Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2003


Melanie Bryant (2003) 'Persistence and Silence: A Narrative Analysis of Employee Responses to Organisational Change'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 4, <>

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Received: 6/6/2003      Accepted: 27/11/2003      Published: 28/11/2003


This article is concerned with how employees talk about organisational change and focuses specifically on how employees discuss reactions and responses to change through the construction of narratives. Employees included in this study suggest that the use of voice as an attempt to inform managers of their discontent, or remaining silent and passive are the most common responses to organisational change. Within sociology and management literature, voice has been considered as a constructive response to change, providing invaluable feedback to managers about declining conditions or performance lapses. Alternatively, remaining silent or passive has been documented as a weak strategy in which the individual renounces control and forms a dependency relationship with powerful groups such as managers. The primary aim of this paper is to challenge the argument that voice is a constructive response to change and suggest that voice is likely to be perceived as destructive, thus leading to the removal of responsibilities and career opportunities. Furthermore, this paper argues that silence is the more constructive response to change, which is documented in this research as leading to the advancement of careers.Relationships between the way employees respond to organisational change and the type of narrative that they construct is also discussed. Those who report remaining silent construct 'conversion stories' suggesting that organisational change provided a turning point in which employees could embrace management practices and gain career advancement. Alternatively, those who reported using voice construct 'atrocity tales' in which change is associated with stories of workplace bullying, removal of career opportunities and workplace violence. These narratives suggest that the use of voice as a response to change is more complex than its original intent and explanation in the literature, providing challenges for researchers in understanding where voice as a constructive response ends and where resistance to change begins.

Atrocity Tales.; Conversion Stories; Narratives; Organisational Change; Silence; Voice


This article is concerned with how employees talk about their experiences of organisational change. In particular, it focuses on the way that individuals understand and experience organisational change and how they report their experiences in retrospect. Managerial accounts tend to dominate organisational change literature, primarily focusing on stories of change generated at the top of organisations (Applebaum and Gallagher, 2000; Block, 2001; French, Bell and Zawaki, 2000). While many of these accounts mention employees or attempt to develop models aimed at enhancing employee efficiency or welfare (Block, 2001; Senge, 1994), reports of change that are either generated by employees or focus specifically on their dialogue are often difficult to locate. Several organisational theorists argue that change cannot be adequately understood without acceptance and inclusion of the social realities that are experienced by employees (Boje, 1995; 2001; Butcher and Atkinson, 2001; Collins, 1998). Using a constructivist approach (Guba and Lincoln, 1998), this paper explores twenty-two retrospective narratives constructed by individuals employed in shopfloor through to low-level supervisory positions and focuses specifically on how employees discuss reactions and responses to change within their narratives.

While resistance is a widely accepted reaction to change (Dent and Goldberg, 1999; Krantz, 1999; Piderit, 2000), participants in this study indicate that the primary responses to change are to either seek information from management using voice to make sense of organisational change, inform managers of their discontent through voice, or to remain silent. Hirschman (1970, p.30) defines voice as 'any attempt at all to objectionable state of affairs, whether through individual or collective petition to the management directly in charge'. Alternatively, Morrison and Milliken (2000) suggest that silence is an act of remaining passive rather than voicing discontent. Studies indicate that voice is a constructive reaction to change, providing invaluable feedback to managers about declining conditions or performances lapses (Hirschman, 1970; Rusbult, Farrell, Rogers and Mainous, 1988; Zhou and George, 2001). The primary aim of this paper is to challenge such an argument and suggest that voice is likely to be perceived as a destructive rather than constructive response by employees during organisational change. This argument is initially presented in the context of wider organisational change literature and is supported by participants' stories highlighting a relationship between the reported use of voice and the removal of responsibilities and career opportunities. Alternatively, the narratives explored in this paper suggest that from an employee perspective, the most constructive response to change is silence, which is documented in this research as being more likely than voice to lead to the advancement of careers. Discussion of these points leads to a further aim of the paper, which is to explore the relationship between the way employees respond to organisational change and the types of narratives they construct. In this research participants construct narratives that are referred to as "conversion stories" and "atrocity tales". Conversion stories describe organisational change as providing a turning point for employees in which they could embrace the management practices and decision-making of the "new organisation" (post-change), while discarding the "old organisation" (pre-change). Participants who constructed atrocity tales argue that organisational change also provided them with a turning point. However, unlike the conversion story, atrocity tales characterise change as an experience associated with workplace bullying, violence and the removal of career opportunities (Bryant and Wolfram Cox, 2003). Participants who reported using voice as a response to change tended to construct atrocity tales, while those who remained silent were likely to construct conversion narratives. While the relationship between responses to change and the type of narratives constructed are not so clear cut, the discussion of the two concepts in the context of this paper aims to explore and establish if a relationship between narrative type and reactions to change exist. A more detailed analysis of the relationship between reactions and construction of narratives is beyond the realm of the present paper.

The Latrobe Valley in Australia as a geographic region has been selected as the research site rather than a single industry or organisation. Focusing on employees across a geographic region enables 'local and specific constructed realities' (Guba and Lincoln, 1998, p.203) to be featured in the research, rather than realities that are shaped by a specific type of change or organisational culture. As a basic assumption of the present study is that an understanding of an employee's interpretation of reality can only enhance the overall understanding of change in organisations, exploring employee experiences across industry and organisational types is preferable to selecting a single-site. However, it is noteworthy that emphasising the experiences of participants across a geographic region encounters a possible limitation in that narratives constructed by employees in the Latrobe Valley may be shaped by the region's culture and not representative of experiences of change in other regions of the world. Regardless, the focus of this paper is on the range of employees and their responses to change, rather than the responses of employees from specific types of organisations.

