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SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

On-line version ISSN 2071-0763
Print version ISSN 0258-5200

SA j. ind. Psychol. vol.47 n.1 Johannesburg  2021 



Erratum: Mental health research in African organisations: Advancing theory and practice



Willie T. Chinyamurindi

Department of Business Management, Faculty of Management and Commerce, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa




In the version of this article initially published, Chinyamurindi, W.T., (2019). Mental health research in African organisations: Advancing theory and practice. SAJournal of Industrial Psychology/SA Tydskrif vir Bedryfsielkunde, 45(0), a1727., the article section was given incorrectly. The correct section should be Editorial instead of Original Research.

This correction does not alter the study's findings of significance or overall interpretation of the study's results. The publisher apologises for any inconvenience caused.



Willie Chinyamurindi

Published: 19 Apr. 2021




Erratum: Differential item functioning of the CESD-R and GAD-7 in African and white working adults



Carolina Henn; Brandon Morgan

Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, College of Business and Economics, Faculty of Management, University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park, South Africa




In the version of this article initially published, Henn, C., & Morgan, B. (2019). Differential item functioning of the CESDR-R and GAD-7 in African and white working adults. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology/SA Tydskrif vir Bedryfsielkunde, 45(0), a1663. the title of the manuscript has been incorrectly published as 'Differential item functioning of the CESDR-R and GAD-7 in African and white working adults'. The correct title wording is 'Differential item functioning of the CESD-R and GAD-7 in African and white working adults'.

On page 5 of the article, Table 1 is incorrectly displayed without the confidence intervals for the alpha and parameter estimates for the omega columns.

The correct table is presented below:

This correction does not alter the study's findings of significance or overall interpretation of the study's results. The publisher apologises for any inconvenience caused.



Brandon Morgan

Published: 05 May 2021




A competency framework for coaches working in coaching development centres



Bernice Slabbert; Crystal Hoole

Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Globalisation and the new world of work has changed the labour market, resulting in highly complex, volatile and dynamic environments. Organisations are dependent on highly skilled human capital to not only survive but also thrive. Selecting and developing talent is thus becoming a business necessity. Assessment centres (ACs) and development assessment centres (DACs) have become popular tools to manage talent because of the successful outcomes it provides. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the awareness of the benefits that coaching can offer in the AC environment as well as the development of coaching development centres (CDCs). However, research on CDCs is still limited. For CDCs to provide the same rigorous results as ACs and ADCs, a well-defined competency framework is needed for coaches working in a CDC
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to explore the required competencies and formulate a competency framework for coaches working in a CDC
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Coaching, which is at the heart of coaching practices such as executive coaching, one-on-one coaching, team coaching and CDCs, requires a clear set of coaching competencies to ensure that it deliver its mandate to its clients: individuals, organisations and the profession. Coaches in a CDC environment work in a different context and require different competencies. A competency framework for CDC specifically is therefore needed.
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: Adopting a qualitative methodology, a self-completed questionnaire was administered to eight participants, followed by a semi-structured interview. Lastly, the competency framework was verified by an expert panel of five experts using the Delphi technique.
MAIN FINDINGS: A final competency framework consisting of 25 competencies, of which 14 are considered as core competencies, was validated
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The study contributes to the understanding of the unique behavioural demands associated with coaches operating in the context of a CDC. It provides a conceptual and practical framework of what competencies are needed to work successfully and effectively as a coach in a CDC, and ultimately enhance the effectiveness of a CDC.
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: Utilising this framework in practice will enable us to use candidates best suited to the role of a coach at a CDC, and will enhance the overall success of such centres.

Keywords: coaching; competency frameworks; coaching development centres; assessment centres; development assessment centres.




Coaching, which is at the heart of coaching practices such as executive coaching, one-on-one coaching, team coaching and coaching development centres (CDCs), requires a clear set of coaching competencies to ensure that it deliver its mandate to its clients, individuals, organisations and the profession. One of the more recent developments in coaching, development assessment centres (DACs) and CDCs focuses specifically on value-added services to employers to help employees actualise their full potential (ACSG, 2015; Lievens & Thornton, 2005; Rupp et al., 2006). Coaching competencies are therefore becoming more important than ever.

Coaching development centres have become increasingly popular in practice as tools in facilitating behavioural change and improving performance (ACSG, 2015; Lievens & Thornton, 2005; Rupp et al., 2006). Coaches working in CDCs have a strong development focus by concentrating on improving participants' performance through coaching efforts. In CDCs, participants engage in a series of simulations which provide useful information on participants' strengths and development areas. The coach focuses specifically on job-related behaviours. The coach debriefs the participants after each simulation and participants can interactively share their simulation experience. The aim of these sessions is to align the participants' performance with the intended outcomes. The coach assists with the design of a customised development plan for the participant. Also unique to CDCs, a coach is allocated to each participant. An additional factor that needs to be taken into consideration is that these CDC coaches work under very tight timelines, which makes effective performance challenging (Lemasa, 2016). Improved performance will always be contextual and can be seen through the success of an individual's efforts in fulfilling specific tasks (Bartram, 2006; Campion & Ployhart, 2013; Theron, 2014). This implies that coaches will require additional competencies to fulfil this role effectively.

Despite CDCs' growing popularity, limited research exists in this field. For instance, Yates (2015a) reported that little is known on issues such as the quality assurance and impact of coaches, and further suggested that one way of addressing these limitations is through focussing on the right coach specification and context for coaches (Yates, 2015b)

Research further indicates that the demands of development centres are particularly challenging for assessors and observers (Kolk et al., 2002; Robie, Osburn, Morris, Etchegaray, & Adams, 2000; Woodruffe, 2000). The large amount of job-relevant behaviours elicited at the centre that needed to be observed, recorded and classified are cognitively demanding (Kolk et al., 2002; London, 2001; Robie et al., 2000; Shore, Thornton, & Shore, 1990; Woodruffe, 2000). Within a CDC, the role of an observer extends to that of a coach because of added focus on coaching. Gaugler and Thornton (1989) stated that the cognitive demands placed on observers and assessors in DCs are even greater than the demands placed on assessors in assessment centres (ACs), and even greater on CDC assessors.

Despite this concern, very little evidence exists regarding the cognitive processes of observers (Hennessy, Mabey, & Warr, 1998; Kolk et al., 2002) and competencies of coaches in general (Bono, Purvanova, Towler, & Peterson, 2009), with no existing research on the cognitive processes of coaches in CDCs. This calls for an urgent need to explore the behaviours and competencies that allow observers and coaches to cope better with the complexity associated with the various tasks they engage in (Bycio, Alvares, & Hahn, 1987; Passmore & Fillery-Travis, 2011).

Ryan, Emmerling and Spencer (2009) indicate that competencies provide valuable insight into what the capabilities of a particular individual are. They define competencies as 'abilities related to motive and personality constructs that influence the frequency and intrinsic affective value associated with the execution of specific behaviours and cognitive-affective processes' (p. 860). Fletcher (1992, p. 7) refers to competencies as 'bundles of behaviour' required to deliver the desired outcome. Emphasis is placed on the importance of behaviour in delivering the desired work outcomes, and focuses on the action or outcome that is exhibited (Markus, Thomas, & Allpress, 2005; Theron, 2014). If coaches were to be selected according to the required competencies identified for that position, the cognitive demands inherent to their role could be dealt with greater ease and effectiveness.

A competency model will provide much needed guidance into the behavioural specification, skills and traits that are needed to perform as a CDC coach, as well as providing the overall validity of the centre. Current models, although useful to an extent, do not provide in-depth knowledge of what is needed. For example, the single-job competency model allows key job requirements to be identified and described. It specifies the behaviour required to yield optimal results in a given position. The 'one-size-fits-all' competency model approach identifies and describes desired competencies that are applicable for a wide range of jobs (Mansfield, 1996). Both these models merely specify behaviour that is observable on the surface.

Saville and Holdsworth (SHL) developed a competency framework providing a holistic depiction of competencies within the organisational context. Their framework conceptualises the inter-relationships between competency potential, competencies, results of behaviour (performance outcomes) and situational variables (see Figure 1) (Bartram, 2006).



