How Multiple Organizational Changes Shape Managerial Support for Innovative Work Behavior: Evidence From the Australian Public Service

AuthorJan Boon,Bjorn Kleizen,Jan Wynen,Koen Verhoest
Published date01 September 2020
Date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
824388ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X18824388Review of Public Personnel AdministrationWynen et al.
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2020, Vol. 40(3) 491 –515
How Multiple Organizational
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Changes Shape Managerial
Support for Innovative Work
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X18824388
Behavior: Evidence From the
Australian Public Service
Jan Wynen1,2, Jan Boon1,3, Bjorn Kleizen1,
and Koen Verhoest1
Public organizations were once seen as the epitome of stability and implacability.
More recently, however, public organizations have been subject to fast-paced
environmental change. One common response to the challenges posed by these
volatile environments has been the adoption of various organizational changes to make
public organizations more adaptable. However, following threat-rigidity theory, this
study argues that as employees perceive multiple organizational changes, managerial
support for innovative work behavior (IWB) of employees decreases. Analyses on
the Australian Public Service (APS) employee census support these assertions. Our
results contribute to the literatures on work behavior, organizational innovation,
and human resources management, by demonstrating that multiple organizational
changes negatively affect managerial support for IWB of individual employees, which
may—through their negative impact on individual-level innovations—ultimately affect
the very adaptability of organizations that many changes aspire to achieve.
multiple organizational changes, innovative work behavior, Australian Public Service
1University of Antwerp, Belgium
2Tilburg University, The Netherlands
3Aarhus University, Denmark
Corresponding Author:
Jan Wynen, Tilburg School of Economics and Management, Tilburg University, 5000 LE Tilburg, The

Review of Public Personnel Administration 40(3)
For decades, the general conception of governmental organizations has been cen-
tered around their stability and bureaucratic nature. However, from the 1980s and
1990s onward, both governments and scholars have begun to acknowledge that most
public organizations are confronted with substantial environmental turbulence
(Kuipers et al., 2014; Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2017; Valle, 1999). Ongoing processes
such as technological advances, demographic changes, and globalization, as well as
short-term shocks resulting from crises, force the public sector to continuously adapt
(Lewis, 2004; Valle, 1999; Vann, 2004). As a result, there is a strong incentive for
governments to impose reforms on their administrations, as well as a necessity for
public organizations themselves to adapt to changing circumstances, legal frame-
works, and political preferences.
The relation between processes of change in the public sector and subsequent
innovative behaviors is puzzling. On one hand, a long line of thought in the organi-
zational change literature has pointed at structural changes as drivers of more flexi-
ble, entrepreneurial, adaptive, and ultimately more innovative organizations (Burns
& Stalker, 1961; Kanter, 1984). On the other hand, a psychological literature on
organizational responses to change suggests that rapid change might hamper organi-
zational innovation. Threat-rigidity theory posits that organizational climates
become more top-down, nonparticipatory, and rigid in response to the stress and
uncertainty caused by organizational changes. As a result, novel initiatives that are
out of line with central policies and that may generate further uncertainty are dis-
couraged (Olsen & Sexton, 2009; Staw, Sandelands, & Dutton, 1981). Paradoxically
then, while organizational changes are often perceived as opportunities to make
organizations more flexible and innovative, they might also be seen as threats that
provoke stress, uncertainty, and actually lead to less innovation.
The question then becomes under which conditions organizational changes ben-
efit or hamper innovation. This study focuses on the accumulated impact of multiple
organizational changes that occur within a short time frame on managerial support
for innovative work behavior (IWB) of individual employees. IWB relates to “the
development, adoption and implementation of new ideas for products, technologies
and work methods by employees” (Yuan & Woodman, 2010, p. 323). Following
threat-rigidity theory, we examine whether multiple organizational changes bring
about unintended effects that cause the organization to become rigid and top-down,
particularly in the first year after implementation. This may result in a reduced level
of managerial support for IWB, a factor which is considered important in creating a
responsive, adaptive, and effective organization (Bos-Nehles, Bondarouk, &
Nijenhuis, 2017; Yuan & Woodman, 2010).
This article seeks to contribute in several ways to existing literatures on work
behavior, organizational innovation, and human resources management (HRM). First,
this study examines the impact of multiple organizational changes that occur within
relatively short timeframes. Scholars have focused on the change construct in various
ways, often distinguishing between opportunity aspects of change and threat aspects

