Employees’ Perception of Organizational Change: The Mediating Effects of Stress Management Strategies
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This study explores employees’ perception of organizational change and how those perceptions are shaped by trust and stress management strategies. Four hundred and five analyzable surveys were received from employees of four Taiwanese governmental departments undergoing change. These surveys were conducted within the Ministry of National Defense, the Coast Guard Administration, the National Police Agency, and the National Fire Agency. Results showed that organizational change had a significant negative influence on employees’ trust and job involvement. However, stress management strategies and an understanding of organizational change can positively influence employees’ organizational identification and job involvement. As a result, it is suggested that stress management workshops be instituted within an organization undergoing change in order to provide strategies for stress relief and to improve employees’ organizational identification and job involvement.
Organizational change is the process whereby an organization converts from an existing state to a hoped-for future state in order to increase its effectiveness. For employees, organizational change may produce negative effects, such as ambiguous role responsibilities, unemployment, a lowering of social status, and family and job conflicts.
Schweiger and DeNsi1 and Hellriegel, Slocum, and Woodman2 have pointed out that organizational changes can be viewed as the greatest source of stress on the job and, perhaps, in an employee’s life. Kotter3 has pointed out that, while each is important, the core problems of organizational changes are never strategy, structure, culture, or system. Rather, the real problems arise when deciding how to help employees adapt to the change. Schabracq and Cooper4 believe that employees’ stress rises because positions and technical skills may be changed or altered. When employees cannot make necessary technical adjustments, a sense of uncertainty arises about the future, which, in turn, creates stress. This uncertainty can affect employees’ job commitment and job satisfaction.
Furthermore, trust is an important foundation of cooperative relationships between people. Once an organization begins changing, its employees may face threats to their jobs, roles, positions, and resources, and these threats can lower employees’ trust in their organization as a whole. This reaction can negatively manifest in employees’ attitudes toward their work.5 When individuals contemplate the stress of organizational change, their perceptions, choice of reaction strategies, and working attitudes all strongly influence whether the change will be successful and whether the newly reconstituted organization will function efficiently.
To address changes in the world economy and national political realities during the 1990s, the Executive Yuan of Taiwan presented a plan to merge some central government organizations and eliminate hundreds of federal jobs. These changes were intended to increase operating efficiencies and lower expenditures from the treasury. Police and military organizations, including the Ministry of National Defense, the Coast Guard Administration, the National Police Agency, and the National Fire Agency, all faced large staff reductions. According to Hui and Lee,6 the government’s announcement of the mergers and staff reductions produced strong shocks in the affected organizations.
This study uses the uncertainty of expected organizational change to explore employees’ perceptions of external changes, as well as the relationships among employee trust, stress management, organizational identification, and job involvement. It is hoped that the conclusions can serve as a reference point for governmental departments initiating changes.
Literature Review and Hypotheses
To survive and expand, organizations must quickly adapt to changes in their environment. If organizations do not change, they lose their ability to compete. When the environment changes and the niche originally filled by the organization either becomes unimportant or is superseded, the organization must change or die. Hodge and Johnson7 believe that when change has the potential to lower a person’s position or change the person’s job description or freedom, the person is likely to resist the change. The studies of Storseth showed that job insecurity is related to individuals’ perceptions of changes: The greater the threat is perceived to be, the greater the perception of job insecurity.8 Role stress is the uncertainty of change. Role stress includes role ambiguity, role conflict, and role pressure.9
Change in an organization will produce some uncertainty, frustration, and anxiety among employees that will have long-term effects on employees’ attitude and psychology.10 Hui and Lee found that the expectation of changes led employees to experience psychological uncertainty about the potential loss of current position, unemployment, role pressure, and reduction of available resources. Employees may also lose trust in the organization as a whole.11 Dekker and Schaufeli12 pointed out that there is an inverse relationship between perception of job insecurity and trust.
Liaw, Fan, and Wu13 believe that when employees doubt whether they can adapt to a change by their organization – or whether their positions, workload, and workplace will be changed – those doubts will influence the employees’ trust and relationships with their organization and also with their superiors and peers. Based on the findings from earlier studies of how employees perceive and react to organizational change, that the study described in this article was conducted to determine whether employees’ uncertainty about a change in their organization is associated with lowered levels of trust in their organization.
