This thesis reports on three studies into the influence of employees' professional group memberships on their perceptions of the effectiveness of communication during major change programs. The thesis argues that, in an environment of turbulent organizational change, simple membership of a professional group is related to employees' perceptions of organizational processes, especially those associated with the communication of information about the change.
The thesis proposes that, during major change events when their need for positive self-esteem and sense of self-worth is salient, employees tend towards self-categorization into professional groups. Membership of such professional groups fosters for members an image of the self as legitimate, reliable and worthwhile, and sustains or nurtures their needs for positive reinforcement of the importance of the work of their profession. This research adopts the Fournier (1999) notion of professionalism as embracing not only the traditional tertiary level professions, such as medicine and nursing, but also any work that requires high levels of specialized knowledge for its accomplishment.
Social Identity Theory (SIT) proposes that a person's social identity is that part of their self-concept derived from memberships of salient social groups and categories. When extended to the work-place, SIT suggests that memberships of an organization, its work groups, branches or divisions, and different employee levels, qualifications, classifications, roles and job titles are important social identifications for employees. These identifications lead to behavior based solely on group membership. Change creates a context in which social identification with one's profession or work groups becomes salient.
The research focused upon the staff in two large organizations experiencing radical change - a public hospital and a state government department. Qualitative methods were used initially to gather employees' perceptions about the value of professional group membership, as well as organizational efforts to manage and communicate the change. These data were used to develop the focus, structure and content of a survey questionnaire administered in a second study. This survey investigated the relationship between professional group membership and employees' perceptions of the effectiveness of organizational communication, specifically from three organizational levels: senior managers, supervisors and co-workers. A third study was conducted two years later in the same enterprises to determine the consistency of the results in the new organizational context. Survey questionnaires again were used to replicate and extend the Study 2 research.
The first study used a convergent interviewing method to interview 67 employees from the public hospital and 26 employees from the government department. Results showed that staff in both organizations recognized the value of their professional membership as a steadying influence during the turbulence of major organizational change. On the issue of communication, they perceived communication about change to be ineffective, with communication from senior managers to be particularly so. Two factors were prominent in their discussions of change and communication: membership of their professional groups, and the organizational level of the communicator. These two concepts became the focus of the remainder of the investigation, and social identity theory provided the theoretical basis for a further examination of the role of professional group membership in shaping employee perceptions.
In the second study, 743 employees in the hospital and 722 employees in the department completed survey questionnaires. As predicted, employees' membership of professional groups was related to perceptions of both the quality and the effectiveness of communication, especially from different organizational levels. Perceptions of the effectiveness of co-worker communication were strongly positive in the hospital. In the department, employees did not reveal significantly different perceptions of co-worker and supervisor communication.
For the third study, 986 hospital employees and 877 departmental employees in the same enterprises completed similar surveys two years further into the change programs. We know that employees' perceptions give meaning to their work environment and vary with the context. We also know the effects of major change programs that extend over long periods of time can become quite debilitating for employees. As it is relatively rare to have the opportunity to replicate research in the same organizations where major change has occurred over a period of two years, this third study sought to replicate as precisely as possible the investigation in the second study, to determine if a similar pattern of results would be obtained in the changed circumstances in both organizations two years later. Results showed that, again consistent with expectations and social identity theory, employee membership of professional groups at work was related to their perceptions of the overall quality of communication, as well as to their perceptions of the effectiveness of communication about change coming from different levels within the organization.
In summary, this thesis has shown that, in two different organizations in two different industries at two consecutive points in times, employees' professional membership is related to their perceptions of the effectiveness of communication emanating from senior managers, supervisors and co-workers. Group members perceive communication from senior managers to be ineffective, and judge communication from their supervisors and co-workers as effective, with co-worker communication in the hospital being especially important. However, in the department, communications from supervisors and co-workers are similarly regarded. Overall, these results add to our understanding of the complexities of the relationships among the professional group membership, organizational level, and communication constructs during organizational change. Future research should examine the causal relationships among the variables and the influence of employees' levels of identification with their profession on communication outcomes.