Does repeated change paradoxically undermine organizational adaptability? Essays on the impact of repeated organizational change on public organizations' capacity to adapt
Climate change, globalized terrorism, disruptive technologies, and the COVID-19 pandemic have presented governments with unprecedented, fast-evolving challenges requiring rapid response and adaptation. Consequently, public organizations have been implementing changes at an increasing pace as they attempt to keep up. At the same time, civil servants must develop new skills centered on adaptability and flexibility. However, evidence from the field suggests that civil servants find it increasingly difficult to cope with a highly turbulent work environment in which change is nearly constant. Many are feeling overwhelmed by too many organizational changes occurring in a row. While public organizations often implement changes in pursuit of more adaptability, the question thus arises whether repeated change paradoxically undermines their capacity to adapt. This dissertation seeks to answer this question by examining the effects of repeated change – as it is perceived by civil servants- on their levels of role clarity, autonomy, and proactive behavior at work. In doing so, this research examines whether there is evidence of a threat-rigidity response in civil servants, characterized by a constriction of control and restriction in information processing. Results show that the more changes civil servants experienced, the less clear they were about their role at work, the less individual autonomy they experienced, and the less proactively they behaved at work. These results offer empirical support for the cognitive and behavioral inflexibility characteristic of a threat-rigidity response. Finding that repeated change causes civil servants to respond with rigidity rather than the required flexibility; this dissertation concludes that repeated change paradoxically undermines public organizations’ capacity to adapt. In addition, the finding that chronic stress in civil servants distorts their perceptions of the frequency of change offers important implications for public sector change management. It indicates that change management strategies based on objective accounts of change may be tailored to a reality that does not align with the reality of change as civil servants experience it.
Antwerpen : Universiteit Antwerpen, Faculteit Bedrijfswetenschappen en Economie, Departement Management , 2024
163 p.
Supervisor: Wynen, Jan [Supervisor]
Supervisor: Verhoest, Koen [Supervisor]
Supervisor: Kleizen, Bjorn [Supervisor]
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Creation 10.01.2024
Last edited 19.01.2024
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