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Intra-department communicationand employees’ reaction toorganizational changeThe moderating effect of emotionalintelligence


  • 5/27/2018 Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management


    Intra-department communicationand employees reaction to

    organizational changeThe moderating effect of emotional


    Chaoying Tang and Yunxia GaoManagement School of Graduate University, Chinese Academy of Sciences,

    Beijing, China


    Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the moderating effect of employee emotionalintelligence on the relationship of intra-department communications and employees reaction toorganizational change in China.

    Design/methodology/approach Based on the literatures in organizational change,organizational communications and emotional intelligence, the authors derived three hypotheseswhich were tested with data collected in a large state-owned enterprise (SOE) in the telecommunicationindustry. Factor analysis and regression analysis were combined for the hypothesis tests.

    Findings It was found that intra-department communications positively influenced employeesreaction to organizational change with employees emotional intelligence moderating the relationship.When employees emotional intelligence is higher, intra-department communication has greaterpositive effect on employees reaction to change.

    Research limitations/implications With the adopted western measurement scales, this studywas unable to reveal the Chinese contextual aspect of organizational communications. As the data

    were self-reported, they may have common source deviation.Practical implications To foster and maintain employees positive reactions to change, managersand organizations may consider developing strategies to improve employees emotional intelligence,so as to embrace future changes.

    Originality/value This is an initial effort in examining the joint effect of intra-departmentcommunications and employees emotional intelligence on employees reaction to organizationalchange. It may lead to additional research on organizational change management.

    KeywordsChina, Organizational change, Change management, Employees behaviour,Human resource management, Intra-department communication, Emotional intelligence

    Paper typeResearch paper

    IntroductionIn todays business world, change has become a constant. Facing fierce marketcompetitions, organizational change is the only way to survive and grow. Organizationalchange is coupled with uncertainty, challenges and stress (Daft and Steers, 1986;Rafferty and Griffin, 2006). The resistance to organizational change from employeeshas been recognized as an important area in change management (Duck, 1993). As such,

    The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at

    The study is supported by the China National Science Foundation under the agreementNo. 71173214.



    Journal of Chinese Human Resource


    Vol. 3 No. 2, 2012

    pp. 100-117

    q Emerald Group Publishing Limited


    DOI 10.1108/20408001211279210

  • 5/27/2018 Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management


    successfully managing employees reaction to organizational change becomes a criticalhuman resources management (HRM) function and a key requirement for leadersinvolved in facilitating organizational change (Waddell and Sohal, 1998).

    Studies have found that organizational communications are an effective way to

    manage employees resistance during change (Frahm and Brown, 2007). Particularly,communications help establish organizational interactive fairness (Morrison andRobinson, 1997) and improve the employees reaction to organizational change(Kotter and Schilesinger, 2008). Yet, during a change process, uncertainty and employeeperceived unfairness tend to put the employee into negative emotion (Huy, 2002; Morrisonand Robinson, 1997), often coupled with fear, anger, and frustration (Fugate et al., 2002;Bartunek, 1984). Negative emotions in turn affect employees reaction toward the changeprocess. In other words, without appropriate emotion management, organizationalcommunications may even contribute to increased employee resistance.

    Employees reaction to change is a result of cognitive appraisal affected by emotions.According to the affect infusion modelby Forgas and Joseph (1995), individuals emotionsplay a substantial role in thecognitive appraisalprocess. Positiveemotions help individualsevaluation of the risks associated with change positively and accept the outcome of thechange in advance (Johnson and Tversky, 1983; Mittal and Ross, 1998). Negative mood hasan opposite effect. The literature has noted that during an organizational change process,employees with higher emotional intelligence tend to maintain positive emotions andmanage their negative emotions when unfavorable information is communicated (Josephand Newman, 2010; Kafetsiosa and Zampetakis, 2008).

