This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.

Change within the organization is a reality for all employees but has become particularly salient during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizational change (unplanned change in particular) can cause issues and lead to questions and uncertainties for employees, which may affect their relationships with the organization. Communication with employees throughout change is a fundamental determinant of how change is understood, interpreted, and managed.

What is less clear is the specific role that strategic internal communication plays in facilitating employees’ ability to manage change, particularly during unplanned changes characterized by a high degree of anxiety, uncertainty, and urgency. To fill this gap, this study examined how strategic internal communication efforts, specifically transparent communication, facilitate employees’ coping strategy adoption and uncertainty reduction during unplanned organizational change.

An online survey of 490 full-time U.S. employees with different levels of job positions at small, medium, and large organizations was conducted. At the time of the survey, COVID-19 had drastically interrupted business operations and people’s daily lives in the U.S. The average age of the participants was 45 years old, and the gender ratio was evenly split with 49% male and 51% female participants. More than half of participants had at least a bachelor’s degree and over half made more than $60,000 per year in salary. Seventy percent of participants had been with their current employer for at least one year prior to the pandemic.

Key Findings
1.) Increased transparent communication increased the likelihood that employees utilized control coping behavior (i.e., dealing with the situation head-on and actively pursuing solutions).
— In tandem, decreased transparent communication increased the likelihood that employees utilized escapist coping behavior (i.e, avoiding issues or detaching themselves from stressful situations).
2.) When employees felt informed through transparent internal communication, they were less likely to feel uncertain about the organizational change.
3.) Control coping helps mitigate uncertainty due to organizational change, whereas escape coping is more likely to exacerbate uncertainty.

Implications for Practice
Organizations should 1.) adopt a proactive transparent communication style to encourage control coping, reduce uncertainty, and improve employee-organization relationships, and 2.) include educational information regarding control coping approaches as it can help employees effectively cope with organizational change and manage related uncertainty.

Li, J. Y., Sun, R., Tao, W., & Lee, Y. (2021). Employee coping with organizational change in the face of a pandemic: The role of transparent internal communication. Public Relations Review, 47(1).

Location of Article
This article is available online here.
(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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