. al., (2003) also confirmed the presence of a relationship between personality traits and employees’ attitudes toward change.
Kivimäki et. al. (2000) studied stress resulting from downsizing and found three mechanismsin relation to downsizing and health: firstly, alterations in characteristics of work, increasing perceived job insecurity and job demands and decreasing job control; secondly, adverse effects on social relationships for example, reduction in social support; and, thirdly, behaviour prejudicial to health for example, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption may become more prevalent.
Fulop et. al., (2005) starkly remark mergers as a process without clear boundaries. They conducted four in-depth case studies following second and third year post-mergers. They identified that loss of management control and focus resulted in delayed services. Other difficulties of the merger process included perceived differences in organizational culture and perceptions of ‘takeover’ which limited sharing of ‘good practice’ across newly merged organizations.
Michie and Williams (2003) reviewed work related psychological ill health and sickness absence. They found lack of control intervening in psychological ill health and sickness absences. Similarly, poor organizational factors such lack of participation in decision making; poor social support; and unclear management and work role were also linked with ill health (Michie and Williams 2003).
Bosma, et. al (1997) found associations between low control in the work environment with an increased risk of future coronary heart disease among men and women employed in government offices. Their assessment of job control on two occasions indicated that giving employees more variety in tasks and a stronger say in decisions about work may decrease the risk of coronary heart disease. The association was independent of employment grade, negative affectivity, and conventional coronary risk factors.
Pryjmachuk (1996) enquired into direction of organizational change. He found that change is usually imposed from the top down rather than engendered from the bottom up. Another study by Worral and Cooper (2001) found in 47% of cases employees who had been affected by restructuring did not think that the reasons for restructuring had been clearly communicated to them.
Thus, Fisher’s (1995) contention that stress is a result of an imbalance between demand and capacity supports the above findings. The idea that low personal control over the physical, psychological or social environment, is perceived stressful by the individual.
Thus Michie and Willams (2002) points that a successful strategy for preventing stress within the workplace should ensure that the job fits the person, rather than trying to make people fit jobs that they are not well suited to.
Strategies to reduce stress due to Organizational change.
In the era of massive change, organizations are faced with continuous pressure to implement change processes whether desired or not. The ongoing change is aimed to reduce the burden of work and ease work related stress. On the contrary, organizational changes are viewed skeptically. Literature provides evidence for the vast amount of failures in implementation of change processes.
Thus it becomes imperative to identify the most salient sources of stress for employees in a specific change setting. Identification of stressors is also important since the organisation can then address these sources specifically rather than to apply a generalised coping strategy. Michie and Williams (2002) recommends that future change management strategies and coping strategies should include a more humanistic and psychologically supportive method of change initiatives.
Models for implementing change
Concurrently, several models have been proposed to address stress in organizational changes. Among them Kurt Lewins’ (1950) Force Field Analysis of Chang and Karaseks’ Control-Demand Model (1979) and Job design theory of stress (Carayon, 1993) address lack of control mediating between organizational change and stress. Picking from these models contemporary researches on organizational change emphasize empowerment of employees through the use of participative management style, training, and concentrating on emotional aspects of change.
Tosi et al. (2003) contextualised adaption to change using Kurt Lewins’ Force Field Analysis of Change. They contend that Lewin’s model of organisational change proposes that organisations contain numerous powerful opposing forces, those that drive change and those that resist change. If the organisation fails to adapt to the opposing forces, it loses its equilibrium and will cease to exist. Therefore it is crucial to maintain a balance between the two forces with forces for change being stronger than those that resist change (Tosi et al, 2003).
Since, change is a slow process, employees in the organizations resist the changes. For this Lewin proposed three stages of organisational change (Tosi et al., 2003) namely: freezing, transformation and refreezing.
While unfreezing refers to the recognition of a need for change, transformation provides scope for developing new behaviours, values and attitudes and refreezing seeks to stabilize the organization at a new state of equilibrium. This model appreciates the participative management where the employees are involved in decision and change processes thus providing them with a sense of control at work.
Cooper, Dewe, and O’Driscoll (2001) site Karaseks’ (1979) job demands-control model (Job Strain Model). Karaseks’ (1979) fundamental proposition was that while stress occurs due to excessive work demands, the actual impact of these demands are moderated by the level of control perceived by the individual. Karasek (1979) defines “active” jobs as those with high levels demand and decision latitude, while “passive” jobs have low levels of demand and decision latitude. The individual will experience job strain when job demands are high and decision latitude is low. Similarly, low strain will be experienced when job demands are low and decision latitude is high.