    Hence, communications and emotional intelligence appear to jointly shape employeesreaction to change. Yet, few studies have empirically analyzed the joint effect oforganizational communications and employees emotional intelligence. To understandthis under-investigated topic, we aim to explore the moderating effect of employeesemotional intelligence on the relationship between intra-department communications and

    employees reaction to organizational change.

    Literature reviewEmployees reaction to organizational changeSuccessful organizational change management must gain the hearts and minds of theinvolved employees (Duck, 1993). Nadler (1981) has described three employees reactionsto organizational change: positive support, neutral, and resistance. During the process oforganizational change, employees often feel uncertain, thus are unable to anticipatethe likelihood of the outcomes, especially when there is a lack of information abouta cause-effect relationship (Milliken, 1987). In the meantime, new organizational strategy,new structure and work procedures during a change process often make employeesroutines disrupted, and induce more challenging work and requirements for newcompetences (Oreg et al., 2011; Porras and Silvers, 1991). Therefore, employees oftenexperience role-conflict, work-related stress and concerns for job security (Hui and Lee,2000). Particularly, they often reevaluate their organizational status and relatedtreatments in relation to the changing organizational policies, management actions, andorganizational values (Kiefer, 2005), When the employees believe that they are adverselytreated with unfair, unsupportive or unappreciated management behaviors or attitudes,they are more likely to resist the change (Kiefer, 2005; Hellgren and Sverke, 2003;Conlon and Shapiro, 2002).



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    A majority of qualitative and quantitative studies on the outcomes of organizationalchange have found employees emotions induced by change are mainly negative, oftenassociated with anger, anxiety and frustration (Huy, 2002; Fugateet al., 2002; Bartunek,1984). As a result, such negative reactions reduce the employees commitment and

    motivation, hurt organizational trust, and increase employees withdrawing behaviorswith a lower level of performance (Rusbultet al., 1988). Therefore, employees reactionto change is a critical and significant element in organizational change management(Ettlie and Reza, 1992).

    Psychologically, employees reaction to changeis based on a cognitiveappraisalprocess.The literature has revealed two aspects of cognitive appraisal (Lazarus, 2006; Zabid et al.,2004). One is primary appraisal, including the appraisal of the meaning and consequence ofthe change to themselves. An associated aspect is the employees assessment on whetherthey are able to handle the change and the approaches to coping with the change. Thesecond appraisal determines employees attitude towards the organizational change.A potential reactive response is often determined through the secondary appraisal, wherepeople evaluate their own capabilities fordealing with a relevant change event (Lazarus andFolkman, 1984). If they believe they have adequate resources to deal with the change or theevent, they are more likely to respond actively. Otherwise they may adopt a passiveapproach and resist the change. During the process of forming the reactions, employeesemotions are often involved. In essence, emotions are a source of information (Schwarz andClore, 1983). Cognition and emotions are closely intertwined in the cognitive appraisals thatproduce either positive or negative reactions to change (Clore and Ortony, 2000).

    Organizational communications in change managementOrganizational communication is a process by which information is exchanged andunderstood by two or more parties, usually with the intent to motivate or influencebehaviors (Frahm and Brown, 2007). Organizational communications are a critical and

    effective process in change management. It can substantially reduce resistance during anorganizational change (Kotter and Schilesinger, 2008) and increase employeescommitment (Sharma and Patterson, 1999). First, it is an approach to reducingperceptions on uncertainty (Brown, 2007), releasing employees stress and frustrationassociated with the change (Schneider et al., 1996), and enhancing employees sense ofcontrolling and well-being (Bordia etal.,2004a,b,p.358;Kramer etal., 2004).Second, whenleaders communicate openly and encourage employees participation and autonomy,organizational trust and perceived procedure fairness in organizational decisions canbe improved during the change (Reichers et al., 1997). With effective communications,employees are more committed to organizational change (Sharma and Patterson, 1999)and less likely to resist it (Kotter and Schilesi


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