This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

In a fast-evolving and uncertain business environment, change is an inescapable reality of the modern workplace. One cannot talk about organizational change without mentioning leadership and management. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, executive leaders have found themselves at the forefront of internal communication, tasked with conveying work updates, safety measures, and providing comfort, support, and motivation to their employees.

This study examined how executive leadership communicated during organizational change, and argued that leading successful changes amidst a global pandemic is only possible when top leaders utilize charismatic rhetoric to foster employees’ self-esteem, self-expression, self-consistency, and self-efficacy. The study investigated whether charismatic rhetoric from top leaders engendered employees’ affective commitment to change and decreased employees’ turnover intention during or after COVID-19 incurred organizational change. Another goal of the study was to investigate whencharismatic rhetoric leadership increases employees’ affective change commitment and inhibits turnover intention.

In essence, charismatic leaders appeal to their followers by including the following elements into their communication: (1) references to collective history and the connection between the past, the present, and the projected future; (2) an emphasis on the collective identity; (3) an emphasis on followers’ self-worth and reinforcement of the collective efficacy; (4) references to leaders’ similarity to followers; (5) a focus on values and moral justifications as opposed to tangible outcomes and pragmatic justifications; (6) references to distal goals and future; and (7) references to hope and faith.

A professional survey company was used to recruit 417 full-time employees from the United States. Given the study’s focus on COVID-19, participants worked for organizations impacted by the pandemic with more than 50 employees. Participants had an average age of 49 years and worked for their current organization for 3.78 years. Gender was divided into 198 (47.5 %) female and 217 (52.0 %) male respondents. Regarding their primary industry, most participants worked in health-care and social assistance (14.4 %), followed by educational services (11 %), manufacturing (9.8 %), retail trade (8.6 %), and information technology (8.2).

Key Findings
— When employees perceived strong charismatic rhetoric from their leaders, they had a stronger affective commitment to change, and therefore less intention to leave the organization.
— When employees have low levels of identification with their organizations, their top leaders’ charismatic rhetoric to address the immediate change is more needed in that it decreased the likelihood for voluntary turnover.
— Charismatic rhetoric was only effective in directly mitigating employees’ turnover intention when employees have low organizational identification.

Implications for Practice
Organizations and communication practitioners should make sure that leaders proactively align with their employees and promote organizational identification. Leaders should also employ charismatic rhetoric in their communication, particularly during times of change in order to build stronger organizational bonds and help employees feel more comfortable. This in turn will make employee turnover less likely.

Yue, C. A. (2021). Navigating change in the era of COVID-19: The role of top leaders’ charismatic rhetoric and employees’ organizational identification. Public Relations Review, 47(5), 102118.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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