* Responding to Change

From Lewin's (1947) argument that organisational change occurs in the three stages of unfreezing, changing and refreezing, a large body of literature concerning theoretical models of organisational change has been developed. Studies conducted by researchers such as Argyris (1970), Cummings and Srivasta (1977) and Likert (1967) in the 1960s and 70s through to those developed by more contemporary organisational change researchers (for example, Block, 2001; Dickens and Watkins, 1999; Kotter, 1995) continue to emphasise the importance of managerially planned stages of change that should be implemented and executed in a specific order for change to be successful (Porras and Robertson, 1992). Collins (1998, p.1) argues that models of change that emphasise different stages 'are assumed to be unproblematic...[and based on] common sense' and that once a reader is familiar with such accounts of organisational change 'all subsequent accounts...tend to be tiresome and repetitive'. While Collins recognises the contribution to organisational change that theoretical models have made, his basic premise is that contemporary studies of change are too simplistic and do not adequately reflect social experiences of change in organisations, particularly the experiences and stories of employees.

Organisational theorists such as Boje (1995) and De Cock (1998) suggest that employee experiences and versions of change, that are more complex than the simplistic view offered in management literature, are often purposely marginalised or ignored. This could possibly be a reflection of the belief that managerial stories of change are considered to be more legitimate than those constructed by employees (Boje, 1995), or that the management version is the most acceptable to communicate to the public (Ogbor, 2001; Weick, 1995). However, the continual emergence of managerial models of change suggests that the "monolithic" managerial view prevails in organisation and that the need for management control in situations such as organisational change is ever-present. Collins (1998) argues that early management theorists such as Follett (1926), Taylor (1947) and Fayol (1949) were openly candid about the role of manager as controller. Furthermore, he suggests that while more contemporary management writers may shy away from openly supporting such an ideology, they have merely changed the language of or adjusted management ideologies of control:
Primarily the function of ideologies of management is to explain to the subordinates why it is necessary and appropriate for he, or she, to be placed in a position of subordination...[Management] ideologies, therefore, serve to disguise or to defend authority and, in doing so, they operate to promote habits...conducive to the particular forms of ownership and management which they reflect (Collins, 1998, p.24).

While this paper does not focus specifically on management ideology or control within the context of organisational change, considering the wider theoretical debates of management and organisational change may assist in developing an understanding of the responses of voice and silence that employees in this study enacted and the outcomes of such responses.

Within organisational studies literature, voice and silence (Boroff and Lewin, 1997; Hirschman, 1970; Withey and Cooper, 1989; Zhou and George, 2001) are considered to be obvious responses to job dissatisfaction caused by events such as organisational change. As a response to change, voice can incorporate more than simply stating objections or verbalising concerns. Voice can also include strategies to 'try and change...current work situations' (Zhou and George, 2001, p.682) such as grievance filing, challenging managers, seeking information about organisational change through direct questioning (Boroff and Lewin, 1997), or seeking advice from or joining unions or other work-related bodies (Rusbult et al, 1988).

Voice has traditionally been considered as a constructive response to dissatisfaction in the workplace, as it provides direct feedback to management that a performance lapse has occurred (Zhou and George, 2001). Employees can use voice to 'kick up a fuss' (Hirschman, 1970, p.30) about organisational change, or 'articulate their critical views in order to change organizational consequences' (Zhou and George, 2001, p.683). Collinson (1994) refers to such responses to change as resistance through persistence. Although not necessarily exercising resistance to change, employees who persistently use voice in an attempt to alter unfavourable conditions at work seek to 'render management more accountable by extracting information, monitoring practices and challenging decision-making processes' (p.25). However, Hirschman warns that the persistent use of voice can easily be ignored by managers or lead to 'negative returns' (p.31) in the event that it is overused as a strategy by employees to alter post-change conditions at work. While Hirschman does not provide a detailed explanation as to what the consequences of excessive voice may be, several studies suggest that voice has the capacity to afflict negative consequences on an individual (Deetz, 1998; Boroff and Lewin, 1997; Feuille and Delaney, 1993). For example, Feuille and Delaney (1993) argue that expressing dissatisfaction at work is linked to exclusion, poor performance and lower promotion opportunities, while Boroff and Lewin (1997, p.52) have found that exposing or discussing management and organisational practices can lead to punishment 'including, sometimes dismissal'. Deetz (1998) suggests that such incidences occur in organisations as voice is often mistaken as resistance to change, a concept in management literature that is fraught with negativity (Dent and Goldberg, 1999; Piderit, 2000). While these studies highlight a possible relationship between voice and the demise of careers, it is noteworthy that these findings have not been articulated or discussed at length in further research (Turnley and Feldman, 1999; Zhou and George, 2001) suggesting a possible limitation in the literature.

