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The majority of organizations will undergo significant change or attempt to implement significant change organizations. Change initiatives occur in both private and public sector organizations. Most change initiatives are implemented in response to internal and external pressures, which often boil down to the need for organizations to survive. While an organization’s management and leadership are often charged with designing, communicating, monitoring, and engaging employee support for the implementation of change initiatives, non-managerial employees typically respond to change in one of two ways. Non-managerial employees will either support or oppose (i.e. resist) the change. Employees’ attitudes and perceptions about the organization, their commitment to the organization, their jobs, and their supervisors’ support (or lack thereof) are directly related to whether employees support or resist change.
Although the research agrees with the fact that it is easier to get employees who are intrinsically motivated to accept change, the idea that employees who are extrinsically motivated will be more resistant to change lacks development in terms of how to overcome this barrier. There is a clear gap in terms of how to respond to and work with extrinsically motivated employees during the change process in lieu of simply hiring employees who are intrinsically motivated – a quality that can be difficult to discern during the interview and screening process. Furthermore, managers and leaders often inherit direct reports. Managers and leaders are not always responsible for hiring all of their direct reports, nor do they have any control over organizational climates, cultures, and previous influences on employees from their predecessors. Some of the research does reflect that positive leadership change does take time to impact employees’ attitudes and perceptions in a positive manner, and that positive leadership change can eventually result in employees supporting organizational change. However, more research is needed to uncover whether positive leadership change can transform the negative attitudes and perceptions of extrinsically motivated employees towards organizational change, in addition to the exact management and leadership techniques that can help transform resistance to change in extrinsically motivated employees.
Employee perceptions are defined by the literature as “the cognitive precursor to the behaviors of either resistance to, or support for, a change effort” (Eby, Adams, Russell, & Gaby, 2000, p. 420). The attitudes and perceptions of employees can either help implement change initiatives or serve as a means to passive or active resistance to change initiatives (Eby et al., 2000). Employees who perceive that an organization is ready for change are more likely to support a change initiative (Eby et al., 2000). Part of perceiving whether an organization is ready for change is tied directly to whether employees perceive there will be negative impacts as a result of the change (Weber & Weber, 2001). Negative perceptions of change can result in consequences beyond passive and active resistance to change initiatives. Lowered morale, increased turnover intentions, increased turnover, decreased productivity, and actual organizational failure can all result from employees’ negative perceptions of change (Rafferty & Griffin, 2006; Weber & Weber, 2001). Several characteristics of change can directly impact employees’ perceptions. Those characteristics include the frequency of change, the perceived impact, and the planning behind the change initiative (Rafferty & Griffin, 2006). Too much change too often and employees are more likely to form negative perceptions. Employees who believe the change initiative will have a negative impact on their jobs and/or suspect poor planning behind the initiative are also more likely to form negative perceptions and attitudes (Rafferty & Griffin, 2006). Negative perceptions and attitudes are directly correlated to lowered job satisfaction and an increase in turnover intentions (Rafferty & Griffin, 2006). Increased stress for employees is considered to be a negative impact of a change initiative, but job stressors can be exposed and heightened due to additional underlying factors that may be present prior to the implementation of organizational change.
One of the major sources of job stress is poor relationships, particularly poor relationships with managers, leadership, and supervisors (Vakola & Nikolaou, 2005). It is also known that poor relationships and increased stress can reduce an employee’s commitment to an organization (Vakola & Nikolaou, 2005). Employees who are under more stress on the job are more likely to be resistant to organizational change and are also more likely to eventually leave the organization (Vakola & Nikolaou, 2005). The research also points to the fact that job-related stress contributes to the following negative results: low motivation, low morale, decreased performance, high turnover, high use of sick-leave, increased accidents, lowered job satisfaction, low quality, poor communication, and an increase in interpersonal conflicts (Vakola & Nikolaou, 2005). Some of the research points to other factors beyond stress that directly contribute to whether employees’ attitudes are either positive or negative.
