Based on the construal level theory, a framework was developed to identify how negative informal information before organizational change affects employee performance through their resistance intention over time. In general, this study provides a dynamic perspective on the key mechanism of individual resistance intention fading. The main results from this research include: (1) informal negative information before a change is positively related to the resistance intention before the change; (2) resistance intention to organizational change decreases significantly over time, without a cross-level moderation effect of perceived sanction; and (3) resistance intention during the change is negatively related to individual performance. The following subsections highlight the theoretical and practical implications of the findings, as well as the limitations and directions for future research.
5.1. Theoretical and Practical Contributions
First, the negative informal information before an organizational change is positively related to the resistance intention before the change. Despite the focus of existing research on the relationship between information communication and employee response when organizational change occurs [41
], little is known about how informal information before a change affects resistance intentions. Informal information is often circulated before a change occurs [3
], playing the role of pre-announcement of the change, which affects the employees’ cognition and response to the organizational change. The more negative the informal information, the more pressure and discomfort felt by the employees [16
], and the more likely their resistance intention is triggered. Therefore, the first key contribution of our research is that we extend the literature on informal communication by offering a conceptual framework to analyze how negative informal information before a change impacts employees’ resistance in the workplace. The findings enhance the current understanding of negative informal information before an organizational change.
Second, resistance intention to the organizational change decreases significantly over time without any impact on the cross-level moderation effect of perceived sanction. According to construal level theory, when employees become aware that the organizational change is approaching and will be inevitable over time, they gradually adapt themselves and begin to rethink and evaluate the situation so that they can be psychologically prepared when the change is implemented [24
]. From the initial to the final stages, employees’ perception of and psychology surrounding the change is constantly changing over time. Perceived sanction to the organizational change does not effectively reduce the employees’ resistance intention. This may be related to the employees’ impression of their manager. They may think about sanction as manager dissatisfaction or distrust [25
], or perceive managers as “tyrants” who abuse their authority [42
]. This perception may further weaken the employee’s sense of liking for managers and encourage them to retaliate by resisting the organizational change [43
]. The findings from our research broaden understanding of construal level theory and research by advancing a within-individual perspective of how resistance intention decreases over time. In the literature, employees’ change response appears more as an outcome [25
]. Over time, employees’ intention reaction to a change is dynamic, which is worthy of attention [10
]. Therefore, we applied the time distance of construal level theory to focus on the dynamic process of employees’ resistance intention over time, which also enriches the research on the intention response of employees to organizational change and complements the research on organizational change management.
Third, the resistance intention during an organizational change is negatively related to individual performance. In other words, the greater the resistance intention of employees during the organizational change, the worse their follow-up performance. If resistance intention is high, the employees hold a disapproving attitude toward the change and they will not actively participate in implementing the change or support the idea of the change, which affects the smooth implementation of the change; thus, their own work performance will be reduced. Employee performance can also objectively reflect the effect of the implementation of the change. Overall, we established a complete framework of the effect of negative informal information on employee performance through resistance intention over time. The findings from this research broaden the construal level theory and research by advancing a within-individual approach and extend the literature on informal information before a change and organizational change management. In addition, we contribute to understanding other downstream outcomes that could be affected by resistance intention to organizational change.
Our findings have practical implications as well. All enterprises inevitably make frequent, continuous, and wide-ranging changes to ensure a sustainable competitive advantage remains on-trend [11
]. Organizational change is likely to succeed only if managers continue to reduce employee resistance or seek their support [44
], which is why addressing the negative views of employees and promoting their positive input are important for successful implementation of organizational changes. According to our research, employees form a basic affective reaction once they receive the informal information before the change occurs. The informal information may help the employees regain control of the environment and reduce uncertainty. Therefore, informal information before the change can foster the employees’ adjustment in advance and reduce employee resistance during the change. This suggests that informal information is not always harmful or useless; sometimes it helps employees to respond effectively to organizational changes. Our findings emphasize that informal information is universal and inevitable within the organization, but the methods for strategically managing the information have important practical implications. For instance, managers can appropriately disclose some informal information to help employees understand the situation and self-adjust before the organizational change occurs.
To smoothly implement organizational change, managers often consider sanctions to complete the change more quickly. However, our findings indicate that employee resistance intention will not decline correspondingly with perceived sanctions. Therefore, after the formal implementation of the change, if a manager adopts some soft tactics to allow employees to accept the organizational change, employee resistance may be mitigated, promoting the smooth implementation of the change.
5.2. Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
Our findings also have several limitations that should be acknowledged. First, using retrospective self-reporting data to measure the effect may have introduced recall effects and hindsight biases [25
]. For instance, an employee’s review of an event may not fully reflect the reaction of the change at the time. However, if we can collect the data from the companies undergoing the change and track the data during the change, the measurements will be more accurate and efficient. Therefore, in future research, we could continue to explore more appropriate and rigorous methods for data collection to reduce bias and obtain more accurate results.
Another limitation is that we only examined the perceived sanction as a moderator of the reduction effect of resistance intention to the organizational change over time, but it is possible that other variables with respect to change information may moderate this effect. For example, how employees react to organizational change at different frequencies of informal information could be examined. Resistance intention may not wane if the frequency of negative informal information increases. Resistance is the most common response to change when employees receive negative information, but employees may choose other responses, such as psychological withdrawal or interaction avoidance. Employees may choose different responses depending on their personality traits or conformity pressures. Consequently, future research could investigate the relationship between personality traits or conformity pressures and employee reactions over time. This research would enrich the literature on organizational change communication and information management.
Despite the strength of our design across multiple time points and sources, we cannot completely rule out alternative causal interpretations. Future research may benefit from improved experimental design and multiple samples to reduce the causal relationship concerns. The sample of our study was limited to a central province in China. Despite the sample of MBA students being distributed in various positions and had experienced a variety of change events, the external validity of the sample was guaranteed to some extent. Due to the different levels of economic and cultural development in various regions of China, the results of a similar study in a different region could differ. For example, in economically developed regions, employees may be more likely to accept changes. Therefore, the universality of conclusions needs to be further explored. In future research, a wider range of samples from different regions needs to be collected to improve the representativeness and robustness.