As an alternative to voice, silence, or passivity, is a response to change often adopted by individuals in the event that 'they have no means to change the situation' (Perrewe and Zellars, 1999, p.747). Silence involves acts of distancing, denial or avoidance (Lazarus, 1993), and is referred to by Collinson (1994, p.25) as resistance through distance. Collinson argues that by remaining silent during processes such as organisational change, employees attempt to escape from the 'demands of authority...[by distancing] themselves...from the organization and its prevailing power structure' (p.25). Morrison and Milliken (2000, p.706) argue that employees feel 'compelled to remain silent' in organisations for a number of reasons, including fear of retribution, lack of knowledge about organisational change, or representation of loyalty to the organisation. In the event the employees are dissatisfied with conditions created by organisational change but remain committed to the organisation, they are likely to respond by optimistically waiting 'for conditions to improve' (Rusbult et al, 1988), suggesting that the difference between loyalty and silence is not always easily determined. Unlike voice, silence is often considered as a weak response to change (Jick and Mitz, 1985; Snow-Turek, Norris and Tam, 1996). Snow-Turek et al (1996, p.455) argue that individuals who exercise silence and other passive responses 'relinquish others' and thus are more likely to form a dependency relationship with groups who possess power, such as management. However, individuals who become silent in response to change may simply perceive that events are beyond their control (Anshel, Williams and Williams, 2000). While such arguments provide justification for silence, they do not take into consideration the fact that employees may remain silent as a means of increasing their opportunities at work. As Feuille and Delaney (1993) and Boroff and Lewin (1997) argue that voice can lead to drawbacks for employees, one could assume that the suppression of voice could possibly lead to rewards.

A limitation of the literature concerning voice as a response to change is that studies tend to reflect "top-down" accounts, relying on the perspectives of managers rather than integrating the dialogue of employees who experience change in organisations. A drawback of such top-down approaches is that it is difficult to obtain an understanding of the rationale behind employees' responses to change with voice. Furthermore, top-down accounts of voice reflect a 'monologue' or 'meta-discourse' (Grant, Keenoy and Oswick, 1998, p.7) that usually 'represents the perspectives' of managers rather than the divergent views of all members of organisations. This paper seeks to explore the relationships between response to change and career outcomes by focusing on retrospective narratives constructed by the participants. In focusing on employee narratives, this research is interested in the multiple voices and 'plurality of stories and story interpretations' (Boje, 1995, p.1008) constructed as a consequence of experiencing organisational change rather than the accounts that are constructed at managerial levels of the organisation.

* Methodology

To gain an understanding of individual experiences of organisational change, this study adopts a constructivist approach, in which relativist ontology and constructivist epistemology guides the research. The aim of a constructivist approach in the context of this research is to seek an understanding of the different versions of organisational change and then reconstruct the 'constructions that people...initially hold, aiming towards consensus but...[being] open to new interpretations as information and sophistication improve (Guba and Lincoln, 1998, p. 211). Relativist ontology recognises that although respondents may share similar experiences of organisational change, individual realities are:
Apprehendable in the form of multiple, intangible, mental constructions, socially and experientially based, local and specific in nature...and dependable for their form and content on the individual persons or groups holding the constructions (p. 206).

Finally, using a constructivist approach to guide this research highlights the subjective nature of individual realities and assumes that experiences of organisational change are constructed and created between the researcher and the respondent 'as the investigation proceeds' (Guba and Lincoln, 1998, p. 207). It is noteworthy that as participants' constructions of organisational change are reported in retrospect, their versions of change are 'alterable, as are their associated "realities"' (p. 206). In this sense, the research is hermenuetical in that meaning in the participants' constructions of change is sought, and dialectical since constructions of change are developed and refined through interaction between the researcher and the participant (Guba and Lincoln, 1998).

Twenty-two participants were recruited to this study from the primary industries of power, paper production, water, health care and education in the Latrobe Valley, located in south-east Australia via a snowball sample (Neuman, 1997). Snowball sampling was used to locate participants who had experienced large-scale change in the Latrobe Valley primary industries and who were employed in low-level supervisory through to shopfloor positions. Participant experiences were reported retrospectively within the context of semi-structured interviews. This mode of interviewing enables participants to report the richness of their experiences in a way that a more structured format merely succeeds in eliminating. Furthermore, the semi-structured interview enables researchers to 'treat people and situations as unique and to alter the research technique in the light of information fed back during the research process itself' (Schwartz and Jacobs, 1979, p. 45). The interviews reflect Holstein and Gubrium's (1999, p. 113) concept of 'active interviewing' with the construction of discourse between participant and researcher. Riessman (1993, p. 55) suggests that joint construction is inevitable as 'interviews are conversations in which both participants - teller and listener/questioner - develop meaning together, a stance requiring interview practices to give considerable freedom to both'. Therefore, in using the semi-structured interview format, the participant constructs his or her version of organisational change within the theoretical or subject boundaries applied by the researcher.

Data obtained from the interview process was analysed using narrative plot and theme analysis (Boje, 2001). To bring fragmented stories told in the interviews into a meaningful whole, chronology, temporality and causality can be determined by focusing on the narrative plot and the way in which events within stories are linked together. For example, one participant in this study stated in his narrative that the restructuring of his workplace led to the demise of relations between employees and their managers. The participant suggests that a consequence of this demise was the removal of career and job opportunities, responsibilities and also being relocated to an empty shed in which he was given no meaningful work and was pressured to resign from the organisation. When linking such storylines together, the narrative reflects Boje's (2001) example of a tragedy plot in which the participant is defeated by organisational change. Similar to the tragedy plot, other participants construct satirical narratives in which they are also defeated by organisational change. However, the satiric remains 'overcome by the darkness' (Boje, 2001, p. 109) of change, while for the tragic, 'hope exists for those left behind' (p. 109). As well as satirical and tragic tales, some participants construct romantic narratives, which highlight their success throughout and after the organisational change process. For example, one participant who constructed a romantic narrative of organisational change suggests that her hard work and lack of interference in management decision-making was linked to her ability to gain promotion and benefit personally from the process of change. Such a narrative symbolises the participant's victory in which she is 'redeemed and/or liberated' (Boje, 2001, p. 108) by her experiences of organisational change. Furthermore, in the romantic narrative, change is depicted as a gratifying process in which, while at times difficult, the overall experience is one of reward, benefit or success.