Competency potential refers to the underlying dispositions that produce outcomes of observable behaviour (Heider, 1958 as cited in Ajzen, 2005). Ajzen (2005) describes competency potential as the personality traits and attitudes that a person possesses. Results of behaviour are defined as 'actual or intended outcomes of behaviour' (Bartram, 2006, p. 5). Theron (2014) adds that performance outcomes reflect the success of the individual's efforts in fulfilling the objectives for the task at hand. Situational variables can be described as external factors that often prevent competencies from delivering effective performance outcomes (Bailey, Bartram, & Kurz, 2001; Campion & Ployhart, 2013; Van der Bank, 2007). These variables may include aspects such as an organisation's climate or culture; working relationships and/or communication channels. By describing sets of behaviour in terms of the various layers of competency components, a better understanding of behaviour is enabled (Bartram, 2006).

By providing a structured and evidence-based framework that facilitates a more in-depth understanding of behaviour in the workplace (Bartram, 2006), this framework is deemed most appropriate for the purpose of this study.

To assist with the identification of CDC competencies, a thorough literature review was conducted. We used Academic Search Ultimate, Emerald Insight, ProQuest Central, PsycInfo, SpringerLink, SAGE journals, and Google Scholar and used keywords such as ACs, DCs, DACs, CDCs, coaches, competencies and competency frameworks. Six clusters consisting of 14 competencies could be identified (see Table 1). The first cluster of competencies is assessment, relating to the manner in which CDC coaches provide feedback to participants. Honesty was shown to be important in providing feedback regarding participants' strengths, development areas, effectiveness and performance levels (Appelbaum, Harel, & Shapiro, 1998; Gettman, 2008; McCauley & Van Velsor, 2004; Poteet & Kudisch, 2003; Woodruffe, 2000). Exploratory behaviour is also needed to explore alternative forms of behaviour and to facilitate a non-threatening, learning environment for participants. Furthermore, openness to experience is necessary to be attentive towards participants' feelings and encourage open dialogue (Stelter, 2014; Woodruffe, 1990). Mutual responsiveness is also acknowledged as an important competency in order to encourage reflection (Gettman, 2008; Rider, 2002; Woodruffe, 2000). Relational attunement is additionally needed to encourage conversation and display empathy towards participants (Gettman, 2008; Stelter, 2014).



The second cluster of competencies is communication, which relates to the manner in which the CDC coach engages with the participant. Communication skills involve effective questioning and listening skills, the ability to support logical and convincing arguments to achieve a specific purpose (Brits, 2011), as well as the ability to convey threatening information in a manner that enhances the individual's understanding of a particular concept, whilst providing ongoing support; tailoring the conversation to the individual's unique context (Brown & Bylund, 2008; Hobgood et al., 2002; Maguire & Pitceathly, 2002). It is necessary that the CDC coach possesses all these components of communication skills.

The third cluster of competencies is challenge, the ability to utilise goal-oriented behaviour to challenge the participant to move outside their comfort zones in order to facilitate behavioural change and improved performance in a given job (Elliott, 2011).

Support is categorised as the fourth cluster of competencies. Through receiving ongoing support, participants are more likely to identify with the development needs raised and to persevere during challenging developmental experiences that require change (McCauley & Van Velsor, 2004; The British Psychological Society, 2003). Two competencies are necessary in this regard, namely, emotionally and tactically supportive behaviour. Emotionally supportive behaviour illustrates the coach's ability to display the necessary comfort and sympathy towards participants, whilst tactically supportive behaviour is needed to provide constructive advice and guide participants in achieving developmental goals (Gettman, 2008).

The fifth cluster of competencies is attributed to the fact that CDC coaches will be required to engage with participants that have diverse cultural backgrounds. For this, cultural self-awareness and sensitivity are necessary. This requires a coach to be mindful of the perceptions, mind sets and attitudes that may impede interactions with participants (American Psychological Association, 2003; Bennett & Bennett, 2004; Waites, Macgowan, Pennell, Carlton-LaNey, & Weil, 2004).

The sixth cluster of competencies is motivation. Participants need to believe that they possess the necessary capabilities to accomplish a particular goal. To motivate the participant to achieve their desired performance outcomes, the CDC coach needs to possess emotional control skills to maintain focus on the task at hand (Gettman, 2008; Kanfer & Heggestad, 1997), as well as motivational reinforcement to improve participants' focus and perseverance (Christiansen & Tett, 2013; Kanfer & Heggestad, 1997). Table 1 summarises the proposed competency framework for coaches in a CDC that was established through the literature review.

Goals of the study

This study set out to explore the required competencies and formulate a competency framework for coaches working in a CDC.



Participants and setting

Obtaining coaches working in a CDC was challenging. Currently there are very few CDC coaches, and they are almost all white people. The sample size for this study was therefore small, consisting of eight participants. The mean age of the participants was 46-55 years and the mean job tenure was > than 11 years. The majority of the coaches had completed coaching diplomas. The expert panel who validated the competency framework consisted of five participants, with a mean age of 46-55 years, and had a mean job tenure of >24 years.


Self-completed questionnaires were administered first, followed by semi-structured interviews. To verify the competency framework, a Delphi technique was administered to an expert panel.


To validate and expand the preliminary competency framework outlined in Table 1, a phenomenological research approach was followed, along with a qualitative exploratory approach. Appropriate permission and consent were obtained and all ethical standards were adhered to in the study. Participants were required to complete a questionnaire with open and closed questions where they were asked to rank the importance of the competencies. A thorough literature review was conducted to identify competencies for coaches from a theoretical and empirical perspective. The identified competencies formed the basis of the proposed competency framework. A self-completed questionnaire containing open and closed questions was constructed to allow participants to rate each identified competency in the order of importance (1 = not at all important and 5 = extremely important). This enabled the differentiation between core and secondary competencies. Examples of questions are presented in Tables 2 and 3.





The three open-ended questions focused on the uniqueness of the CDC context and allowed respondents to freely provide detailed and contextual information. It was also important to determine whether the coaches working in CDCs perceived differences between the competencies of normal coaches and coaches in a CDC environment. In the follow-up interviews, the experiences of the coaches in CDCs were explored in more detail, with an additional focus to determine whether the competencies of normal coaches working in development centres differed from that of coaches working in CDCs. After each step of the data collection, the proposed competency framework was refined. Finally, the input of the experts was elicited to validate the proposed competency framework by utilising the Delphi technique. The Delphi technique served as a final phase to validate and refine the competency framework. By using subject matter experts in the field to scrutinise the findings, further validation is provided (Habibi, Sarafrazi, & Izadyar, 2014; Strasser, London, & Kortenbout, 2005). In this study, four questions were posed to the experts, in which they had: (1) to rank the competencies in the order of importance, (2) to rank the five most important and five least important competencies, (3) to identify competencies that should not form part of the competency framework and (4) to include any other additional competencies not listed in the competency framework.

Data analysis

The information obtained in all three sets of data was analysed and interpreted from an interpretive research paradigm using a directed approach to content analysis. A directed approach of content analysis is used when existing theory regarding a phenomenon is incomplete or can benefit from additional research. Codes were allocated to all occurrences of a theme identified in the data. In the three rounds of data collection, specific attention was given to overlapping codes, how it was presented and how frequently the response was given. Themes not falling into the existing categories received new codes until all themes were identified. A directed approach to content analysis can also be to present descriptive evidence, using the rank order of comparisons of frequency of codes. Participants were required to rank the level of importance of each competency included in the preliminary competency framework according to a five-point rating scale. This allowed the formulation of a frequency table, depicting the average importance of each competency as rated by all participants. Core competencies could then be differentiated from secondary competencies.

In the final step, a Delphi technique was used. The input and consensus from five expert coaches (who are not part of the original group) in the field of CDCs were obtained. The purpose was to provide an enriched understanding of the competencies of coaches in a CDC. Using the same rating scale as with the self-completed questionnaires, each competency's level of importance was established and organised, clearly demarcating core and secondary competencies for a CDC coach. Two iterations of the Delphi questionnaire were conducted, with a majority consensus obtained in both iterations. The second iteration was selected to inform the final validation and development of the comprehensive competency framework for coaches in a CDC.

Ethical considerations

Ms B. Slabbert (former Venter) presented her proposal in April 2016 to a proposal panel of the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg. The proposal was accepted and ethical clearance was given at the departmental level as part of this proposal committee. At the time, ethical clearance numbers were not awarded.