Hypothesis 1: The greater the uncertainty associated with a perceived change, the less trust an employee has for the organization.
Stress refers to the physical and emotional reactions of an individual faced with external psychological and physical stimulation that the individual cannot control or know the outcome of.14 George and Jones15 believe that stress management strategies can be used to change perceptions and behavior when external and internal demands exceed personal resources. Such strategies can be divided into personal problemoriented strategies and emotion-oriented strategies.
After an organization changes, employees will suffer from stress brought about by uncertainty, threat of job loss, changes in responsibilities, and transfers of authority.16 Stress causes a reduction in the effectiveness of the organization, high desertion rates, low morale, and low job satisfaction.17 Therefore, stress management should be used to resolve and relieve stress. Chen pointed out that the privatization of state-owned businesses resulted in insecurity, role conflict, and work pressure for employees, which could be lessened by developing positive interpersonal relationships, good time management skills, and personal self-control.18 Apparently, the stronger the negative perceptions an employees has of the change being made at his or her organization, the greater the stress will be and the greater the need for stress management strategies will be.
Hypothesis 2: The greater the uncertainty of organizational change, the greater the need for stress management strategies.
Organizational identification has been defined as “perceived oneness with an organization and the experience of the organization’s success or failures as one’s own.”19 When employees face organizational changes, they easily lose confidence in the change because they do not receive proper information, resulting in a reduction of identification and job satisfaction.20 The greater the employee’s understanding of organizational changes, the greater the employee’s identification and job involvement will be, and the greater the influence on organizational effectiveness.21 Uncertainty about the nature and outcomes of organizational change leads to greater job insecurity and decreased job satisfaction and commitment. Job insecurity results in emotional stress and creates resignation tendencies, resulting in a lowering of organizational identification and of job involvement.22 Furthermore, role stress created by organizational change can also lower organizational morale.23 Hence, when an Organization threatens its employee with job insecurity or uncertainty, employees will not be likely to develop high levels of organizational commitment.24
Hypothesis 3-1: The greater the uncertainty of organizational changes, the lower employees’ organizational identification.
Hypothesis 3-2: The greater the uncertainty about the nature and outcome of organizational changes, the lower levels of job involvement employees will have.
Trust refers to the willingness of an individual to believe and rely on another party25 Based on the research of Deluga,26 trust can be divided into organizational trust, superior trust, and peer trust. George and Jones found that good stress management strategies have a significant positive effect on stress, and the greater the level of trust of employees, the greater the influence of stress management strategies in response to job stress.27 Lindsay28 pointed out that employees can relieve stress by developing more open relationships with co-workers and supervisors. Stress management strategies such as involving employees in planning, encouraging communication and open discussions, and encouraging trust in the organization are also effective in reducing the stress brought on by changes in the work environment.
Hypothesis 4: The greater the trust of employees in the organization, the greater the use of stress management strategies in response to stress.
An organization can provide employees with opportunities to develop job-related skills, give them support in problem solving, and provide communication support, thus satisfying employees’ needs for professional growth and organizational trust. When an organization provides such opportunities, employees’ identification with the organization will increase.
Rajnandini, Schriesheim, and Williams29 have suggested that the expression of trust between managers and employees is directly related to job commitment and job satisfaction. Nyhan’s research on governmental organizations found that interpersonal trust between managers and subordinates can increase productivity and commitment.30 As can be seen, strong positive relationships underlie strong organizational trust, job commitment, and job satisfaction.31
Hypothesis 5-1: The greater the trust employees have in their organization, the greater the employees’ identification with their organization.
Hypothesis 5-2: The greater the trust employees have in their organization, the greater the job involvement of employees.
Stress management strategies are actions taken by individuals when they believe there are internal or external demands that are burdensome and which can only be met with resources outside of those currently available to them. These actions can be divided into problem-oriented coping strategies and emotion-oriented coping strategies.32 Stress management can bring about high employee job satisfaction by preventing stress.33 If an organization has stress management plans, stress can be reduced, and employees’ morale and job involvement can be improved.34-35 Also, when employees face stress from organizational change, if stress management response methods are used to relieve stress, then job involvement and satisfaction can be improved.36
Hypothesis 6-1: If employees utilize stress management strategies, then their organizational identification will increase.