A limitation of exploring narrative plots in isolation is that participants' experiences can easily be reduced into linear storylines and narrative typologies. Adopting a narrative theme analysis in addition to the plot analyses enables the narratives to be further investigated according to how participants interpret and sort their stories (Boje, 2001) and according to themes that may not emerge in the process of analysing plots. Focusing on the way in which participants sort and report their experiences of organisational change can assist in determining how participants use narrative as a retrospective sense-making tool as well as provide the researcher with a better understanding as to why individuals construct narratives in particular ways. From the theme analysis, unfolding patterns suggested that the way in which participants responded to change, that is with voice or silence, impacted on their ability to gain further career opportunities at work, thus determining the types of narrative they constructed. While the author believes that a simple and rigid divide between the use of voice and silence does not necessarily exist amongst employee who experience change, the results discussed in this paper reflect employee perceptions of voice and silence as discussed throughout the interviews.

* Voice as a Response to Change

From the analysis of the narratives several themes relating to the way in which voice was used as a response to organisational change are evident. These themes focus specifically on the use of voice as an attempt to gain control over organisational change, finding a more authoritative voice to challenge management about perceived poor decision-making, and to cope with change through either joining or playing a role in unions or executive boards. Participants suggest that using voice in an attempt to gain some control over the workplace post change was the only way that they could cope with the ambiguity and confusion that the implementation of change programs caused. Such participants sought to 'take control of our work space and job functions [P20]' [1] and 'try and change the situation to something better [P16]' through the enactment of voice. One respondent explains that the 'major problems with change were that management would implement changes into our areas of responsibility with no real idea as to how they were going to manage it [P3]', thus creating a situation where staff were 'pressured to accept the changes but could not see the value of them [P2]'. Consequently, employees 'cracked up and attempted to have some input into what was going on by voicing their opinions [P12]', a move that was considered by some as 'disastrous [P17]' or 'detrimental to careers [P16]', as 'managers considered any attempt to voice concerns as outright resistance [P9]' rather than an attempt to 'have some control over what was happening to us [P20]'.

A second theme evident from the narratives suggests that coping with change was initially made easier to some through finding a more authoritative voice and challenging managers about what participants considered to be poor decision-making, or as an attempt to seek and pass on information about change to their colleagues. In some cases, employees who considered themselves to be 'quiet-like or mouse-like [P12]' and 'not usually the type of person to challenge or ask questions about things [P9]' developed a voice to respond to change that 'quite frankly scared the hell out of me [P12]', or was 'not something that I ever thought I would have the guts to do [P9]'. Furthermore, one respondent thought that 'the stress [of change] would make me crumble but I was wrong [P2]', while another adds that she 'felt like a warrior [P20]' during the period that her organisation was undergoing change. Change made some 'more authoritative [P12]', 'demanding [P18]' and 'less inclined to take shit from people [P9]'.

Finally, some found coping with change easier 'by seeking support from representatives or a way of showing management that we would not be pushed around [P18]'. A number of employees were proactive and sought positions in unions and on executive boards in their endeavours to 'seek knowledge [P8]', and 'find out information that could be passed onto our colleagues [P20]' so that they could 'better their situations [P16]' and 'try to make work a bit easier [P18]'. One employee recalls that the changes she experienced were:
...Absolutely horrendous [but]...rather than sitting on my backside I wanted to do I joined the union. I'd never been part of a union. Never in my whole life until I was thirty-nine years old...when someone said, "you could actually do this and speak out for [us]"...So I became a job rep and started representing [staff] because I had something to say...and I was scared for [our industry] and frightened of the changes that were occurring [P16].

Another respondent also sought assistance from the union as a means of expressing her fears and obtaining information. Although she recalls feeling 'bewildered [P17]' by organisational change, she felt that she 'just had to do something to try and help people who would be management actions [P17]'. While admitting that she did not really want to be involved in the union, the experience of organisational change convinced her that is was essential for the survival of both herself and other employees:
I'm a very motivated person but...I didn't really [want to be] a union rep[resentative] at the time but I didn't think I could trust anyone else to do it. Not with five or six hundred people's careers was my decision because I didn't morally feel like I could leave them to fend for themselves [P17].

All of the respondents who used voice as a response to organisational change argue that 'it did not work [P8]' and that 'our pleas to management fell on deaf ears [P9]'. Furthermore, employees perceived that 'the more we voiced opinions the more managers started to act strangely towards us [P18]' in ways such as 'not allowing our input into areas we had always have input into [P16]', 'by ignoring us [P17]' and 'forgetting to involve staff in meetings that they should have been a part of [P3]'. Two employees suggest that 'after a while, managers started to virtually threaten us with being fired [P20]' and 'getting downright aggressive for no reason [P3]'. Several participants observed that 'this type of thing only happened to the staff that stood up for themselves [P17]', those who were perceived as being 'loud [P16]', and those who 'managers saw as being troublemakers at work [P9]'. Such findings are supportive of the arguments presented by Boroff and Lewin (1997) and Feuille and Delaney (1993) that highlight the negative consequences that the use of voice at work can have for the individual. Furthermore, comments made by participants support Deetz's (1998) arguments that voice may be perceived as resistance even if it were only used as a means of expressing dissatisfaction caused by organisational change. Significantly, one employee who used voice suggests that 'stating your opinions was punished...while those who remained quiet seemed to be rewarded [P18]'. Silence as a response to organisational change is discussed in the following section.