Table 4 outlines the comprehensive competency framework for coaches in a CDC, developed through a literature review and three phases of data collection. The final competency framework for CDC coaches included a total of 25 competencies. Of these 25 competencies, 14 competencies were revealed to be core competencies and 11 were secondary competencies. Twelve additional competencies emerged from the data, which were initially not included in the preliminary competency framework developed through academic theorising. These include people-orientation, AC knowledge, the ability to work within the framework of a CDC, positive regard, interpersonal sensitivity, analytical thinking skills, flexibility, objectivity, time management skills, energy or drive, conscientiousness and concentration of skills.




The results supported the proposed competency framework for coaches working in a CDC to a large degree but also included additional competencies that were identified by coaches and experts working in CDCs. According to participants' responses, CDC coaches are confronted with greater role demands than that of a general coach, as well as an assessor and observer at an AC and DAC, respectively. These demands include the added time pressure of the centre; the constrained time available with participants; the unique framework, procedures, deliverables and processes; the additional documentation to be completed; the additional assessor competencies needed, such as behavioural observations, recordings and classifications that need to be done; the greater amount of energy required to persevere; and the knowledge and experience required for the CDC method.

Table 4 represents the final competency framework for coaches in a CDC. It depicts 25 desired competencies that enable CDC coaches to deliver optimal performance outcomes. Of these 25 competencies, 13 emerged in the preliminary literature review. The remaining 12 competencies newly emerged in the data. The final validated competencies are briefly discussed below.

Communication skills

Communication skills were rated by the panel of experts as the most important competency. Various researchers stress how important communication is in the coaching relationship, in creating positive change, clarification of issues and increasing understanding of development needs (Gray, 2006; Kombarakaran, Yang, Baker, & Fernandes, 2008; Lemasa, 2016). Participants also stressed the importance of how information is relayed. Information shared in a non-directive and practical manner encourages coachees to take ownership of their learning process (Barnett, 1995; Baron & Morin, 2009; Lemasa, 2016).

Empowering behaviour

The demanding nature of a CDC was reiterated several times. According to participants' responses, the pressured time frames and the framework of the programmes heighten stress and frustration levels. The various demands placed on CDC coaches cannot be eliminated, as they are inherent to the centre. However, by managing these emotions and maintaining control over them, leaders are more likely to establish an environment that is marked by trust and fairness (Goleman, 2003; Riggio & Lee, 2007). Participants also emphasised the importance of recognising and regulating one's emotions and taking care in avoiding the spill-over effect to other coaches. A coach is not only responsible for recognising his or her own emotional behaviour, but also needs to be sensitive towards the feelings and emotions of the coachee (Goldfried & Davison, 1976; Seligman, 1991). This is aligned with Goleman's model of emotional intelligence that indicates how self-awareness, relationship management, social awareness and self-management help in achieving successful performance.


Participants highlighted the importance of honesty in a non-directive approach. Feedback should focus on what the coachee's strengths and what he or she is doing well. When feedback is too direct and negative, it inhibits the learning performance.

Openness to experience

This competency is another important requirement for coaches in CDCs in order to encourage open and collaborative dialogue. Participants stressed that one of the main objectives of a coach in a CDC is to stimulate insight and self-awareness amongst coachees. As the timeframe in which this can happen is rather short, the coach needs to be competent in facilitating this process.

People orientation

By nature, coaches work with people for extended periods of time. To ensure effective interaction, a good relationship with the coachee is vital. The role of the coach has also transformed from being an expert to that of a thought partner, together with whom the coachee can come up with solutions (Eggers & Clark, 2000). This approach builds trust with the coachee and promotes accepting responsibility for one's own learning.

Assessment centre knowledge: Coaching development centres coaches must understand the basic principles of the AC method. This includes an understanding of how to effectively observe, classify, record and evaluate the behavioural dimensions; understand the selected assessment dimensions and how it relates to performance and knowledge, and mastery of the assessment techniques utilised in the centre (ACSG, 2015; Ballantyne & Povah, 2004). Assessment centre knowledge provides the foundation for being an effective CDC coach (ACSG, 2015; Griffiths & Allen, 1987).

The ability to work within the framework of a coaching development centres: An AC operates according to a specific framework with unique processes, procedures and techniques used (Ballantyne & Povah, 2004). This includes a large number of dimensions to be assessed, different assessment techniques, the use of specific evaluating and rating procedures of the centre, and engaging in objective role-playing during interactive exercises - all to be completed within a specific time limit (ACSG, 2015). These demands place added strain on the assessor, which may increase the anxiety and frustration levels. It is important that the CDC coach is acquainted with and experienced in each of these role requirements in order to provide greater ease and effectiveness in the delivery of performance.

Positive regard

Rogers (1959) defined positive regard as an unconditional source of warm acceptance towards a client. Effective coaching relies on the coach's ability to establish an environment marked by unconditional positive regard, in which the coachee feels heard, appreciated and not judged (Eggers & Clark, 2000). Although maintaining a positive regard is important, the coach still needs to remain as objective as possible (Ballantyne & Povah, 2004).

Relational attunement

Both participants and experts highlighted that a positive relationship between the coach and coachee is essential for achieving behavioural outcomes. Coaches in a CDC need to be relationally attuned to coachees, to establish a connection within a short amount of time and to build a positive relationship marked by openness, empathy and non-judgement. This helps creating a safe environment conducive to learning and change (Bluckert, 2005; Brotman, Liberi, & Wasylyshyn, 1998; O'Flaherty & Everson, 2005).

Interpersonal sensitivity: This competency is necessary in order for CDC coaches to relate effectively to all types of participants, and to establish appropriate rapport (Dingman, 2004). It is especially important that they pick up the non-verbal cues of coachees in their evaluation of their behavioural competencies in the various simulation exercises.

Analytical thinking: This competency refers to the ability to think in a logical manner, unpack complex problems and recognise a cause-and-effect relationship (Ballantyne & Povah, 2004; Lithner, 2008). It will allow the coach to be systematic in his or her approach, allowing feedback to be substantiated. By substantiating arguments, feedback is more likely to be accepted by participants (Tucker, 1997).

Goal orientation and tactically supportive behaviour

These two competencies are discussed jointly as they have similar implications in the competency framework. Both support a more directive and instructional approach. The key outcomes of a CDC are the formulation of a development plan. A practical, step-by-step approach with clear guidelines will help to achieve specific behavioural outcomes quicker, result in long-term behavioural change and the development of one's own solutions (Ives, 2008; McCarthy & Milner, 2013).

Flexibility: A coach in a CDC is required to work with different individuals that have different development needs and learning styles (Ballantyne & Povah, 2004; Kiel, Rimmer, Williams, & Doyle, 1996). As a result, flexibility is needed to adapt to the different participants and the situational demands the CDC may deliver. By possessing sufficient flexibility, CDC coaches are better able to deal with these challenges in the most appropriate manner possible.

Emotional control skills

Because of the inherent demanding nature of a CDC, pressured time frames and the structure of the programmes, coaches have to deal with heightened stress and frustration levels. Being aware of and being able to manage your emotions is essential for creating the right environment characterised by trust and fairness.

Mutual responsiveness

The typical duration of a CDC programme is 3 days, which provides a very short time for any change or development to occur. To maximise development outcomes, coaches need to be reflective as this stimulates the necessary insight and motivation to sustain development and improvement beyond the duration of the CDC. A reflective coach provides an inviting platform for the coachee to also be reflective and become self-sufficient (Plunkett, Egan, & Garza, 2004).

Exploratory behaviour

Coaching approaches are usually characterised in terms of two dimensions: being either directive or non-directive. Non-directive approaches are instructional and goal-oriented and rely on questioning and feedback to enhance the coach's ability to explore together with the coachee what options are available (Bond & Seneque, 2012; Ives, 2008; Parsloe, 2009).

Impartiality: Coaches who favour some individuals over others exert more effort towards enhancing their development success, disadvantaging other participants. This distorts participants' performance, leading to unfavourable outcomes. Coaches at a CDC must remain impartial in their assessments of behaviour and must ensure that they provide sound, objective judgement that is free from bias.

