How Organizations Can Help Employees Adapt to Big and Frequent Changes

elevated boardwalk wends around side of Wugong Mountain
How can an employee adapt so that they can work around the mountain rather than have it fall on them? (Photo: DeshK/Pixabay)

The full weight of things like financial meltdowns and deadly pandemics, write Lu Chen and Kaixuan Tang, “fall on individuals like a mountain.” How does that play out at work or in other organizations where these individuals are active? Today, Chen and Tang answer some questions about their paper, “Adapting to Frequent Changes: The Roles of Job Crafting and Personal Needs,” published online in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. Both are based at the School of Management and Economics at Chengdu’s University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, and their answers appear just below the paper’s abstract.

Drawing on the transactional theory of stress and self-regulation theory, we propose a conceptual framework to examine how change frequency relates to approach or avoidance adaptations. Multiwave, multisource data from a matched sample of 424 subordinates and their supervisors indicate that (a) approach and avoidance crafting mediates the negative relationship between change frequency and adaptivity, (b) the need for human connection weakens the relationship between change frequency and approach–avoidance crafting, (c) the need for control strengthens the relationship between change frequency and approach–avoidance crafting, and (d) change frequency has a weakened (strengthened) indirect effect on adaptivity via approach crafting and avoidance crafting when employees have a high need for human connection (control). This study expands the research on job crafting and adaptivity and provides practical implications for organizations undergoing or soon to undergo changes.

What motivated you to pursue this research?
In 2019, the global economy hit the slowest growth rate since 2008 financial crisis. Worse still, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly accelerated worldwide slowdowns in economic growth and employment. Facing challenges, some companies began tightening management practices and laid off stuffs. Meanwhile, the pandemic brought development opportunities as well, and thus some companies led to the brisk development of emerging industries.

However, such opportunities and challenges fall on individuals like a mountain. Job cuts indicates unemployment, and business change means adjusting to new work environment, contents, and models. Those who fail to adapt could only be cleaned out by companies. Actually, some managers have begun to recognize that employees are as essential as change initiatives. Thus, we would like to discuss the influencing mechanisms and boundary conditions between organizational change frequency and employee change adaptivity, helping companies better plan changes.

In addition, a survey by Boston Consulting and The Network showed that after recognizing the impact of macro trends on work, 81 percent of Chinese employees invest a lot of time in skill improvement every year, and 70 percent are willing to reshape skills for new jobs, which is higher than the average level of global employees. Therefore, it is essential to figure out what crafting method will employees choose and lead to what kind of adaptive results when facing frequent organizational changes.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
We conducted a research from the perspective of employees in 2020, and found that frequent change as a macro-level stressor has a positive impact on employees’ avoidance crafting and a negative impact on employees’ approach crafting, which further leads to lower adaptivity. In addition, we show that employees need human connection buffers, while the need for control amplifies the indirect relationship between change frequency and adaptivity via approach-avoidance crafting.

For practitioner, they should acknowledge that frequent changes have negative effects on employees, and plan change decisions and policies carefully to allow employees to adapt. Besides, since change will drive employees toward approach or avoidance job crafting according to their orientations, managers may use job-crafting interventions as a tool to regulate employees to craft their jobs so as to effectively adapt to the changing work environment. Last but not least, managers can allocate employees according to their individual differences and adjust their work to special groups of employees. Those with high demand for human connection and an open mind can be assigned to new positions and businesses, while those who are more conservative and have a high need for control can be given more time to adapt.

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