* Silence as a Response to Change

Participants who reported remaining silent throughout the process of organisational change suggest that it was due to fear, a lack of power to alter the post change situation at work, or a result of the difference between managerial and employee roles in the workplace. Two employees argue that they 'felt scared of the consequences [P19]' of using voice, or 'feared losing job security [P21]' in the event that they challenged managers. Therefore, 'the best thing to do was just pretend everything was okay [P19]'. Furthermore, a perception that 'management had all the power and employees had none [P14]' is evident within the narratives and led several respondents to question the purpose of discussing their concerns about change with managers. One employee argues that 'I have no say in the place' and thus questions 'what will challenging change achieve? [P14]' Other employees respond with comments such as 'questioning managers gets you nowhere but in trouble [P4]', or 'workers who try to find out stuff about change are seen to be troublemakers and I don't want people to see me like that [P8]'. In addition, a further respondent comments that 'asking too many questions is seen as being nosy [P21]'. A further rationale for remaining silent during organisational change is attributed to the belief that 'workers do their thing and managers their own', thus suggesting that it 'is stupid to try and fight them about something like change [P7]'.

The above comments indicate that silence as reported by participants in this study is likely to be exercised as a consequence of a perceived inability to rebalance power between employees and management. Furthermore, the ambiguity and confusion experienced by employees throughout the process of organisational change may also provide a further rationale for becoming silent rather than challenging the situation. Studies of power relationships conducted by Collis (1999) and Hobfoll, Dunahoo, Ben-Porath and Monnier (1994) highlight silence or passivity as a consequence of coping with ambiguous situations. Such findings are supported within respondents' narratives, suggesting that silence is primarily practiced as a way of coping with the long-term uncertainty caused by change. This is further described by employees as engaging in acts such as 'switching off [P18]', 'disengaging [P6]' and 'turning your brain off from the situation [P1]'. Such acts enabled one employee 'to cope better with the changes [P13]'. In particular, several employees emphasise that 'it is better for you to stay out of problems at work and deal with them in your own way rather than be seen to challenge management or be all opinionated [P19]'.
I was fairly concerned at the time...but I was still getting paid and there was no guarantee that [the organisation] wasn't going to shut you just didn't know and it was virtually "well in the meantime I'll keep working and we'll keep going" [P5].
I felt that there was...threat there...and I guess that was one of the things that probably helped to motivate me [to keep working] because I felt that as long as I am doing things that minimises the threat...I'll be okay. If I sit back and take the hard line I felt that the threat got bigger...I guess I was lucky I could cope that way. Some people didn't or couldn't [P7].

As well as being a conscious decision by employees, silence can also be bestowed on staff by managers. Morrison and Milliken (2000, p.713) argue that managers may 'reject or discount opinions and feedback from employees, particularly if those opinions differ from their own'. Two participants support this argument and suggest that when opinions are rejected, management 'certainly make it known that if you don't shut up you are likely to lose your job [P8]', and 'make life very difficult for you [P21]'. Furthermore, one employee comments that managers consider opinionated employees to be 'resistant to change...and people who should be silenced in some way [P22]'.

From this brief investigation of silence as a response to organisational change, it is evident that in this study suppression of voice is not necessarily an act of loyalty or commitment to the organisation. Rather, one respondent comments that 'staff don't necessarily support management at all [P19]', with others adding that 'as long as you looked supportive you were okay [P4]', with a greater likelihood of being 'picked up for promotion [P22]'. This perception between remaining silent at work and gaining career opportunities is shared by all of the respondents in this study, regardless of whether they used or suppressed voice. However, the way in which the different groups of participants narrated their experiences of organisational change in retrospect is of particular interest. Those who reported using voice as a response to change constructed narratives that are referred to as "atrocity tales", while those who reported remaining silent constructed narratives referred to as "conversion stories". These narrative types and the relationships between them and the use of voice and silence are explored within the following sections.

* Voice and the Atrocity Tale

Participants in this study frame their narratives in different ways thus leading to the development of different narrative types. Narrative types are different from narrative plots in that they are simply a way of naming 'the most general storyline that can be recognized underlying the plot and [themes] of particular stories' (Frank, 1995, p. 75). Although individual stories of organisational change are unique, referring to such stories collectively as narrative types encourages:
Closer attention to the aid listening to the stories...[which] is difficult because [organisational change]...stories mix and weave different narrative threads. The rationale for proposing some general types of narratives is to sort out those threads...[rather than to provide a grand narrative or] general unifying view (Frank, 1995, p. 76).

In this paper, employee narratives are divided into two types, the atrocity tale and the conversion story. Those who used voice in response to organisational change construct atrocity tales (Bromley, Shupe and Ventimiglia, 1979), which are replete with anecdotes of disillusionment and stories of rejection, disappointment and injustice (Bryant and Wolfram Cox, 2003). While the term "atrocity tale" easily conjures up strong images of violence, atrocities are also experienced within the organisational setting. Hunt and Benford (1994) explain that atrocity tales do not require strong lines of physical violence. Rather, they can simply reflect an 'account of negative experiences, abominations observed, or otherwise inhumane or immoral happenings' (p.499) that have some significance to the storyteller. In these narratives organisational change is associated with atrocities such as workplace violence, including bullying, verbal abuse, inter-group conflict and psychological violence, which employees in this study believe to be directly linked to the use of voice as a response to change (Bryant and Wolfram Cox, 2003).