Energy and drive: These are additionally necessary to withstand the exhausting nature of the CDC process. Coaches must be able to proactively manage their energy levels and plan appropriately to ensure that sustainable levels of energy are exerted. This will ensure that the CDC coach is able to provide his or her undivided attention to the participants throughout the duration of the centre (Bossons, Kourdi, & Sartain, 2013).

Emotionally supportive behaviour

Participants indicated the importance of emotional support within the CDC context. The programmes are emotionally and cognitively exhausting. When coachees feel emotionally supported and understood, they feel more encouraged to reveal their vulnerabilities, explore, take risks and take responsibility for their development process (Bluckert, 2005).

Time management: Specific tasks need to be completed within clearly defined time limits. The duration of each discussion needs to be carefully considered in terms of the total amount of time that is available (Ballantyne & Povah, 2004). Should a coach fail to do so, all the necessary discussion points may not have been covered with the participant in time for the next simulation exercise. This may leave the participant unsatisfactorily prepared for the exercise to follow, constraining the participant's overall performance. In addition, documentation also needs to be completed. To ensure that all the performance demands are met within the prescribed amount of time, a CDC coach needs to be highly time-conscious.

Concentration: In addition to the highly cognitive demanding nature of the role of a CDC coach (Kolk et al., 2002; London, 2001; Robie et al., 2000; Woodruffe, 2000), the centre typically consists of a full day of behavioural activities, adding to its overall intensity. To ensure that the coach at the CDC is able to focus all attention on the individual being assessed and the tasks to be completed for the entire duration of the centre, concentration skills emerged as a key competency.

Cultural competence (cultural self-awareness and cultural sensitivity)

Both cultural self-sensitivity and cultural awareness were initially rated as one the most important competencies. Interestingly enough, participants did not elaborate on this at all. During the validation phase, experts rated cultural sensitivity as being neutrally important and cultural awareness as not important at all. This was not expected. A closer investigation of the phrasing revealed that cultural self-awareness leaned more towards being aware and mindful of one's own perspectives and world views, where cultural sensitivity focused on understanding different cultural contexts. Another possible reason for this can be argued to be the result of the current workforce profile at top management level, which is mainly white (Republic of South Africa, 2015). Because CDCs mostly work with participants at top management level, it could be possible that a need for cultural sensitivity is not too pronounced owing to the workforce profile that is not yet representative of a culturally diverse nation. It was also clear that there is a shortage of coaches representing different cultural groups, as 12 of the 13 research participants were white people. Because of the changing demographics of the workforce, it is reasonable to expect that this situation will and should change in the future. Cultural sensitivity is also not just limited to race. Being culturally sensitive requires the knowledge of, understanding of and respect for others' beliefs, emotions, values, background, symbolism and biases (Kubokawa & Ottaway, 2009; Miller, Engelbrecht, Wang, & Tsudaka, 2020).

Conscientiousness: Because of the highly structured framework of the centre and the required accuracy of tasks, CDC coaches need to be sufficiently detail-orientated and organised to perform effectively. They should be simultaneously mindful of the time pressures inherent to their role (Yeo & Neal, 2004). Since extreme levels of conscientious may result in more time invested in the completion of tasks, moderate levels of conscientious were found to be optimal for a CDC coach. This will ensure that the necessary details of tasks are attended to, whilst still comfortably adhering to the time limits of the centre.

Motivational reinforcement

The last important competency emphasised that the desire to success must rest with the coachee. As adult learners who are mostly at management and senior management levels, a desire to improve and succeed must already be present before they embark on the CDC process. The coach can then continue to build resilience and reinforce this sense of motivation by being supportive and nurturing (Baumeister et al., 2006, cited in Grant, Curtayne, & Burton, 2009).

Finally, based on the feedback received from the participants and the expert panel, one can conclude that the role of coaches working in CDCs is unique and demanding in many respects. Coaches work with participants on a one-on-one basis. In a very short length of time, rapport must be built, development plans must be formalised and various discussions must take place to focus on improvements against certain behavioural outcomes and desired performance results. To succeed in such a high pressured environment, a unique set of competencies is needed.


Limitations and implications of the study

Certain limitations were noted. Since the desired competencies of CDC coaches were explored only from the coaches' perspectives, the perspectives of the coachee and other key role-players involved in the centre were not explored. It may be argued that the study does not provide an all-inclusive representation of the desired competencies of coaches in a CDC.

Coaching development centres are a relatively recent emergence with limited research available. This study was predominantly approached from the perspective of an assessor or observer, or a coach working in a CDC. Finding participants who have sufficient experience and expertise in the field proved to be difficult. There is also a huge shortage in experienced coaches working in CDCs from other cultural groups. Lastly, the situational factors existing between the competency-performance outcome relationships were not considered as part of this study. By not recognising these influencing factors, only a partial competency model for coaches in a CDC could be provided.

In terms of practical applications, this study contributes to the understanding of the unique behavioural demands associated with coaches operating in the context of a CDC. It provides a conceptual and practical framework of what competencies are needed to work successfully and effectively as a coach in a CDC.

Furthermore, the only best practice guidelines currently available are for the use of the AC method. These guidelines do not address CDCs, nor do they address the role of the coach at the CDC. The field of CDCs could benefit from the design of best practice guidelines specifically for the use of the CDC method, the selection of CDC coaches, as well as the training that should be imparted. This would ensure that all CDCs extract optimum performance excellence from coaches operating in this context, and in doing so enhance the success of the CDC field.

The proposed competency framework may be applied in practice to increase awareness of the performance and behavioural expectations of the CDC coach, benefiting the CDC participant, the CDC as a whole and the host organisation. By applying this framework in practice, CDC participants would receive coaching from the best possible candidates for the role, enhancing the participant's possibility of developing the desired behaviours. By optimising the participant's development success, the effectiveness of the CDC would be increased. This in turn, would enhance the attractiveness of the CDC method, encouraging greater usage and greater development of the field as a whole. By ensuring that the development of participants is maximised, greater value would be injected back into the organisation, thereby contributing to the organisation's sustainable, competitive advantage.

This framework could further be used as a behavioural guideline, whereby coaches at a CDC could map their own behaviour to that which is expected or desired. This would allow CDC coaches to easily identify any behavioural discrepancies and use it to inform personal developmental areas.

It is recommended to expand the competency framework developed in this study to include the person-centred attributes and situational variables that moderate the competency-performance outcome relationship. A fully fledged competency framework that includes all of these variables would facilitate a coherent understanding of CDC coaching excellence, both on the behavioural and performance outcome level. This would contribute a significant amount of value to the field of CDCs.



In summary, this study recognised that no clear framework exists explicating the competencies that allow coaches in a CDC to cope better with the demanding tasks they engage in. In response to this need, this study set out to explore the competencies of coaches at a CDC that would facilitate greater ease and effectiveness in performance. Because research in the field of CDCs is yet limited, with no existing research on the competencies of CDCs, the gaps existing in the literature could be addressed through this study and a contribution could be made to the body of knowledge in the coaching discipline, particularly within the context of CDCs. This unique competency framework developed for coaches at a CDC informs the unique challenges faced by coaches at a CDC, and the competencies needed to effectively meet these challenges.



Competing interests

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Authors' contributions

B.S. collected the data and completed a mini dissertation on the topic. C.H. wrote the article based on the results of the study and a draft article was submitted by Ms B. Slabbert.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author, C.H., upon reasonable request.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of any affiliated agencies of the authors



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Crystal Hoole

Received: 14 Sept. 2020
Accepted: 01 Feb. 2021
Published: 29 Apr. 2021

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Generational differences in psychological ownership



Chantal Olckers; Corné Booysen

Department of Human Resources Management, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Several generational groups are employed in the workplace today, each with distinctly different attitudes, values and work behaviours. Little is known about how generational cohorts differ in terms of psychological ownership
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to investigate the measurement equivalence of the South African Psychological Ownership Questionnaire (SAPOS) across three generational cohorts (Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Generation Yers
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Before meaningful inferences and comparisons can be made about psychological ownership across the generational cohorts, it is essential to ensure that the psychological ownership scale measures the same trait across all three generational cohorts
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: A cross-sectional study was conducted with a convenience sample of 945 skilled respondents employed in various public and private organisations employing a multigroup confirmatory factorial analytical approach
MAIN FINDINGS: The tripartite model of the SAPOS, comprising identity, responsibility and autonomy, was confirmed across the three generational cohort. Measurement invariance was established on configural, metric and scalar level across the three generational cohorts
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The three generational cohorts perceive the items as was measured by the psychological ownership scale in the same way. Meaningful comparisons can thus be made between the groups and organisations can tailor their interventions to enhance the levels of psychological ownership of each of these generational cohorts
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: This study is one of the first to provide empirical evidence of generational differences in respect of psychological ownership and to evaluate the measurement equivalence of a psychological ownership inventory across generational cohorts

Keywords: Baby Boomers; generational cohorts; Generation X; measurement equivalence; millennials.