Hypothesis 6-2: If employees utilize stress management strategies, then their job involvement will increase.
When an organization is greatly changed, different employees will react in individual ways. Some employees will feel increased stress as a result of an increased workload. Such employees are likely to feel increased job insecurity, which will negatively affect their job performance and the organization’s achievement of goals.
Other employees will view the change as an opportunity for growth, working harder and even increasing their organizational identification and job involvement. A difference in levels of organization trust explains these opposing reactions.37 Also, because a sense of uncertainty will arise when employees expect organizational changes, organizational trust will act as a mediating factor in employees’ reactions.38
Ou39 found that the greater the level of organizational trust employees feel, the greater the prevalence of positive, supportive attitudes when organizations make changes. From this, it can be inferred that employees resist organizational change because of the have strong feelings of job insecurity, yet trust in the organization can lower employees’ resistance to change.
Hypothesis 7-1: Employees’ organizational trust will mediate the relationship between perceptions of organizational change and organizational identification.
Hypothesis 7-2: Employees’ organizational trust will mediate the relationship between perceptions of organizational change and job involvement.
Employees facing the uncertainty of change will often become anxious, easily perceiving the uncertainty as stress. Under the long-term influence of anxiety, employees’ job involvement will inevitably be negatively affected.40
Tan41 believes that change and stress management are closely related and that when employees face change, if they can make use of stress management strategies, their motivation to work and their loyalty to the organization will increase. The uncertainty of change will increase stress, while at the same time lowering employees’ satisfaction and organizational commitment.42 If stress management strategies are used, then job satisfaction and involvement of employees can be increased.43
Hypothesis 8-1: Stress management strategies will mediate the relationship between employees’ perceptions of organizational change and their organizational identification.
Hypothesis 8-2: Stress management strategies will mediate the relationship between employees’ perception of organizational change and their job involvement.
This study focused on Taiwanese government organizations undergoing change. Samplings of employees with the Ministry of National Defense, the Coast Guard Administration, the National Police Agency, and the National Fire Agency were surveyed, with the approval of each agency’s personnel office. Five hundred questionnaires were distributed amongst these four government organizations. All participants completed surveys voluntary, and questionnaire responses were submitted without individually identifying information.
A total of 405 analyzable questionnaires were returned, making the response rate 81%. Of the respondents, 80.7% were men. The largest percentages of returned surveys came from the Ministry of National Defense (55.1%), followed by the National Police Agency (35.6%), the National Fire Agency (5.12%), and the Coast Guard Administration (4.2%). A large majority of respondents (77.7%) were between 31 and 55 years of age.
Perception of organizational change
Perception of organizational change was measured using 13 items adapted from Wu44 and from Hui and Lee.45 These items represent the three dimensions of loss of status, job insecurity, and role load.
Loss of status was measured using three items asking about the level of expectation among employees of position loss from organizational change. Participants used a 1-5 rating scale on which 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, and 5 = strongly agree. Total loss of status scores could range from 3 to 15, with higher scores indicating higher the perceived loss of status (a = 0.852).
Job insecurity was assessed using six items asking about the certainty a person had about his or her future job and career security. Participants used a 1-5 rating scale on which 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, and 5 = strongly agree. Total job insecurity scores could range from 6 to 30, with higher scores indicating higher job insecurity (α = 0.841).
Role load was assessed using four items designed to revealed the degree of respondents’ role conflict, role pressures, and reduction of resources resulting from organizational change. Participants used a 1-5 rating scale on which 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, and 5 = strongly agree. Total role load scores could range from 4 to 20, with higher scores indicating greater role load (a = 0.843).
Employee trust refers to the trust of employees for the organization, their superiors, and their peers in the midst of a possible organizational change. Employee trust was measured using 14 fourteen items developed by Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman,46 and by Wu.47 These included the three dimensions of organization trust, superior trust, and peer trust. Each item was answered by using a 1-5 rating scale numbered from 1 = strongly disagree through 5 = strongly agree. A higher score indicated a higher level of trust (organization trust a = 0.928; superior trust a = 0.815; peer trust a = 0.89).