Other studies look at the importance of emotions in the organizations that undergo change. Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee (2002) suggests that change can be perceived as a challenge or an opportunity and triggers positive emotions such as excitement, enthusiasm and creativity Change can also, however, be threatening and create negative emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, cynicism, resentment, and withdrawal (French 2001).
Emotions in organizational change
Jordan (2002) emphasized the use of emotional intelligence to enhance organizational changes. He adopted Mayer and Salovey’s (1997) model of emotional intelligence that encompasses (a) emotional awareness, (b) emotional facilitation, (c) emotional knowledge, and (d) emotional regulation. He accentuates that emotional intelligence is strong predictor of workplace behaviours and interventions dealing with emotional responses to change can facilitate better transition (Jordan 2002).
Similarly, Huy’s (1999) proposed that emotional intelligence assists individuals to adapt to and facilitate changes in receptivity, mobilization and learning during change.
Likewise, Piderit (2000) suggests ambivalence felt by employees towards change does not always produce resistance, but generally produces confusion. Employee ambivalence to management change initiatives is often linked to dysfunctional conflict during organizational change and associated with negative outcomes such as job dissatisfaction and expressed grievances (Kirkman, Jones & Shapiro 2000). Therefore, identifying factors that moderate this change resistance would be beneficial to both the individuals involved in the change process and the organisation.
Pryjmachuk (1996) enquired into direction of organizational change. He found that change is usually imposed from the top down rather than engendered from the bottom up. Emphasizing on the participative management Pryjmachuk (1996) suggested an environment where change is inclusive and represents the views of all those involved.
Bond and Bunce (2001) found the lack of control methods and rigorous research tools to study the impact of lack of control on stress in organisations undergoing change (e.g. Jackson & Mullarkey, 2000; Barnett et al., 1999). Therefore Bond and Bunce (2001) conducted a longitudinal quasi experiment on 61 men and 36 women to the mediating role of job control in work re-organisation. The authors used a participative action research (PAR) intervention and the results indicated significant improvement in employee’s mental health, sickness absence rates, and self-rated performance at a 1-year follow-up.
Findings of Parker, Chmiel, and Wall (1997) signify relationship between increased in control and job satisfaction four years after a chemical processing plant instituted strategic downsizing in association with an “empowerment initiative”.
Supportive Social Interactions
Organizational change is likely to give rise to the experience of loss and grief at both an individual and a collective level. Taylor (1999) explored the concepts of loss and grief to the challenge of making sense of individual and group reactions to the pressure to change facing all who work in universities. He proposes that acknowledging grieving and loss helps ‘moving on’, in a sustainable way.
He also emphasizes on the importance of social support in the process of grieving. In similar lines that familiarity breeds content (and not contempt) social support provides additional motivation to the change processes.
“The development of an internal social supportnetwork within the work environment seems to be facilitate individual learning, problem solving and error management beyond the initial period of formal training” (Briner and Hockey, 1988)
Taylor (1999) suggests the three stage model of Willaim Bridge (1991) which provides group focus in the grief management. The first-attending to endings-involves acknowledging the former value of, and letting go of, existing practices. Leaders make use of grief four grieving process- validating, venting out feelings, valuing feelings and providing views of the ‘big picture’-the reasons for and experiences of this particular change. This information can help individuals recognize that the particular changes are warranted.
The second stage involves managing the transition zone between the ‘letting go’ of the old practices and the emergence of new practices. Here the intention is to restoring a sense that life is meaningful and one has some control over the achievement of desired outcomes following the change. Strategies such as identifying goals that are valued and reachable in the new circumstances; and, focusing attention on those aspects of the context which remain under their control can help empower the employees.
The last phase of the period of mourning is consistent with Bridges’ third stage-launching a new beginning. The purpose of this stage is to emphasis the positive outcomes of the transition, including celebration of the fact that ‘we survived’
Lastly, Taylor (1999) warrants that the sponsors of change should warn those who are to engage with change that they are likely to experience grief and decreasing competence during the initial stages of any change process. The process must respect both the individuality of experiences and reactions, and the sense of collective loss. It should be based on a commitment to do the least harm, especially during the initial phase
Knowledge, Training and Information
Terry and Jimmieson (2003) investigated effects of organisational change in three different fields. They found that the provision of change-related information enhanced levels of efficacy to deal with the change process which, in turn, predicted psychological wellbeing, client engagement, and job satisfaction.
