Topic: Employee Communication, Internal Activism, and Organizational Change

Authors, Title and Publication
Luo, Y., & Jiang, H. (2014). Empowerment and internal activism during organizational change: A relocation story in China. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 8, 1-28.

This study, contextualized in a leading multinational food and beverage giant operating in Mainland China, investigated how employee activists adopted various communication strategies to influence organizational decision-making during change. Organizations make changes as they adapt to various environmental pressures such as changing economy, institutional regulations, globalization, technological advance, or depletion of resources. To generate positive changes, organizations need to combat employees’ despair, fear, and even intolerance toward unpredictable outcomes and strive to generate support, trust, and loyalty from them. Unfortunately, employees, especially during organizational change, represent marginalized publics lacking resources and decision power. Thus, this study examined how employees as internal activists during organizational change could adopt communication strategies to advocate for themselves and reach solutions. In particular, it investigated the empowering process of employee activists to pressure the organization to make ethical and responsible decisions inclusive of the marginalized groups during change.

Based on 18 in-depth interviews with employees of the multinational organization, this study found that employees used various activist strategies to resist the subjugating power and injustice from the company. Particularly, to pressure the company to start negotiation, two communication strategies were adopted: 1) creating polarity through conflicting identities, and 2) building power through alliance with government and use of media. Once the company agreed to negotiate, the following strategies were used to sustain power and resistance: (1) sustaining conflicts by targeting the blame; (2) gaining compliance through threats; (3) seeking bilateral compromises; and (4) relying on the influence of peer (opinion) leaders.

Implications for Practice
Public relations practitioners as internal communicators can help improve employee communication during organizational change 1) by understanding the antecedents of internal activism; 2) by stimulating middle and top management to address employees’ emotional needs during change; 3) by providing management with information on the empowerment strategies that employees may use; and 4) by counseling them how to negotiate with and engage employees in two-way symmetrical communication when conflicts arise during organizational change.

Location of Article
This article is available online: (abstract free, purchase full article)


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