Employees who tell atrocity tales argue that 'expressing our concerns to management led to our demise [P17]'. Furthermore, employees believed that using voice in response to change led to the removal of opportunities at work, responsibility and power, as well as an increase in 'abuse [P20]' and 'aggression [P16]' aimed 'at staff by management [P9]'. These acts of aggression began as somewhat covert acts in many cases to the point that one employee commented that 'we thought something was up but we were not entirely sure [P8]'. However, 'it seemed that those who challenged were left out [P16]' of decision making, 'ignored [P18]' and excluded from 'normal day to day activities at work [P20]'.

Employees who sought the help of outside bodies such as unions and those who attempted to seek information on behalf of staff felt that they were considered by managers as being 'troublemakers [P16]' and thus 'targeted for elimination [P20]' and retribution. However, all employees agree that 'if you are seen as a stirrer [P1]' during 'times of organisational change [P8]', 'you had to basically suffer the consequences [P18]'. Consequently, 'it takes a brave man or woman to be a rep[resentative] of some sort and stand up to a situation of change [P16]'. Prior to change one employee recalls that employment relations were 'a bit ordinary...but we were never treated as badly as we were during change [P9]'. The consequences of being a union or staff representative, or 'simply being seen to be a troublemaker [P18]' were 'cruel [P16]' and 'absolutely unnecessary [P20]'. For example:
Managers and their selective group of staff would pick on me all the time...I was alienated from my job...they would change operations and not tell me and then ridicule me for making a mistake...I was shut out of meetings that I was supposed to play a role in...and I was abused and called every name under the sun...why? Because I dared to challenge and stand up for myself and some of the other [staff] [P16].

Employees could not understand why their reactions to change were 'met with such responses from management [P17]'. All of the respondents argue that they 'were acting no differently from any other time at work [P6]' and were 'simply doing a job...not attacking managers as they seem to think [15]'. However, they recognise that 'we were probably seen as people who could sway other people's ways of thinking about change [P16]'. Another employees believes that:
Because we were loud and in many ways in a leadership type role...they probably thought that if they can cut us down and get rid of us then they could do whatever they liked and treat workers however they liked...because to be honest most of the staff were either too scared or too stupid to stand up against anything that threatened their future or their jobs...That was my automatically I was seen as the instigator of all trouble [P18].

Employees who were considered to be troublemakers during the period of organisational change were subjected to different types of punishment. One employee recalls being bullied at work and explains that:
Every step of the way [I was] ignored or denied opportunities...I was also subjected to quite a significant amount of the extent that on one evening I was working towards the end of my allocated time...[and] for an hour and three quarters was barred from exiting my door and was stood over by the executive director and told in words of one syllable or less that it would be much better if I left [P20].

Others recall being 'reduced to tears [P16]' by management aggression and 'laughed at and ridiculed by supervisors because we had no job security [P5]'. One employee who intended 'to work for the company for life' indicated that prior to organisational change he 'enjoyed good relations with...managers [P9]'. However, he was subjected to the removal of day-to-day responsibilities and 'humiliation and out-and-out aggression [P9]' by his manager for questioning his future job security.
I was taken out of...where I worked and put in this shed with some other blokes that was probably six paces long by about twelve or so wide...and we had no work. We had to sit in that shed with no work...they just left us there and ignored us...but we were subjected to bullying and aggression and being laughed at because we has no power over our situation...I stayed in that shed like that for three years...until I could get another job somewhere else [P9].

Several employees expressed shock and disbelief at such treatment as they felt 'highly committed to the organisation [P9]', and simply 'wanted our concerns and fears communicated to management [P8]', rather than to 'cause any trouble [P11]'. However, Victor, Trevino and Shapiro (1993, p.255) suggest that management will punish those who are considered to be in violation of organisational norms, commenting that such punishment is justified for the sake of maintaining behavioural standards. Furthermore, one employee argues that management 'must have seen us to be misbehaving...or acting out against change...[and] saw fit to try and punish us for that [P16]'. Others add that 'there must have been a perception that we were being devious [P20]', or 'threatening [P18]', when in actual fact 'we were just trying to find out what was going on [P11]'.

Studies of organisational misbehaviour recognise 'the dark side of organisations' (Vaughan, 1999, p.271) and suggests that conflict and resistance caused by events such as change are a normal part of organisational life. Vardi and Wiener (1996, p.151) define organisational misbehaviour as 'any intentional action by members of organisations that defies and violates...shared...norms...and/or...core societal values...and standards of proper conduct'. While many may not consider seeking information about the effects of change on employees as a form of organisational misbehaviour, managers may regard it as a temporary aberration from organisational norms. Employees suggest that attempts to seek information were often met with comments from managers such as 'it is not your place to know [P20]', and the decisions made by management 'are none of your business [P16]'. One employee argues that she was accused of 'trying to make asking what effect change would have on career security [P17]':
My manager told me quite rudely that I was out of line and causing problems by asking what impact change would have on my job...she suggested that my behaviour was inappropriate and that I was a poor example for other staff who were acting according to the...organisation's standards. I was also told that this sort of behaviour...would cause other people to start acting up...which would, how did she put it...reduce the harmony of the workplace. What a crock of shit...all I was doing was asking a simple question...not planning the next bloody nurses' strike for Christ's sake [P17].