The working world is more diverse than ever before. Modern organisations showcase diversity in various forms ranging from different cultures, nationalities, genders and ethnicities, through to different capabilities and generations (Massingham & Chandrakumara, 2019; Rani & Samuel, 2019; Suomäki, Kianto, & Vanhala, 2019). Despite the value that a diverse workforce poses, managing it effectively remains challenging in today's work environment. The increasing mix of generations brings more complexity to the workplace because of more pronounced differences between generational cohorts that influence their work-related attitudes, values and behaviour at work (Weeks, Weeks, & Lomg, 2017). These differences can be observed in experience, education, views of authority, work values, the meaning of work and work-life balance and overall work ethic (Bosco & Harvey, 2013; Suomäki et al., 2019). Failure to recognise the ideological and perceptual differences between the generational cohorts can lead to negative organisational outcomes such as conflict and misunderstandings in the workplace, poor working relationships and employee well-being, reduced employee productivity, lower innovation and fewer organisational citizenship behaviours (Becton, Walker, & Jones-Farmer, 2014; Burke, Cooper, & Antoniou, 2015; Massingham & Chandrakumara, 2019). All these aspects thus have an impact on the effectiveness of an organisation (Van der Walt, Jonck, & Sobayeni, 2016).

Generational cohorts are individuals from the same generation. Each of these generations has been exposed to the same circumstances and environmental events during their adolescence and early adulthood, which have shaped their behaviour patterns and way of thinking (Van der Walt et al., 2016). One should, however, acknowledge individual differences and guard against generalising behaviour. There seem to be various classifications in literature demarcating one generation from another across countries. The following classification proposed by most authors, as was used in this study are Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), Generation Yers or Millennials (born between 1981 and 1995) and Generation Zers (born between 1997 and 2012) (Becton et al., 2014; Smeak, 2020). A similar classification was used in a South African study conducted by Heyns and Kerr (2018). For the purpose of this study and based on the distribution of the sample, only three cohorts were included in the study, namely the Baby Boomers (called Boomers), Generation X (called Gen X) and Generation Y (called Millennials).

Intergenerational differences influence all aspects of people management, such as recruitment, training and development, career development, job satisfaction and working arrangements. According to Bencsik, Horváth-Csikós and Juhász (2016), managers should practise intergenerational management. For managers to recognise and to handle problems originating from the cooperation of different generations, they have to be aware of and sensitive to individual generational characteristics. Strategies aimed at attracting, engaging and retaining employees of various generational cohorts have become strategically important (Durocher, Bujaki, & Brouard, 2016; Suomäki et al., 2019). It is essential for employers to employ intervention strategies and to develop techniques that can prevent or manage conflict and reduce the number of misunderstandings so that different generational cohorts can work together successfully to maximise the productivity and profitability of the organisation (Wood, 2019). Managers who, for example, adopt a transformational leadership style that promotes relationships and meets individual needs and who follow a coaching, mentoring and developing approach, might be better equipped to deal with generational differences. Other strategies that organisations could implement are to modify their web communications, to become more paperless and to implement flexible working schedules to adapt to various generations' career expectations (Durocher et al., 2016).

The changes that took place in the workplace have also changed employees perceptions regarding the meaning of work. Reduction in the psychological attachment towards the organisation is an example of such a change. This is especially true for Millennials who tend to be job hoppers and who see 'employee "careerism" as a mode to build their careers' (Rani & Samuel, 2019, p. 259). A construct that has been associated with increasing employees' emotional attachment towards their organisation is psychological ownership. Psychological ownership is defined as a state where an individual feels as though the object of ownership or a piece of that object belongs to them. This definition best describes an individual's feeling of 'this is MINE!' (Pierce, Kostova, & Dirks, 2001, p. 301), which is a feeling that the individual experiences when he or she feels (or feel to a certain extent) that a target (e.g. an organisation) is theirs. Psychological ownership is a cognitive-affective construct based on individuals' feelings of possessiveness towards and their psychological attachment to objects that are material or immaterial (Pierce et al., 2001). Psychological ownership has been associated with: (1) increased organisational commitment, (2) greater individual accountability, (3) increased extra-role credibility, (4) reduced turnover, (5) increased job satisfaction, (6) improved performance, (7) improved well-being, (8) increased organisational-based self-esteem and more engaged employees (Avey, Avolio, Crossley, & Luthans, 2009; Chai, Song, & You, 2020; Chen et al., 2020; Olckers, Du Plessis, & Casaleggio, 2019).

The literature indicates that generational cohorts diverge in terms of numerous behavioural characteristics and how they attach to work (Bosco & Harvey, 2013; Durocher et al., 2016; Wood, 2019). For example, it was found that Millenials seem to have a much lower level of commitment towards their organisations and display higher turnover intentions compared with Gen X and the Boomers. They also had the highest number of job changes amongst all generations (Lyons, Schweitzer, & Ng, 2015; Rani & Samuel, 2019). All of these generational behavioural characteristics could be influenced by psychological ownership (Pierce et al., 2001). Evidence of the importance of psychological ownership as a predictor of workplace motives, attitudes and behaviours has been provided in a large body of literature over the past decade (e.g. Chai et al., 2020; Chen et al., 2020; Jussila, Tarkiainen, Saestedt, & Hair, 2015; Olckers et al., 2019).

Based on this discussion, when considering the retention of people in an organisation, it is essential to focus on the psychological attachment factors relating to every generational cohort. Olckers and Du Plessis (2012) suggested that the creation of a sense of ownership amongst employees may potentially increase their intention to remain in the organisation. This was echoed by Jafri (2015), who discovered that ownership could affect employee behaviours, mostly because of its effect on employees' intentions to remain at the organisation. Although several researchers have found differences amongst generations when measuring work-related attitudes and behaviour (job satisfaction, commitment and intention to quit) (Lyons et al., 2015; Rani & Samuel, 2019; Twenge, Campbell, Hoffman, & Lance, 2010), so far the literature has not accounted for how generational cohorts perceive psychological ownership. It is evident from the literature that generation cohorts require different means to activate them at work. Therefore, interventions need to be tailored and strategies need to be implemented to address the cohort's various needs aiming at engaging and retaining them (Sarraf, Abzari, Ali Isfahani, & Fathi, 2017). Given psychological ownership's positive organisational implications and its positive consequences for talent management (Avey et al., 2009; Olckers & Du Plessis, 2012), interventions can be tailored to enhance psychological ownership across the generation cohorts. These interventions can only be tailored if psychological ownership can be accurately measured across generations. When planning to compare observations across generational cohorts, it is essential to ensure that the scale that is being used is measuring the same trait (psychological ownership) across these cohorts. Measurement invariance should thus be examined. According to Chen (2007), conclusions drawn from a study may be biased or invalid if the measures that researchers rely on do not have the same meanings across different groups.

The literature on psychological ownership and generational cohorts is limited. This study is one of the first to provide empirical evidence of generational differences in respect of psychological ownership. Also, this study is the first to evaluate the measurement equivalence of a psychological ownership inventory across generational cohorts. Van der Walt et al. (2016) emphasised the need to conduct generational cohort studies, especially in developing countries such as South Africa. Generational cohorts in South Africa have experienced, been influenced by and perceived historical events in different ways. The majority of generational research studies have been conducted in developed Western countries, which raises concern regarding the generalisability of their findings to developing countries such as South Africa (Heyns & Kerr, 2018).

Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the measurement equivalence of a psychological ownership inventory across three generations to determine whether these generations responded to the content of relevant items in a similar manner.


