Strangeness of the familiar : re-conceptualising change in organisations
Introduction: This thesis proposes new ways to think about change, a much discussed yet under-defined concept within organisational studies. The vast majority of existing work focuses on processes of organisational change, i.e. the management of change, whilst a small minority considers change in organisations, offering theories of change at the individual level. This study aimed to reverse the established research order by exploring individual interpretations of experiences of change at work to enrich and inform our understandings and indicate further and alternate areas for study. Methods: A Foucauldian theoretical lens was utilised to consider how ideas about change in the workplace have been constructed over time and why we think about change the way we do. A mixed methods approach was utilised. Bibliometric analysis and meta-narrative review were used to explore the development of the concept of change within organisational studies. A qualitative study was then conducted within the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence and National Health Service in England as organisations generally acknowledged to have undergone sustained, significant change over time. In-depth interviews (n=40) were conducted together with documentary analysis of materials volunteered by participants in order to investigate what individuals mean by change, how they distinguish between change and that which remains relatively constant (i.e. between change and stability), and how relationships are affected by change in organisations. These data were analysed using deductive and inductive analytical frameworks. A reflexive approach was adopted throughout data collection and analysis. How these insights might inform further research into change in organisations was then discussed in the context of related literature. Results: Six themes emerged from the investigation, namely: i) uncertainty at work; ii) progress and change; iii) dissonance and division; iv) definitions and boundaries; v) risks and vulnerabilities; vi) the role of stability. Participants described an organisational context dominated by change, most particularly frequent, imposed changes involving re-structuring and job moves. Change was seen to have created divisions between employees and the organisation, their colleagues and their sense of self, highlighting dissonance between personal/ professional and organisational values. Change was seen to go beyond the boundaries of the organisation into social and intimate worlds beyond work. Accounts of change included vulnerabilities for the organisation (e.g. reduced performance and employee dis-identification) and for individuals (e.g. employees’ well-being and the potential for discrimination). In contrast, stability was a neglected but important consideration for participants. Conclusion: This study suggests the normalisation of change as an everyday undertaking at work, contributing to individual and organisational uncertainty and vulnerability. This indicates not only a need to more clearly define change as a subject for study, but also a lack of consideration of stability as a source of certainty and balance. The use of change as a mechanism of control has contributed to a growth of managerialism and individualism and there is a need to better understand the troublesome effects of imposed change and its associated risks within and beyond the organisation. Conversely, the dynamic effects of organic change may offer significant benefits in allowing the organisation to adapt in accord with the wider environment.