Stress Management Strategy
Stress management strategy refers to personal problem-oriented coping strategies and emotion-oriented coping strategies employees use when they feel stress. The strategies were measured using seven items from George and Jones48 and from Chen.49 Personal problem-oriented coping strategies include time management techniques, while emotion-oriented coping strategies include relaxation techniques such as contemplation, hypnosis, and meditation. Participants used a 1-5 rating scale on which 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, and 5 = strongly agree. A higher score indicated greater effectiveness of stress management strategies (problemoriented coping strategies a = 0.766; emotion-oriented coping strategies a = 0.666).
Organizational identification refers to survey respondents defined themselves in terms of their particular employment with their organization. Seven items adapted from Mael and Ashforth were used to assess this construct.50 These included the two dimensions of cohesion and loyalty. Participants used a 1-5 rating scale on which 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, and 5 = strongly agree. Total organizational identification scores could range from 7 to 35, with higher scores indicating stronger organizational identification (cohesion a = 0.74; loyalty a = 0.836).
Job involvement refers to the sense of duty respondents felt toward their current work, the sense of accomplishment respondents derived from their current work, and the satisfaction respondents derived from the rewards they received from doing their current work. Job involvement was measured using nine items adapted from Blau and Boal,51 and from Kanungo.52 These included the two dimensions of job obligation and satisfaction and accomplishment. Participants used a 1-5 rating scale on which 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, and 5 = strongly agree. Total job identification scores could range from 9 to 45, with higher scores indicating more job involvement (job obligation a = 0.792; satisfaction and accomplishment a = 0.791).
Confirmatory Factor Analysis and Reliability Test
Confirmatory factor analysis was also employed to confirm the heterogeneity of organizational change, trust, stress management strategies, organizational identification, and job involvement. AMOS 3.6 was used as a calculation tool, using maximum likelihood estimation (MLE) to proceed with variable calculation in order to observe the suitability of the various constructs. It was found that the χ^sup 2^, GFI, AGFI, RMR and CFI of the various constructs are as shown in Table 1. The outcomes of the confirmatory analysis provide support for the heterogeneity of these constructs.
Table 2 and Figure 1 provide the results of the hypotheses testing. While the result of the χ^sup 2^ test was not excellent, other evaluative statistics indicate that organizational change, trust, stress management strategies, organizational identification, and job involvement are related (χ^sup 2^ = 157.482, df= 43, GFI – 0.934, CFI = 0.921, NFI = 0.896).
As can be seen in Table 2, the perceived uncertainty of organizational change exerts a strong negative influence on trust (γ = -0.46, p < .05). Thus, Hl was supported. When employees expect a loss of social status and staff reductions, and when employees face the possibility that their workloads will increase, employees’ trust in their organization and peers is greatly reduced.53 54
Perception of organizational change shows significant positive influence on stress management strategies (γ12 = 0.483, p < 05), which supports H2 and shows that when employees face the increased job stress of organizational change, they will prioritize work tasks in order of importance while using relaxation techniques to reduce their stress. Such results are consistent with those of George and Jones.55
The causal coefficient of perception of organizational change on organizational identification did not reach significance (yl3 = -0.208, p > .05), so H3-1 was not supported. This result is not consistent with the one found by Griffeth, Gaertner, and Sager.56 A possible explanation for this is that the Taiwanese central government employees surveyed for this study were members of the military and police and have received long-term training to be highly loyal to the country. Such training would tend to make respondents willing to stick to their jobs in times of organizational change and to do their duty regardless of uncertainty. As a result, the respondents’ loyalty to their organizations would not diminish easily.
On the other hand, organizational change shows a significant negative influence on job involvement (γ14 = -0.236, p < .05), supporting H3-2. This indicates that when members of the military and police face the stress of uncertainty and role loads associated with organizational change, they will experience a reduced sense of job satisfaction and job accomplishment despite not experiencing any change in their loyalty. This result is consistent with that of a study by Ashfore, Lee, and Bobko.57
In terms of the relationship between employee trust, stress management, organizational identification, and job involvement, it can be seen in Table 2 that the employee trust has a significant positive influence on stress management strategies (βl2 = 0.705, p < .05), which supports H4. This indicates that when employees trust their organization, their superiors, and their peers, they will organize their work tasks by category and importance and also performing time management. At the same time, employees may use meditation and relaxation to relieve work stress resulting from organizational change.