Literature review

Psychological ownership

Van Dyne and Pierce (2004) observed that psychological ownership is a person's possessive feeling towards an organisation that affects that organisational member's attitude and behaviour. As mentioned earlier, psychological ownership refers to the feeling an individual experiences that a target, or a piece of that target, is theirs (i.e. 'this is MINE') (Pierce et al., 2001, p. 299). The basis of psychological ownership is the individual's sense of possession of an object (Jussila et al., 2015). Psychological ownership is cognitive and affective, because it indicates an individual's awareness, thoughts and beliefs concerning the possessed target and the personal meaning and emotion attached to it (Pierce et al., 2001). Psychological ownership can be directed to numerous objects (or targets) such as an organisation, a job or a work project, causing the target(s) to turn into an extension of the self and become closely associated with the individual's identity (Pierce, Kostova, & Dirks, 2003).

The literature on psychological ownership identifies the sense of individual possession as rooted in three human needs: (1) efficacy and effectance - the individual feels efficacious and in control of the target or object, (2) self-identity - the target becomes part of the individual's self-identity when they establish perceived ownership, (3) belongingness (having a place to 'dwell') - attachment to a target makes an individual feel 'at home' (Pierce et al., 2001, 2003). These needs can be seen as the motivational factors that serve to set individuals on their path towards psychological ownership (Jussila et al., 2015).

Generations and psychological ownership

Individuals require psychological ownership resulting from innate motives relating to efficacy and effectance, self-identity and belongingness (having a place to dwell). Several factors influencing psychological ownership include the strength of the motives, personality, a strong sense of self and personal values (Pierce et al., 2003). The strength of motives is an indication of the likelihood that a feeling of psychological ownership will develop. Scholars have suggested that Boomers, Gen X and Millennials all have strong motives relating to their organisations because they have certain expectations about the development of their careers (Srinivasan, 2012).

Personality is another factor that can influence the development of psychological ownership. Personality traits determine the way individuals pursue an ownership relationship with objects. Boomers, for example, will develop a feeling of psychological ownership when they are personally involved in their organisation and when they learn new skills in a creative way (Gursoy, Chi, & Karadag, 2013). Gen X prefers to have control and power over an object rather than a close relationship with it because they are more committed to their careers than to their organisation. Millennials regard technological factors and a well-established lifestyle as important (Durocher et al., 2016). It can thus be assumed that Millennials will develop a sense of psychological ownership if the organisation can satisfy their technological and lifestyle requirements.

The third factor influencing psychological ownership is a strong sense of self (i.e. high self-esteem). Pierce et al. (2003) suggested that individuals with a strong need to achieve self-actualisation may pursue intrinsic targets. In contrast, individuals with a weaker self-concept are more prone to pursue materialistic targets. Boomers and Millennials value status and they desire extrinsic rewards for their loyalty and commitment towards their organisation, whereas Gen X enjoy intrinsic rewards that are less tangible (Cogin, 2012). Therefore, Gen X can be described as a group of individuals with a high self-concept, resulting in a higher tendency to develop a sense of psychological ownership.

The influence of the last factor, which is personal values, varies depending on the cohort involved. Boomers' personal values are of immense importance to them because they believe that their values form part of their core identity and that personal values and work ethics must be aligned (Wong, Gardiner, Lang, & Coulon, 2008). Millennials were born at a time when deviation was allowed in personal values, resulting in a perception that personal values do not have to match work ethics or affect the route to success (Van der Walt et al., 2016). Lu and Gursoy (2016) observed that Gen X tend to leave the organisation when they are not satisfied. Similarly, Millennials tend to leave organisations to find a fun environment with various personal growth opportunities (Calk & Patrick, 2017). However, Boomers tend to remain at one organisation as they value loyalty towards the organisation (Cogin, 2012; Rani & Samuel, 2019). Personal values make particular objects more-or-less esteemed. From a self-concept perspective, individuals may strive to increase their feelings of self-worth by psychologically possessing items that are the most significant to them. Individuals are likely to feel ownership over those objects (such as their organisation in the case of Boomers) that are considered to be the most important according to their values (Pierce et al., 2003).

Psychological ownership is also influenced by the idea of the 'place for psychological ownership' (Jussila et al., 2015). This entails that some individuals might experience objects more closely than others, especially if these objects have more emotional value for these individuals. Thus, targets to which individuals, in general, attach more meaning are more likely to become targets of psychological ownership. Research conducted by Calk and Patrick (2017) is of relevance here. They established that Millennials need to see the meaning and added value of their contributions to the work before they take on full responsibility. Thus, when Millennials identify meaning in their work, the piece of work is likely to become a target of ownership.

Although personal characteristics could have an influence on the development of psychological ownership, psychological ownership per se has an influence on personal attitudes and behaviours (Pierce & Jussila, 2010). For example, if an employee perceives that a change concerning a target (for which the employee feels ownership) is self-initiated, evolutionary and additive, the employee will be positively oriented towards that change. The converse is also noticeable: employees will have a negative orientation towards change when they perceive it as imposed upon them or threatening, revolutionary and subtractive (Jussila et al., 2015). In a study conducted by Gursoy, Maier and Chi (2008), it was identified that Boomers tend to resist change and react negatively towards imposed change. Durocher et al. (2016) noticed that Gen X and Millennials, on the other hand, expect and demand change within their organisation. Management and change specialists need to take this generational difference into account when they consider changes in an organisation. As Boomers might experience changes negatively, it will result in a loss of psychological ownership and work-related outcomes being negatively affected.

As explained earlier, psychological ownership is a cognitive phenomenon reflecting an individual's beliefs about what is 'mine'. Nonetheless, Pierce and Jussila (2010) observed that 'mine' could also be 'ours'. Millennials tend to be team-oriented and focused on 'collective action' (Calk & Patrick, 2017; Weeks et al., 2019). Thus, one can conclude that increasing Millennials' teamwork can increase the psychological ownership not only of an individual but also of the individuals within a group, and this increase can simultaneously extend to include other individuals or groups (Weeks et al., 2019; Wong et al., 2008).

Organisations can thus benefit from managing psychological ownership because the possession of psychological ownership can motivate employees to perform at high levels and even inspire them to engage in extra-role behaviours and also organisational citizenship behaviours (Man & Farquharson, 2015; Olckers & Du Plessis, 2012). Knowing how generational cohorts differ in their work values and being able to identify how psychological ownership can improve these values might result in better work-related outcomes such as commitment, job satisfaction and the intention to stay with the organisation. As observed by Olckers and Du Plessis (2012), the intangible psychological phenomenon is vital and frequently ignored by human resource practitioners and managers who generally retain talent by employing tangible means.

To make meaningful inferences and comparisons about psychological ownership across the generational cohorts, it is essential to make sure that the psychological ownership scale measures the same trait across all three generational cohorts. Through the use of measurement equivalence, valid and meaningful comparisons can be made between generational cohorts' psychological ownership. Moreover, valid and meaningful interpretations and analyses of these differences will be possible.

Measurement equivalence

Measurement equivalence, which indicates that the same construct is measured, is important when studying differences or changes amongst groups (Yuan & Chan, 2016). Measurement equivalence entails that the measurements in different groups are comparable and have the same meanings across different groups (Chen, Sousa, & West, 2005). Multigroup confirmatory factor analysis (MGCFA) is one of the statistical techniques that could be used for establishing measurement equivalence and involves a sequence of progressively stricter statistical tests that build on each other. 'Only when one form of equivalence has been satisfied can the subsequent test be performed' (Budruk, 2010, p. 29). Firstly, configural invariance should be established. Configural invariance is supported if the data across the different generation cohorts fits a specified model (Yuan & Chan, 2016). Once configural invariance is established, metric invariance can be tested. Metric invariance testing examines whether factor loadings across groups are equal. If metric invariance is established, it will mean that the different generational cohorts respond to the scale items in the same way. Finally, if metric invariance is satisfied, scalar invariance could be tested. Scalar invariance implies that scores from the different groups have the same factor loading and origin (intercept) (Chen et al., 2005). Only after configural, metric and scalar invariance is established can one directly evaluate generational differences concerning psychological ownership.

