Contemporary work-life is characterized by continuous change driven by globalization, technological innovation, altered demographics and new societal demands. The Future of Jobs Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum estimates that 75 million jobs will be replaced by automatization within the next ten years, while 133 million new jobs may emerge due to new labour market and societal needs. These changes require both organizations and employees to adapt to and cope with frequent changes and perhaps a less predictable work life. Faced with new demands both public and private organizations may choose to implement various structural changes to meet new societal demands and maintain or improve market position, e.g. change the organization’s strategy and focus or streamline production chains to cut costs. To assess how organizations and employees are affected by exposure to major workplace changes, the present thesis assessed how implementing extensive organizational change influence organizations psychosocial work environment and employee mental health. The thesis also assessed the effect of short- and long-term job predictability on mental health and the potential moderating effect of various leadership behaviour on this relationship.
Prior studies have reported both organizational change and low job predictability to be associated with organizational outcomes such as reduced performance and adverse effects on the work environment (Kivimäki, Vahtera, Pentti, & Ferrie, 2000; Kivimäki et al., 2001), and employee outcomes, such as health complaints and reduced productivity (Vahtera, Kivimaki, & Pentti, 1997; Vahtera et al., 2005; Vahtera et al., 2004). Although an increasing number of employees are likely to experience multiple organizational changes during their career, relatively few studies have estimated the effect of exposure to repeated company changes on employee mental health. Due to the frequency and number of organizations and employees affected by such changes, it seems imperative to assess how employee health might be affected by exposure to different types of organizational change, but also change frequency, i.e. multiple concurrent or repeated changes. Moreover, relatively few studies have examined how implementing large-scale organizational change influence the organization’s psychosocial work environment. Prior studies have linked multiple psychosocial work factors to both somatic and mental health complaints, productivity loss and turnover (Head et al., 2006; Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011). If implementing organizational change affects the organization’s psychosocial work environment negatively, this may help explain the adverse effects on employee mental health previously linked to organizational change implementation (Kivimäki et al., 2000).
Mental illness is one of the primary causes of sick leave, disability pension and years lived with disability globally and associated with vast societal costs. Although prior studies have assessed the impact of exposure to organizational change or low predictability on employee mental health (Iverson & Zatzick, 2011; Kalimo, Taris, & Schaufeli, 2003; Kivimäki et al., 2007; Lau & Knardahl, 2008), relatively few have applied a clinical cut-off as the outcome measure (Oreg et al., 2011). Thus, even though prior studies have demonstrated an adverse effect of exposure to extensive workplace changes or low job predictability on employee mental health, less is known regarding the potential clinical relevance of such health effects. To prevent mental health complaints and -illness in the working population, identification of workplace stressors contributing to mental distress is essential. Moreover, to prevent or alleviate the adverse mental health effects associated with workplace stressors, identification of moderating factors in these stressor-strain relationships is essential, e.g. factors moderating the effect of low job predictability and mental health. Modifiable moderating factors in the work environment are of particular interest as these may be altered by targeted workplace interventions (Lamontagne, Keegel, Louie, Ostry, & Landsbergis, 2007). Leadership behaviours may represent such a modifiable factor, which organizations may influence through targeted interventions such as leadership training (Avolio, Avey, & Quisenberry, 2010; Black & Earnest, 2009; Cacioppe, 1998; Collins & Holton III, 2004).
To elucidate the effect of implementing organizational change on employee mental health and the organization’s psychosocial work environment, the present thesis had four main aims: First, to assess the effect of various types and frequencies of organizational change on employee mental health. Second, to assess the effect of various types and frequencies of organizational change on the psychosocial work environment. Third, to assess the effect of perceived short- and long-term job predictability and fair-, empowering- and supportive leadership behaviours on mental health, and fourth, to assess the impact of these leadership behaviours on the relationship between perceived job predictability and employee mental health.
The present studies were based on the project “The New Workplace: Work, health and participation in work-life”, initiated and carried out by the Norwegian National Institute of Occupational Health. The sample consisted of both private and public organizations and administrations, and 15 465 employees were invited to participate. The studies had a full panel, prospective design. Data were collected every two years from 2004 and onwards by a comprehensive, online-administered questionnaire. Due to the nested structure of the data, a multilevel analytical approach was chosen. The results from the present thesis demonstrated that employee working in organizations who had implemented either a single distinct type of organizational change, multiple concurrent changes or repeated organizational changes had a higher risk of reporting subsequent clinically relevant mental distress two years after the change had taken place, with the most prominent effects following exposure to repeated organizational changes. The present results also showed that employees working in organizations who had implemented either a single change, multiple concurrent or repeated organizational changes reported adverse long-term changes in multiple psychosocial work factors. Factors which all have been linked to both organizational- and employee outcomes such as productivity loss, turnover and health complaints (Bonde, 2008; Breinegaard, Jensen, & Bonde, 2017).
The results also demonstrated that employees who reported higher levels of short- or long-term job predictability or perceived their superiors as fair-, empowering- and supportive were less likely to suffer from clinically relevant mental distress. The present results did not show fair-, empowering- or supportive leadership behaviours to moderate the relationship between shortor long-term job predictability and subsequent mental health, however, these leadership behaviours were prospectively associated with higher levels of job predictability. Thus, even though these leadership behaviours may not moderate the effect of predictability on mental health, such leadership behaviours had a direct effect on employee sense of job predictability and mental health. In other words, fair-, empowering- and supportive leadership may be important in preventing mental distress by both influencing mental health directly and indirectly by increasing employee’s sense of job predictability.
To conclude, the present thesis demonstrates the need to consider both the organization’s psychosocial work environment and employee mental health when planning and implementing extensive organizational changes, as such changes are associated with an adverse long-term effect on both employee health and the organization’s psychosocial working conditions. Strengthening protective or buffering factors in the work environment may help prevent or alleviate these undesirable effects of change. The present thesis suggests that fair, empowering and supportive leadership behaviours may represent such protective factors both directly and indirectly by influencing employee’s sense of predictability, and by that mental health as higher levels of job predictability were associated with a lowered risk of mental distress. During and following extensive workplace changes, organizations are advised to focus on promoting a fair, empowering and supportive style of leadership in order to increase job predictability and promote employee mental health both during and following organizational changes.