Employee trust did not show a significant influence on either organizational identification (βl3 = 0.021, p > .05) or job involvement (βl4 = 0.017, p > .05). Thus, H5-1 and H5-2 is not supported. These results are not consistent with those of Nyhan58 and Armstrong-Stassen, Cameron, Mander, and Horsburgh.59
The lack of a positive relationship between employee trust, organizational identification, and job involvement shows that when the Taiwanese government put forth its plan for organizational change, and despite the honesty of the organizations to workers and the mutual support of co-workers, the identification and job involvement of the employee for the organization could not be improved. This could have been because organization members felt that, as members of the military and police, they must follow their nation’s leaders. As a result, the establishment of trust did not improve organizational identification and job involvement.
Additionally, stress management had a significant positive influence on both organizational identification (ß23 = 0.993, p < 05) and job involvement (β24 = 0.912, p < .05), supporting H6-1 and H6-2. These results are consistent with those of Hannigan, Edward, and Burnard.60 If employees possess appropriate stress management plans, they will use effective time management and emotional control to respond to work stress. When stress is relieved, employees will readjust their attitudes and continue to support the organization, thus increasing their sense of duty and satisfaction in their work.
Figure 1 depicts the results of the path analysis and demonstrates the relationships among the exogenous and endogenous variables. It can be seen in the figure that perception of organizational change has a direct effect on employee trust (γ11 = -0.46, p < .05), but perception of organizational change does not have a direct effect on organizational identification (γ13 = -0.208, p > .05). At the same time, employee trust does not have a direct effect on organizational identification (β 13 = 0.021,/> > .05).
These results suggest that perception of organizational change does not influence organizational identification through the construct of employee trust, so H7-1 is not supported. Also, although organizational change has an indirect effect on job involvement, organizational trust does not have a direct effect on job involvement (ß 14 = 0.017p > .05), which suggests that perception of organizational change does not influence job involvement through the mediating effect of employee trust. Thus, H7-2 is not supported.
In addition, survey results show that perception of organizational change does not have a direct effect on organizational identification (γ13 = -0.208, p >.05), but perception of organizational change does have a direct effect on stress management strategies (?12 = 0.483, p < 05). At the same time, stress management strategies have a direct effect on organizational identification (ß23 = 0.993, p < 05), and the indirect effect organizational change has on organizational identification is 0.48 (?12ß23 = 0.483*0.993). It can be seen from this that if employees can make use of stress management strategies when facing the uncertainty of organizational change, organizational identification among employees can be improved, which supports H8-1.
Perception of organizational changes has a direct effect on job involvement (ß24 = 0.912, p < .05), so perception of organizational change acts indirectly on job involvement through the agent effect of stress management strategy This indirect influence is 0.44 (γ2β24 = 0.483*0.912). Apparently, employees have decreased job involvement when facing the uncertainty of organizational change, but through appropriate use of stress management strategies, employees’ job involvement can be significantly raised. Thus, H8-2 is supported. Discussion
This study was conducted with a primary starting point of employee being uncertain about the nature and outcomes of organizational change,61 and it combined the stress evaluation theory of Lazarus and Folkman62 to explore the influence of uncertainty about organizational change on employee trust, stress management strategies, organizational identification, and job involvement. A survey of employees of Taiwanese central government agencies that were undergoing questions revealed that the uncertainty public sector employees have about how organizational change will affect job security and workloads are negatively related to employee trust. A possible reason for this is that the work of public sector employees is generally quite stable and orderly. In facing massive changes in work modes and the prospect of increased workloads, employees had reduced trust in superiors and peers. This result is consistent with that ofHuiandLee.63
When public sector employees have a negative perception of organizational changes, massive work stress will arise. If such stress cannot be relieved, employee’ work attitudes and performance will inevitably be affected. This study found that there is a positive relationship between organizational changes and stress management, consistent with the research of George and Jones.64 If members of an organization can prioritize work tasks and estimate the time needed for the completion of each task, utilize relaxation techniques, and seek the comfort and support of friends, family, and co-workers, they can effectively relieve the stress produced by organizational changes. Stress management strategies, therefore, show a significant positive effect on organizational change-related stress.