Other employees in this study hold a perception that management considers deviant behaviour as temporary and as such requires the restoration of harmony. One respondent suggests that 'conflict is seen to be a passing thing [P14]', while another adds that 'if problems arise...managers do whatever they can to eliminate these straight get everyone back in harmony [P19]'. Another comments that 'whenever things get out of whack...managers act very quickly to restore order [P18]'. Two employees state that 'problems in organisations are just part of life [P16]' and a natural outcome of 'having different groups like managers and staff...who have different aims [P17]'. However, they recognise that 'poor behaviour is punished [P17]' or 'severely frowned upon regardless of the context [P16]'.

In summary, employees who used voice in response to change believe that the consequences it has had on their careers is unreasonable, and the actions of managers cruel. Although they were not necessarily resistant to change, a perception that management considered employees in this study to be recalcitrant exists. Therefore, employees suggest that those who act in a manner that portrays loyalty to an organisation are likely to result in a more secure employment future.

* Silence and the Conversion Story

Respondents who remained silent throughout the process of organisational change constructed conversion stories in which employees perceive organisational change as providing a 'better [P19]' or 'new way of life [P21]'. The experience of conversion implies personal change, usually associated with a significant event (Yang, 1998) that enables people to transform thought systems or lifestyles (Snow and Machalek, 1983). Although the term conversion is derived primarily from theological studies, conversion can occur beyond religious experience and is documented by Ballis and Richardson (1997) as simply being a way of reporting experiences that highlight personal change. Within this study, those who constructed conversion narratives suggest that organisational change provided a turning point (Zinnbauer and Pargament, 1998) in which the attainment of organisational rewards such as promotion enabled them to align their thoughts and opinions about change with those of management, thus indicating a 'turning from one viewpoint to another' (Snow and Machalek, 1983, p.169). Such narratives are also reported with sharp division of experiences into pre and post organisational change highlighting the parochial culture of the "old" organisation, compared to the benefits of the "new" (Bryant, 2003).

A common perception across employees who remained silent during organisational transition is that they were rewarded with promotions and advancements due to 'levels of commitment [P22]', 'good behaviour [P7]', and 'level-headedness [P4]'. They argue that some employees 'were simply out to make trouble [P5]' and consequently 'made things very difficult for themselves [P8]'. Other employees suggest that management 'did not look favourably at people who caused trouble [P19]' or 'challenged everything that they did all the time [P10]' and argue that 'some people just made the whole process of change harder for everyone with their behaviour [P14]'. One respondent admits that 'change is not an easy time for everyone and no one disputed how hard it was for some' but adds that 'if you valued your future in the company and wanted some security is wasn't in your interests to fight managers [P22]'.

While some employees consider themselves 'lucky to get good promotions [P4]' one respondent considers promotion to be a reward for 'being so good during the changes [P21]'. Another adds that 'people clearly rocked the boat and made a scene when it came to change' and thus questions 'how could managers take these people seriously when looking for people to be promoted [P8]'? Others make statements such as: 'why shouldn't I get a reward for good work when I never made a fuss about change [P13]' and 'being promoted is simply a measure of the work that I did when the changes were coming through [P22]'. Within this group of employees there is a perception that 'we were better off because we didn't create a fuss [P8]' when other employees 'questioned things, which wasn't in their best interests career wise [P10]'. Another respondent adds, 'how can some people be trusted to do well in a better position when all they do is challenge and question all the time [P21]'.

Employees argue that they have definitely benefited from organisational change by remaining silent. As one respondent suggests, 'my life has changed so much for the better and my job is great...all because I kept my mouth shut at the right time [P1]'. Others add that 'coming to work is so much better because you are taken so much more seriously [P21]' and that 'a new position has made me feel great about myself and my work [P4]'.
Before change I was just a basic shit kicker and now I have got this great job where I'm in change of my unit's work charge of a number of employees. I worked hard when change came in and even though I didn't like it...I kept quiet and tried to do the best I I feel that I am doing so well because managers have seen that I can perform under pressure...which all people clearly cannot do [P14].

Some employees suggest that organisational change has enabled them to obtain higher positions within the organisation that they 'would not have dreamed about previously [P1]'. One employee believes that the process of change has allowed her to 'be seen for the hard work that I do [P8]', while another adds that change has enabled him to 'stand out above the rest and be recognised as someone responsible, willing and reliable [P21]'. As a consequence, some employees suggest that 'being recognised...means that you can also be trusted [P13]' and, as such, 'given better...more responsible jobs [P22]'.

Respondents believe that keeping their distance 'from management affairs [P4]' has 'definitely lead to great changes in our lives [P7]'. Not only have employees benefited from career opportunities, they also argue that 'life is so much better than before [P14]'. Where before change 'work life was hard [P19]', employees were 'struggling [P21]' and 'unsure of our futures [P10]'; life after change 'has definite promise [P1]' and 'even more room to better ourselves [P8]'. When asked during the interview if the process of change had more benefits than negative outcomes, one employee argued that:
[Change has] given me more opportunity. Had we stayed at the old [organisation]...I still would have been on the floor and would have been bored doing shift work so it's certainly broadened my horizons and the opportunity. I think personally I'm more motivated...I can see that what I do has a result. Um because we've changed so much that if I put in the extra effort I'll get the reward and I'm certainly more motivated in that way...It's been a dramatic difference in my life [P1].