In this study, structural equation modelling (SEM) was used for employing a MGCFA approach, to determine how psychological ownership was measured within the sample. Secondly, measurement invariance was employed to assess whether psychological ownership was measured or experienced similarly or differently across the three generational cohorts. The study tested for the three levels of measurement invariance, namely configural invariance (similar factor structures), metric invariance (similar factor loadings) and scalar invariance (similar intercepts).


Research methodology

Research approach

The study adopted a quantitative approach with a cross-sectional design. According to Spector (2019), there is a renewed interest in cross-sectional studies because they provide insightful information at a single point in time.

Research participants

The non-probability, purposive convenience sample comprised 945 skilled individuals employed in various public and private organisations in Gauteng, South Africa. The reason for choosing employed individuals was that psychological ownership towards an organisation can only develop in individuals who are employed (Pierce et al., 2001, 2003; Van Dyne & Pierce, 2004). The participants were grouped into one of the three-generational cohorts based on their year of birth: Boomers (n = 282), Gen X (n = 486) and Millennials (n = 177) (Becton et al., 2014; Smeak, 2020). The representation of numbers in this study was as expected because Millennials were starting to enter the workforce. In contrast, Boomers were retiring, leaving Gen X as the dominant generational cohort in current workforce demographics.

Table 1 presents the demographic profile for the sample across the three generational cohorts.



As indicated in Table 1, the black ethnic group was the dominant group in all the generations. Females tended to be the dominant gender in both the Gen X and Millennial groups. Most of the respondents in the sample had post-graduate degrees and occupied positions at different operational levels in various industries in South Africa. Boomers made up the dominant group at senior management level (53.84%) whereas Gen X made up the dominant group at middle management level (84%). This was expected as these generational cohorts had been part of the workforce for longer than the Millennials, they tended to have more experience and occupied senior positions in organisations.

Research procedure

The data collection process consisted of two methods for distribution purposes. The questionnaire was electronically distributed to participants via email using a Qualtrics platform, and a hard copy of the questionnaire was made available to participants who were not able to complete the questionnaire electronically. Each anonymous questionnaire included a cover letter inviting the participants to participate voluntarily in the study and highlighting their rights and responsibilities. Participants were assured that their responses would remain confidential and would be used for research purposes only. Permission to conduct the research was obtained from the research institution's research ethics committee.

Measurement instruments

Olckers (2013) developed the South African Psychological Ownership Questionnaire (SAPOS) for use by South African organisations to measure employees' psychological ownership. Olckers (2013) confirmed the validity of a 35-item four-factor model of the SAPOS comprising the following four dimensions, namely identity, responsibility, autonomy and territoriality. Identity refers to the personal cognitive connection between an individual and a target and reflects the individual's perception of oneness with the target. Responsibility refers to the investment of time, effort and care on the target of ownership in order to maintain, enhance and protect the target. Autonomy refers to the extent to which employees could exercise control over their day-to-day activities, other employees and their personal space. Territoriality refers to a negative behavioural expression of an individual's feelings of ownership towards physical or social objects. Although the SAPOS originally included territoriality as a prevention-oriented dimension, it was excluded in several other studies. The reason for this being the suggestion of several researchers that territoriality should be positioned as a behavioural outcome of psychological ownership rather than as a dimension of psychological ownership (Brown, Crossley, & Robinson, 2014; Brown, Lawrence, & Robinson, 2005; Pierce & Jussila, 2010). Several studies (Aggenbag, 2015; Brits, 2016) have, however, confirmed a three-factor structure of the SAPOS comprising identity, autonomy and responsibility (Olckers & Van Zyl, 2017). Brits (2016) refined the SAPOS and confirmed a shortened SAPOS scale with internal reliability of 0.79 for the overall scale. This shortened version of the SAPOS was used in this study. Each item in the SAPOS was measured by using a six-point rating scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree. An example item of each of the dimensions is as follows: I have considerable opportunity for independence and freedom in how I do my work (Autonomy); I feel a strong linkage between my organisation and me (Identity) and I accept ownership for the results of my decisions and actions (Responsibility). A biographical instrument was also administrated determining the age, sex, qualification and operational level of the employees in their organisation.

Data analyses

Model fit was determined by using SEM, employing an MGCFA approach. MPlus version 8.2 (Muthén & Muthén, 2019) was used to process the data. Firstly, descriptive statistics (means, standard deviations, skewness and kurtosis) were employed to determine the distribution of the data and consistency in measurement. The internal consistency of the measuring instrument at both the lower (Cronbach's alpha) and upper (composite reliability) level limits were reported. Composite reliability coefficients (ρ > 0.80) were calculated as it is deemed more appropriate for latent variables (Raykov, 2009). The minimum acceptable criterion for Cronbach's alpha was set at α = 0.70, although values of α > 0.80 are preferable (Pallant, 2007). The guidelines suggested by Hair, Black, Babin and Andersen (2014) was followed to test for convergent and discriminant validity. Convergent validity is present when (1) the standardised factor loadings of the items is 0.50, preferably 0.70, (2) the average variance extracted (AVE) is 0.50 and (3) construct validity (CR) is 0.70. Discriminant validity was determined by the heterotrait monotrait (HTMT) ratio of correlation as was suggested by Henseler, Ringle and Sarstedt (2015). Values close to 1.00 indicate a lack of discriminant validity. The HTMT criterion should be compared with a predefined threshold. There is a lack of discriminant validity if the value of the HTMT criterion is higher that the suggested threshold of 0.85 or 0.90 (Henseler et al., 2015).

Secondly, an MGCFA approach with a comparative fit modelling strategy was employed. The maximal likelihood (ML) estimation method was used to estimate fit for all the models. Maximal likelihood was used because the outcome measures were continuous and the data were normally distributed (skewness < 2 and kurtosis < 7; Ryu, 2011). The first phase of the analyses aimed to establish a baseline model for the entire sample by employing a traditional confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) approach. Given the shared variance reported in previous studies, an oblique rotation was employed (Browne, 2001). The second phase of the analyses aimed to systematically compare the model fit for each generational cohort against the baseline model. The following cut-off criteria as suggested by Kline (2016) were employed to assess model fit: the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) 0.08, standardised root means square residual (SRMR) 0.10, Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) and the comparative fit index (CFI) 0.90 for good fit.

Finally, we used measurement invariance to assess whether psychological ownership was measured or experienced similarly or differently across three generations (Boomers, Gen X and Millennials). Measurement invariance was assessed by applying increasingly restrictive equality constraints on the three groups through: (1) configural invariance (similar factor structures), (2) metric invariance (similar factor loadings) and (3) scalar invariance (similar intercepts). Metric and scalar invariance are established when the change in model fit between the configural and the metric invariance models and metric and scalar invariance models are equal or smaller than the following tolerable changes if the sample is greater than 300 (N > 300): CFI (Δ < 0.01), RMSEA (Δ < 0.015) SRMR (Δ < 0.03) for configural versus metric and SRMR (Δ < 0.01) for metric versus scalar (Cieciuch & Davidov, 2015). The least restrictive configural model was used as the baseline model for comparing the increasingly constrained metric and scalar models.

Ethical considerations

Secondary data were used in this study. Data were collected by Olckers as part of her PhD studies. Ethical approval was granted by the University of Pretoria to collect data. Ethical approval was granted to Booysen to use the data as secondary data in her Master's studies.



The results of the descriptive statistics, measurement model, factor intercorrelations and measurement invariance across the generation cohorts are reported separately. The results are presented in tables, followed by a brief interpretation of each.

Descriptive statistics

Table 2 provides an overview of the descriptive statistics (means, standard deviations, skewness and kurtosis) and Cronbach's alpha and composite reliability levels amongst the latent variables across the three different generational cohorts. The results indicated that the data for the constructs were normally distributed (skewness < 2 and kurtosis < 7 [Ryu, 2011]). Furthermore, all constructs across all three generational cohorts were measured as reliable and both Cronbach's alpha (α 0.70) and composite reliability (ρ > 0.80) scores were found to be higher than the suggested cut-offs. The SAPOS displayed convergent validity because all factor loadings across the generations were significant and above 0.50 (see Table 4), the AVE values of each construct was above 0.50 and all CR values where > 0.80 (see Table 2). Although the AVE values of responsibility for the Gen X group (AVE = 0.47) and autonomy for the Millennial group (AVE = 0.49) were slightly lower than the suggested cut-off (AVE 0.05), the composite reliabilities were higher than 0.80 and therefore, according to Fornell and Larcker (1981) the convergent validity of the construct is still adequate. Discriminant validity was supported because results of the HTMT showed values below the suggested thresholds of 0.85 and 0.90. The HTMT results ranged from 0.16 to 0.69 across the generations.