Factors such as organizational commitment, whether the employee has a high need for growth, how much control the employee perceives he or she has over the work environment, and whether the employee is intrinsically motivated contribute to the formation of positive or negative perceptions (Elias, 2009). When an employee is committed to the organization, when he or she has a high need for growth, when the employee perceives an adequate degree of control over the work environment, and when the employee is intrinsically motivated, the employee usually has a positive attitude towards change (Elias, 2009). The reverse, of course, is also argued to be true. Low organizational commitment, a perception of low control, a low need for growth, and extrinsic motivation are more likely to lead to negative attitudes about change (Elias, 2009). Leader-member exchange theory reiterates the notion that poor relationships between management, leadership, and supervisors with employees can lead to negative attitudes and perceptions (Georgalis, Samaratunge, & Kimberley, 2015). The theory emphasizes that the quality of relationships between leaders and followers develops through a series of exchanges or interactions (Georgalis et al., 2015). If the employee perceives the exchange to be poor or if the exchange is actually poor in nature, then the quality of the relationship is compromised. An example of a poor exchange would be a leader who fails to communicate critical information with an employee. The employee in turn starts to develop a negative perception about the leader, about the nature of the professional relationship with the leader, and perhaps even about the employee’s future prospects with the organization. Any subsequent change initiatives implemented by the leader are likely to be perceived negatively by the employee and either passive or active resistance may occur.
Employee perceptions of an organization, an organization’s readiness for change, and change initiatives can be shaped by the way employees feel they are treated by organizational leadership. Whether employees feel they are paid fairly, whether there are equitable opportunities for professional growth, and whether employees understand and value what organizations stand for have an impact on the formation of positive or negative employee attitudes and perceptions (Shah, Irani, & Sharif, 2017). A separate study on the impact of some of these factors and more was conducted in a public organization. This research did back up the notion that negative and positive attitudes and perceptions can form from the quality of relationships with supervisors and peers, whether promotional opportunities were present, whether pay was adequate, and whether job conditions were considered good. However, organizational commitment existed because these employees felt obligated to remain either out of desire or necessity, but not because they felt they should (Yousef, 2017). Organizational commitment may in some cases be independent of perceptions, attitudes, and job-related factors. The question is does this only exist in organizational cultures that promote tenure and seniority based on stability and security. The public sector is more or less known for promoting long-tenured employment due to lowered scrutiny over job performance results and job security. Some private sector employers can also emphasize seniority and long tenures that are tied to economic security and economic rewards. This would negate the other research indicating employees who are extrinsically motivated form negative perceptions and attitudes towards change, which then lead to turnover intentions and actual turnover. It is important to note that the negation is not necessarily in the formation of negative perceptions and attitudes about environmental work conditions, but in the relationship between negative perceptions and attitudes and low organizational commitment.
In summary, the research generally points towards a strong correlation between the way an employee feels treated by an organization (and by extension its leaders and co-workers) and the employee’s attitudes and perceptions. When attitudes and perceptions are negative, the research indicates employees are more likely to resist organizational change. When attitudes and perceptions are positive, employees are more likely to support organizational change. Most of the research supports the notion that negative attitudes and perceptions are linked to low commitment to the organization and higher intentions to eventually leave. This would help explain why employees would be more reluctant to support organizational change when they fail to support the existence of the organization and their existence in it. Yet, some of the research indicates that organizational commitment may persist in some types of environments despite the formation of negative attitudes and perceptions.