Similarly, managers who reported higher levels of readiness for change also reported higher levels of psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction. The study highlighted managers and change agents can help employees to cope during times of organisational change
On the other hand, Smith (2002) provides a learning society framework for empowering employees in the change processes. He agrees that there are weaknesses in the framework but at the same time impresses the need for continuous learning in the rapid ongoing changes that occur in organisations. He provides three major reasons for inculcating ongoing learning as a response to the changes in organisations.
2. There have been significant shifts in policies and these require interrogation; and there have been major changes in the ways in which we approach learning.
3. Lifelong learning is now a mechanism for exclusion and control. As well as facilitating development it has created new and powerful inequalities. There are issues around access to knowledge; and individualization. In knowledge-based economy, those who have the lowest levels of skill and the weakest capacity for constant updating are less and less likely to find paid employment. Individualization has also meant that access to social support mechanisms has weakened.
Michie’s (2002) interventions to improve psychological health and levels of sickness absence following organizational changes, found the use training and organisational approaches to increase participation in decision making and problem solving, increase support and feedback, and improve communication.
James (1999) proposes that services like counseling, health checks and provision of access to fitness centers and training for staff and managers in stress management are short-lived in combating stress due to organizational change. He identified that the manager was the second person in this role to be suffering from severe stress. People experience anxiety and stress because the whole psychological fabric is being dismantled.
Since the problem lay in the organisation as a whole, James (1999) provides a psychodynamic model of implementing change. The psychodynamic model looks at surface level, conscious and unconscious discomfort that the change may produce.
Although a tedious process, James (1999) suggests that organisations and employees should fit at all levels- surface, conscious and unconscious. For example, James (1999) proposes that people find an organisation in which their unconscious ideas of authority, leadership and social relationships fit.
Carignani (2000) studied management of change in health care organisations. He found that change is successful if managers are able to satisfy people (internal and external stakeholders) that have a stake in the health care institution. In order to motivate internal human resources to accept change and to achieve the organisational targets Carignani (2000) suggested two main methods: tangible variables like fair reward system and intangible elements e.g. communication, negotiation, contracting, and organisational values sharing.
McAdam (2000) studied the role of knowledge management in sustaining and enhancing innovation in organizations. The management model proposed by McAdam (2000) uses an inductive grounded theory approach. From 25 workshops it was found that systematic knowledge management in both increased business and employee benefits.
Cicmil (1999) studied gaps in organizational change implementation process. The gaps identified were: clarity of the purpose of, and reasons for change [why]; definition and specification of project objectives [what], and the design of project process and choice of implementation method [how]. The impediments reflect the phenomena of slow learning, fast forgetting and organized resistance. Cicmil proposes that future change should invest in closing those implementation gaps as they can remove the behavioural obstacles to change project success. He also suggested that implementation of new technologies should be accompanied by the extensive training of novices as it reduces chances of errors and resultant stress.
Clearly change poses significant challenges, both to those who implement and those who are affected by the change (O’Neill & Lenn 1995).
It is widely accepted that change is an inevitable part of the organizational structures in the contemporary market. Change processes fail when they are implemented because of a lack of a holistic approach which involves change agents and the change recipients together. Research provides evidences for reducing stress due to change processes when employees are provided with the needed resources of change.
Cork (2005) contends that the models should be used proactively rather than retrospectively. This helps in addressing some of the dimensions and consequences of change. Such a consideration does not guarantee the success of future change, nor does it spur employees on to become innovative and generate new ways of working. However, (Cork 2005) suggests this could simplify the process and allow employees to become more receptive to change and realise the opportunities that exist in contemporary practice
Thus a Holistic approach integrates prevention of major problems and risk factors, by using:
- A participative design of the innovation and implementation process.
- User oriented design.
- A stress reducing job design and
- Adequate training programme, a personal help network system and enhancing self organizing ability to actively design and manage all current and future technological and job changes.
Schabracq, Winnubst and Cooper (2003) provide a necessary view “It would be better to give reliable information about risks and combine it with an optimistic and courageous personal statement saying that it will be possible to manage the risk in case where the future consequences are predictable and really dangerous it is often better for whole organization to find a small team of volunteers to start a pilot study to test the consequences. This example shows that investing in concrete information in advance pays, reducing typical insecurities and negative attitudes of the people involved”.