This study found that there was no significant relationship between employee trust and organizational identification or employee trust and job involvement, a result that is inconsistent with that the findings of Griffeth, Gaertner, and Sager,65 and of Rajnandini, Schrieshein, and Williams.66 A possible reason the difference in the findings from this study could be that this study involved a survey of military and police personnel. In the training and work of such personnel, loyalty to the nation is highly emphasized. Also, if employees have strong self-confidence and are affected by external factors to a lesser degree, and they have better self-control in the face of the psychological fear brought on by uncertainty about organizational change.
Through overall pattern theory analysis it was found that stress management strategies play an important role in the process of organizational change. Perception of organizational change has a significant positive direct influence on stress management strategies. At the same time, uncertainty about organizational change indirectly affects organizational identification and job involvement. When employees expect problems such as loss of position, job insecurity, and increased workloads, employees can relieve stress by using personal stress management strategies. When employees do so, the result is an increase in organizational identification and job involvement. It can be inferred from this that government agencies should train employees in stress management strategies during the process of organizational change. Whether an Organization can raise organizational identification and job involvement in employees is closely related to the use of stress management strategies.
This study’s findings have important implications. First, when public organizations undertake change efforts, they should encourage and guide employees in using stress management strategies, establish psychological support mechanisms, and provide employees with methods of dealing with the stress brought on by organizational changes. Employees and their families should be encouraged to form support groups, so that when the employees face stress from organizational change, they can make use of stress management strategies. Doing so will help limit the loss of loyalty caused by mismanagement of stress and will also help prevent a loss of a sense of duty. By extension, the training employees to use stress management strategies will prevent the loss of efficiency and effectiveness within the organization.
Furthermore, when public organizations are pursuing changes, it is recommended that organizations highlight the urgency and necessity of those changes in simple, easy-to-understand terms. Organizations should also establish a change leadership team that includes employee representatives who must be trustworthy, possess technical skills, good interpersonal relationships, and official authority. Following this, and consistent with the goals of the change, organizations should articulate logical, clear, and concise strategies for making the desired change and present those strategies to employees using simple language. Doing so will reduce negative feelings about loss of position, job insecurity, and excessive workloads among employees, and instead foster understanding of the changes and a sense of esprit de corps among employees. It will also release and stimulate the potential of many employees, encouraging them to actively take part in the change and to be willing to share in the vision of the organization. Thus, employees will maintain high organizational identification and job involvement throughout the process of change, thereby helping to achieve the goals of the organizational change.
Finally, when public organizations are pushing for change, it would be appropriate to strengthen employee trust by motivating employees to choose proper stress management strategies. The formation of employee perceptions of organizational change is strongly related to the decisions and behaviors of superiors. The quality of management and the leadership of superiors will affect the atmosphere within the organization, influencing trust between employees. As a result, when a government is reorganizing or merging agencies, the government must establish fair, transparent, benevolent, and uniform methods for implementing its change plan and also foster correct perceptions, engage in two-way communication, and ensure the consistent action of managers. It is also important to examine whether the distribution and planning of personnel and workloads go against the interests and fair principles of affected organizations. Managers who are unable to perform up to standard should have their duties adjusted in order to maintain high trust for the organization among employees. By doing this, it will be possible to clearly ascertain the causes and qualities of any stress employees experience because of organizational change without incurring a lack of employee trust. The most appropriate and correct stress management strategies can then be chosen and employed.
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Ming-Chu Yu, PhD
33 Sec. 2, Shu-Lin St., Tainan City, Taiwan 700
Ming-Chu Yu, PhD, is an associate professor in the department of public administration and management at the National University of Tainan, Taiwan. His teaching and research interests include human resources management and strategic management.Employees’ Perception of Organizational Change: The Mediating Effects of Stress Management Strategies
Publication Date: 04-01-2009
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