Intrinsic motivation is generally thought of as coming from within or from the nature of the work itself, whereas extrinsic motivation is thought of as coming from a reward (or fear of punishment) that is separate from the employee and the work (Elias, 2009). The literature and research states that employees who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to enjoy work that provide them with opportunities to establish personal objectives and develop personal skills (Elias, 2009). Extrinsically motivated employees, on the other hand, tend to stay away from jobs and organizations involving a high level of uncertainty, involvement, and the accumulation of knowledge (Elias, 2009). The research on the differences between the attitudes and perceptions of intrinsically motivated employees versus extrinsically motivated employees backs up the idea that intrinsically motivated employees enjoy seeking out new experiences and new knowledge (Elias, 2009). Intrinsically motivated employees more or less are more adaptable to change because they see change as a welcome occurrence since it provides them with an opportunity to learn new knowledge and gain different types of skills. Therefore, the attitudes and perceptions of intrinsically motivated employees towards organizational change is more likely to be positive prior to the implementation of any change initiative (Elias, 2009). Along with that line of thinking is the idea that when organizations implement change initiatives, intrinsically motivated employees are more likely to develop stronger feelings of attachment (i.e. commitment) to the organizations implementing change since intrinsically motivated employees find change to be rewarding (Elias, 2009). The model developed by Elias (2009) indicates that locus of control, the need for growth, and internal work motivation determine attitudes towards change, which in turn determine affective commitment.
Avey, Wernsing and Luthan’s (2008) study on how positive employee attitudes bring about positive organizational change does not specifically discuss intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, but it does hint at it within its model. An employee’s mindfulness is thought to contribute to positive emotions, along with psychological capital. Positive emotions determine an employee’s attitudes and behaviors (Avey et al., 2008). Psychological capital is defined as consisting of hope, efficacy, optimism, and resilience (Avey et al., 2008). Both mindfulness and psychological capital could reasonably indicate whether an employee is motivated intrinsically or extrinsically. An employee with a high level of resilience, hope, efficacy, and optimism, for instance, could be an indication of someone who is intrinsically motivated. Low psychological capital, on the other hand, would indicate an employee with a predilection toward extrinsic rewards.
Perceptions of the change process include anticipated intrinsic rewards, along with power and prestige, and job security (Jones et al., 2008). It is the perceptions of change that can determine how an employee actively and cognitively responds to change; either negatively or positively (Jones et al., 2008). As the research states, if perceptions of the change process are negative, the employee is more likely to respond with active and/or passive resistance. If the perceptions of the change process are positive, the employee is more likely to respond with support of the change and continued organizational commitment. Based on Jones et al.’s (2008) model, the presence of intrinsic rewards or the perception that intrinsic rewards will exist as a result of the change, employees who are intrinsically motivated will form a positive perception of the change process. The other components – power and prestige, job security – are extrinsic rewards. Given that the balance of extrinsic rewards outnumbers intrinsic rewards in Jones et al.’s (2008) model, more attention is needed in terms of weight. A weighted average formula could determine the degree of influence of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards in forming perceptions of organizational change, and consequently the degree and likelihood of active and passive resistance.
Research on the role of intrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation in developing countries found that financial rewards correlated with an employee’s behavior and intrinsic satisfaction, which in turn connected with an employee’s attitudes (Shah et al., 2017). Yet, the same research also concluded that positive employee attitudes develop from intrinsic satisfaction (Shah et al., 2017). This brings into question whether extrinsic rewards can impact intrinsically motivated employees and the role extrinsic rewards play in forming the basis for intrinsic motivation. Shah et al.’s (2017) research was able to uncover a relationship between extrinsic rewards and short-term commitment to organizations and organizational change, and a relationship between intrinsic motivation and a long-term commitment to organizations and organizational change. It is known from other research that intrinsic motivation is directly tied to whether an employee’s normative and affective commitment to an organization (Yousef, 2017).
Clearly there is an identifiable gap in the extent to which intrinsic motivation influences commitment to an organization and the change process. There is also a gap in the role both extrinsic and intrinsic factors play in that process. For instance, do intrinsically motivated employees also respond to extrinsic rewards and to what degree do they respond? Does a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards have to be present to gain organizational commitment and sustain it? Do extrinsically motivated employees respond to intrinsic rewards at some point? What types of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are needed to positively influence the perceptions of organizational change and eventually form organizational commitment? Much of the research concludes additional studies are needed in this regard. Keyword searches of employee perceptions and organizational change, and employee attitudes and organizational change were conducted in Google Scholar.
