Persistence, Distance and Silence: Bottom-up Organisational Change Talk
journal contributionposted on 08.06.2017, 01:14 by Bryant, Melanie
Located in southeast Australia, the Latrobe Valley has been subjected to rapid, large-scale organisational change subsequent to the privatisation of its electricity supply industry. In this paper, narratives of employee experiences of organisational transformation and the impact on employee career opportunities is discussed. The narratives are drawn from an interview study of 25 people working within the electricity, healthcare, paper manufacturing, education and water industries in the Latrobe Valley. Employees in this study argue that they are not resistant to organisational change per se. However, they suggest that the degree of communication and the overall management of the change process were inadequate. Consequently, employees chose to react to change in two particular ways, with the use of voice to communicate their dissatisfaction, or by withdrawing and/or remaining silent. An emergent theme across the narratives indicates that employees frame their talk of organisational change in relation to voice and silence. Respondents suggest that management, with the removal of decision-making power, career advancement opportunities, and in some cases, pressure to exit the organisation, silenced staff who openly voiced dissatisfaction and actively challenged organisational change. Organisational silence literature indicates that management may attempt to silence employees if they perceive staff will either provide negative feedback or challenge management actions. Employees in this study also argue that management perceived high levels of knowledge and position power amongst staff as a threat to successful organisational change, and thus sought their elimination. In comparison, employees who remained silent throughout the process of change reaped the rewards of career development and promotion prospects. In addition, these employees suggest that staff who challenged management not only jeopardised their futures in the organisation, but made the process of change harder for all staff. As such they argue that employees who remained silent are worthy of career rewards, whereas those who voiced dissatisfaction are not. Within this paper the relationship between silence, voice and career outcomes is further explored.