Wynen et al.
of change (Jackson & Dutton, 1988). This study takes a novel perspective by focusing
on variances in the multiplicity of change, arguing that changes—whether ultimately
producing objectively good (i.e., opportunities) or poor (i.e., threats) outcomes—
increase uncertainty and stress at managerial levels in the short term. Previous work
established the crucial role of management in supporting innovation of individual
employees (Bos-Nehles et al., 2017; Yuan & Woodman, 2010), yet less is known about
what determines variations in such managerial support.
This study examines whether managerial support is hampered in a context of threat,
stress, and uncertainty, and takes a broad view of organizational change, allowing for
the simultaneous occurrence of various types of structural, process, and personnel
changes. Given that public organizations are confronted with increasingly rapid
change processes, and that one type of change often coincides with or begets another
(i.e., a merger spurring personnel reductions and location change), it seems imperative
to study the effects of contemporaneous occurrence of multiple organizational changes
(McMurray, 2007; Pollitt, 2007). It is therefore surprising that only a small number of
studies have investigated the effects of such exposure to multiple changes (Moore,
Grunberg, & Greenberg, 2004; Rafferty & Griffin, 2006; Rafferty & Restubog, 2017;
Wynen, Verhoest, & Kleizen, 2017). Given this lacuna in the literature, our results
hold important implication for the management of change in public sector organiza-
tions, in particular when multiple change processes coincide.
Second, this study examines the relationship between multiple organizational
changes and managerial support for IWB, a subject which has been underresearched,
yet which is of relevance in times where shifting environments increasingly require
adaptive and innovative capabilities from public organizations (Valle, 1999; Voorberg,
Bekkers, & Tummers, 2015). During the last decades, a variety of civil service reforms
under the banner of new public management stressed that reforming public HRM is
crucial for enhancing efficiency and effectiveness (Battaglio & Condrey, 2006; Llorens
& Battaglio, 2010). The foundation of all innovative improvement is ideas, which are
ultimately developed, carried, reacted to, and modified by individual employees
(Bysted & Hansen, 2015; Scott & Bruce, 1994). Therefore, exploring the relationship
between organizational changes and managerial support for IWB merits attention, as
it sheds light on an important antecedent of organization-wide innovation and adapt-
ability (Bos-Nehles et al., 2017). Furthermore, IWB is widely argued to be positively
related to a series of positive outcomes at the organizational level, such as effective
functioning and the long-term survival of organizations (Bysted & Hansen, 2015; De
Jong & Den Hartog, 2010; Yuan & Woodman, 2010).
Finally, the study contributes to the core literature on IWB, which is usually con-
ceptualized as a multistage process (Scott & Bruce, 1994; Yidong & Xinxin, 2013).
Most studies have focused on the first stage of employee creativity and the generation
of creative ideas, that is, the early phases of the innovation process (De Jong & Den
Hartog, 2010). Far less is known about factors that influence the next stages where
novel ideas are implemented (or not) (Bos-Nehles et al., 2017; Mumford, 2003). This
study conceptualizes IWB by looking at the managerial support for novel ideas by
employees and tests how this support is affected by multiple organizational changes.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 40(3)
We test the impact of multiple organizational changes on managerial support for
IWB by running simulation analyses on the Australian Public Service (APS) employee
census of 2014. The next section discusses the conceptualization of managerial sup-
port for IWB used in this article, before turning to threat-rigidity theory and its dynam-
ics when organizational change is frequent. “Data” section presents the data...

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