The research indicates a clear link between positive employee attitudes, positive employee perceptions, positive execution of organizational change, and long-term commitment to an organization. There is also solid evidence that intrinsically motivated employees are more likely to embrace change and feel positive about change because of the implied intrinsic rewards of gaining new knowledge and new professional skills. What is potentially missing from the line of reasoning within the research is what employees hope to gain from new knowledge and new professional skills. For instance, is the expectation that an employee will take on additional power and prestige, and earn more income as the result of acquiring new knowledge and new professional skills? Does the employee expect to be able to fulfill that power and prestige, and additional income with either vertical or horizontal advancement within the organization? When an employee receives these benefits as the result of acquiring the new knowledge and new professional skills that stem from organizational change, is the employee motivated to stay with the organization also due to extrinsic rewards? Or the do the extrinsic rewards not impact the employee’s commitment? In other words, what happens if an intrinsically motivated employee does not receive any extrinsic rewards from the organization despite having gained new knowledge and new skills? Is that employee still motivated to remain with the organization or does that employee lose some of his or her commitment and begin to seek professional opportunities with more power, prestige, and income outside of the organization? The research obtained from a public sector organization points towards indicators that state these employees may continue to remain out of pure want or pure necessity rather than out of a sense of obligation to the organization (Yousef, 2017). However, not enough aggregate research on employees within numerous public sector and private sector organizations has been completed in order to reach a definite conclusion.
As the literature indicates, positive employee attitudes and perceptions regarding organizational change are necessary for its successful implementation. Employee attitudes and perceptions about change initiatives are likely to be influenced by the anticipated rewards employees perceive they will receive as a result of the change, as well as whether employees feel the organization is ready for the change. The existing relationship employees have with their jobs and supervisors, and the number of stressors present in the work environment also play a significant role in whether employees form positive attitudes and perceptions. Employees who experience a moderate to high amount of stress in the work environment are likely to form negative attitudes and perceptions of change prior to the change. These employees are also less likely to feel committed to the organization, either because they do not feel as though the organization is committed to them or because they do not feel in alignment with the organization’s continued success, values, and mission. The quality of the relationships employees form with their supervisors and leaders is paramount to the formation of employees’ attitudes and perceptions. Negative or positive attitudes and perceptions, therefore, are often in place prior to the announcement of change initiatives and prior to the implementation of change initiatives. Leader-member exchange theory reiterates the importance of ongoing positive relationships between an organization’s leadership and an organization’s non-supervisory personnel.
What is also known from the research is that attitudes and perceptions about organizational change form based on the source of an employee’s motivation. By its nature change entails a high degree of uncertainty, as well as the opportunity to learn something new. Employees with a greater predilection towards intrinsic rewards are logically more likely to respond to change favorably due to the implied intrinsic rewards inherent in change. Consequently, employees with a greater predilection towards extrinsic rewards are more likely to respond negatively towards organizational change. This is significant for organizational leaders since the research shows that employee attitudes and perceptions about change can be formed regardless of the presence of change and the details of the specific change itself. Instead organizational leaders must assess what type of employees are present on staff and manage the organization’s reward system throughout the change process accordingly. As most leaders would probably attest, organizations are typically comprised of a combination of intrinsically motivated and extrinsically motivated employees. While most employees may have a predilection towards one or the other, it may also be rare to find employees who are solely motivated by either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards.
Consequently, further research is necessary to uncover the degree to which intrinsic and extrinsic rewards influence employees’ attitudes, perceptions, and organizational commitment throughout the change process. Intrinsically motivated employees may respond more positively to change and form long-term commitments to organizations, but what role do an employee’s anticipated extrinsic rewards play in that commitment and positive response? Likewise, can negative responses to change from extrinsically motivated employees be transformed and/or managed with the proper combination of rewards throughout the change process?
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