Comments such as the one above are characteristic of conversion stories in which organisational change has provided employees with a turning point (Snow and Machalek, 1983) in their careers. Prior to change, employees indicate that career opportunities were limited and that were not 'seen [P21]' or 'recognised for doing good work [P14]' by management. Furthermore, they argue that 'we didn't really care [P14]' or 'understand anything about change [P22]', rather, 'were more concerned about our jobs [P7]'. However, rewards such as promotion and advancement have enabled employees in this study to 'understand what managers are thinking and doing [P22]' and 'become more like them in our thinking about organisational change [P7]'.

* Discussion and Conclusion

From the construction of conversion stories and atrocity tales, it is evident that voice as a response to organisational change is more complex than it appears within the literature. While the literature suggests that voice provides constructive feedback to the organisation, findings from this paper suggest that voice is destructive for those who use it as a way of seeking information or alerting management of their dissatisfaction. Employees in this study used voice as an attempt to alert management to lapses in organisational conditions, job security and organisational change. However, it is obvious from the narratives that voice was not considered by management as a feedback mechanism (Rusbult et al,1988; Zhou and George, 2001), or an 'efficiency-enhancing function' (Keeley and Graham, 1991, p.352). Rather, it may be argued that voice was perceived by management as being 'dysfunctional [and a waste]...of energy that could instead go into performing the organisation's missions' (Mintzberg, 1983, p.446), or simply irrational and personalised behaviour seeking to enhance self-goals rather than organisational objectives. Such findings challenge the original intentions of voice literature reviewed earlier in this paper and draw attention to the theory that voice can imply a 'presence of active-resistance' (Deetz, 1998, p.159).

While it was recognised earlier in this paper that a number of researchers have challenged the intention of the voice literature (Boroff and Lewin, 1997; Deetz, 1998, Feuille and Delaney, 1993), it is also noteworthy that this challenge has not necessarily been incorporated into further studies of voice. Rather, in several studies, voice continues to be explained as an important feedback mechanism (Turnley and Feldman, 1999; Zhou and George, 2001), which should be used by management as a means of improving their performance and the overall efficiency of organisations. The nature of the arguments presented about the use and consequences of voice provides further challenges to the literature of reactions and responses to change. Where one school of thought argues that voice is an important and proactive response in providing signals to management about performance gaps, the other suggests that such signals are likely to be perceived by management as negative and, therefore, acts of resistance.

This paper has only considered the views of employees. However, the idea that managers could perceive voice as a negative response to change is not surprising when explored in the context of management and organisational change literature discussed briefly in the beginning of this paper. Although organisational change studies have progressed since the development of Lewin's (1947) three stages of change, the "monolithic" view still exists within the literature, thus legitimising managerial versions at the cost of employee narratives. Such actions coincide with Collins' (1998) argument that management ideologies, regardless of their progression over the past century, reinforce the role of manager as controller and employee as subordinate. Consequently, it is possible that employee attempts to voice dissatisfaction are met with disdain from managers and are considered as an endeavour to cross the traditional boundaries between manager and subordinate. Therefore, the contents of the atrocity narratives constructed by employees who used voice may simply be a reflection of the use of management power to persuade employees to behave in ways that are deemed appropriate by organisations during times of change, rather than an example of cruel or inhumane management practices.

When considered in the wider context of organisational change and management literature, the act of remaining silent throughout times of change may be considered as a "normal" response by employees who are clear as to the expectations that subordinates in organisations have placed upon them. However, the narratives explored in this study clearly indicate that the act of silence is more complex and that a number of reasons for remaining silent are likely to exist. The narratives explored in this paper indicate that silence is likely to be a response to fear and perceived power imbalances, rather than an act of loyalty towards the organisation, lending support to Collinson's (1994) argument that silence is likely to be an act of passive resistance, displayed through distancing, denial or avoidance (Lazarus, 1993). However, it is essential to recognise that silence may occur for many reasons not explored within this paper. For example, an employee may enact silence as a strategic career move, while another may view it as a deliberate act of resistance or sabotage. While those who remained silent constructed conversion stories, comments made by participants indicate that they were motivated to accept and support change in this paper as an ad hoc product of rewards rather than openly admitting to being committed to or loyal to the organisation in which they were employed. Therefore, the narratives suggest that what may have commenced as fear of the consequences of not being silent, or the perception that employees were unable to alter the post-change situation at work, may be related to the attainment of personal benefits at work. Such findings suggest that silence in the organisation during times of change as explored in this paper is more likely to lead to career advancement than responding with voice which was perceived by participants as leading to the demise of employment relations and career opportunities.

In proposing such a relationship between responses to change and career outcomes it is essential to recognise that further and more detailed analyses of reactions to organisational change are required. However, this small study raises a number of issues that should be addressed further within the management and organisational change bodies of literature. While there is a lack of employee-focused literature concerning organisational change this paper is certainly not the first to consider the stories and experiences of those is non-managerial positions. Furthermore, it has been argued that there is an 'analytic impossibility of sustaining any monological account of social reality' (Oswick and Keenoy, 2001, p.224). Therefore, it is difficult to understand why managerial perspectives of organisational change that ignore the stories of employees continue to emerge. It is possible that management and organisational researchers are guided primarily by the "monolithic" managerial perspective and have yet to discover employee-centred studies that are considered to add value to the processes of change in organisations. If so, there is a further possibility that managers and organisations may never learn from employee experiences of organisational change. While this study clearly raises issues that may be considered of paramount importance to managers when thinking about present and future attempts to change organisations, it may be that the dominance of traditional management ideologies will continue to marginalise the voices and dialogues of staff, thus limiting the development of change models that take into consideration the social reality of organisations.


1 Participants have been designated numbers that appear in square brackets in an attempt to preserve their anonymity


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