Measurement model

An MGCFA approach was employed to establish factorial validity across the three generational cohorts. A second-order three-factor model (with psychological ownership as second-order factor and responsibility, autonomy and identity as first-order factors) SAPOS model was assessed within the overall data set for each individual generational cohort (Boomers, Gen X and Millennials). No items were omitted from the analysis across groups, and the observations (measured items) were treated as indicators for the different latent variables within each measurement model. In order to ensure parsimony and model identification, as well as to enhance model fit, error terms on items 1 and 6 (identity) were allowed to correlate because they were very similar in wording (Wang & Wang, 2012). Table 3 indicates that this originally hypothesised second-order three-factor CFA model for promotive psychological ownership met the criteria for acceptable model fit suggested by Kline (2016) across the baseline (parent) model (χ2 = 485.73; df = 115; CFI = 0.95; TLI = 0.94; RMSEA = 0.05; SRMR = 0.03), the Boomers model (χ2 = 266.9; df = 115; TLI = 0.94; CFI = 0.93; RMSEA = 0.07; SRMR = 0.05), the Gen X model (χ2 = 336.92; df = 115; TLI = 0.94; CFI = 0.93; RMSEA = 0.06; SRMR = 0.04) and the Millennials model (χ2 = 211.31; df = 115; TLI = 0.93; CFI = 0.93; RMSEA = 0.07; SRMR = 0.06).

Table 4 shows the results for the standardised factor loadings, the associative standard error and the item uniqueness of this CFA model. All items loaded statistically significantly (p < 0.01) and sufficiently on the respective latent factors (> 0.50; Wang & Wang, 2012) across the baseline model and the three generational cohorts' models (ranging from λ = 0.58 to 0.86).

Table 5 provides an overview of the standardised latent variable path coefficients for the CFA model and of the explained variance in respect of each generational cohort. The results showed that identity, responsibility and autonomy significantly contributed to psychological ownership across all generational cohorts. The standardised beta coefficients ranged from 0.45 to 0.93. The variance declared by identity in respect of the baseline model was 79% (p < 0.01), whereas it ranged from 58% to 86% (p < 0.01) between the three generational cohorts. Similarly, the variance declared by responsibility in respect of the baseline model was 31% (p < 0.01) but ranged from 20% to 31% (p < 0.01) in respect of the three different generational cohorts. Furthermore, autonomy declared 63% (p < 0.01) of the total variance in psychological ownership, but it ranged from 61% to 70% (p < 0.01) across the groups.



Factor intercorrelations

The CFA model produced statistically significant factor intercorrelations across all generational cohorts (baseline: Mr = 0.55; Boomers: Mr = 0.55; Gen X: Mr = 0.55; Millennials: Mr = 0.45). These results are displayed in Table 6.



Measurement invariance across generational cohorts

Measurement invariance was assessed across the three generational cohorts, namely between the Boomers (n = 282), Gen X (n = 486) and Millennials (n = 177) models. The first model to be tested was the configural model (M1). Goodness-of-fit results indicated in Table 7 showed adequate fit of the model (χ2 = 864.36, df = 348, CFI = 0.93, TLI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.07, SRMR = 0.05) to the data, and thus the presence of configural invariance. This means that the same number of factors (identity, responsibility and autonomy) and factor loading pattern is the same across the three generational cohorts. The factor structure across the generational groups is similar, although not identical.

To test for metric invariance (factorial invariance), all factor loadings were constrained to be equal across the three generation groups. The chi-square difference test between the configural (M1) versus metric model (M2) was significant (Δχ2 [Δdf = 28] = 93.45, p < 0.001). Chi-square is, however, affected by large sample size (Byrne & Van de Vijver, 2010). Given the fact that the chi-square difference test was based on a large sample size (N = 945) and the change in CFI (Δ < 0.01) and RMSEA (Δ < 0.015) was smaller than the suggested cut-off (Cieciuch & Davidov, 2015; Platania, Morando, & Santisi, 2020), the assumption could thus be made that there was no appreciable difference between the three generational cohorts regarding the factor loadings of the measured variables. In addition, although the change in SRMR (Δ SRMR = 0.04), was larger than the suggested 0.03 cut-off criteria as were suggested by Cieciuch and Davidov (2015), these authors, however, suggested that CFI should be used as the main criteria because both RMSEA and SRMR are more likely to be affected by sample size and model complexity. This result indicates that the factor loadings of the measured variables were invariant across the three generation groups.

To test for scalar (intercept) invariance, all intercepts were constrained to be equal across the three generation groups, in addition to the factor loadings of the latent variables. Although the chi-square difference test between the scalar invariance model (M3) and the metric model (M2) was significant (Δχ2 [Δdf = 28] = 73.29, p < 0.001), the large sample size should be taken into consideration. The change in CFI (0.92 vs. 0.93) was equal to the suggested 0.01 criteria (Δ CFI = 0.01). Also, the change in RMSEA (Δ RMSEA = 0.00) was smaller than the suggested 0.015 cut-off criteria. The change in SRMR (Δ SRMR = 0.04), however, was larger than the suggested 0.03 cut-off criteria (Cieciuch & Davidov, 2015; Platania et al., 2020) and as indicated previously, could have been affected by sample size and model complexity. These results indicated that both the factor loadings and item intercepts of the measured variables were invariant across the three generation groups. The factor means could thus be compared across the groups.

The factor means across the three generation groups were compared using one-way analysis of variance. There were significant differences across groups: F = 2.84, df = 6, p = 0.009, ηp2 = 0.009. Significant differences were found between Gen X and the Boomers. Statistically significant differences were established between levels of psychological ownership and specifically with regard to identity and autonomy. Results indicated that the Boomers (4.96, s.d. = 0.61) experienced higher levels of psychological ownership compared with Gen X (4.76, s.d. = 0.69). Boomers' levels of identity (4.77, s.d. = 0.84) and autonomy (4.77, s.d. = 0.82) were also significantly higher compared with Gen X's levels of identity (4.50, s.d. = 0.96) and autonomy (4.55, s.d. = 0.99).



The purpose of this study was to investigate the measurement equivalence of the SAPOS across three generational cohorts (Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials) in order to make meaningful inferences and comparisons about psychological ownership across the generational cohorts. The results showed that the original three-dimensional factor structure of the SAPOS proposed by Olckers (2013) and Brits (2016) met all the criteria for an acceptable model fit. In respect of this model, items loaded statistically significantly on all three subscales (identity, responsibility and autonomy) across the generational cohorts. Configural, metric and scalar invariance were established. The three generational cohorts were compared and certain conclusions were made regarding their perceptions of psychological ownership.

Looking at the factor structure of the SAPOS, results indicated that Olckers' (2013) original second-order three-factor model (with psychological ownership as second-order factor and responsibility, autonomy and identity as first-order factors) showed acceptable fit. This factor structure was also confirmed by Brits (2016) in her study. When inspecting the fit indices of the baseline model (overall group) and the three generational cohorts' models, little differentiation was detected (after correlating error terms on items one and six, which were both from the first-order latent variable of identity). In correlating errors between items, we aimed to achieve the optimal fit for the proposed model of Olckers (2013) across the different generations. According to Wang and Wang (2012), correlating errors between items is suitable when items are very similar in wording, which was the case in this study. In respect of the three generational cohorts in the South African organisational context, there is thus a clear distinction between the three different yet complementary components of psychological ownership, namely identity, responsibility and autonomy. No significant cross-loadings were found, meaning that from the view of the different generations, there is a clear distinction between the factors and the items. Across the baseline model and the three generational cohorts' models, the items loaded significantly on the constructs they were developed to measure. This means that the items measured the constructs they were meant to assess. The intercorrelations between the CFA factors across the different groups showed differentiation between the factors.

Measurement invariance was assessed to examine whether the three generational cohorts perceive psychological ownership, as measured by the SAPOS, in the same way. A hierarchical series of models were tested to establish measurement invariance. Firstly, the most basic level of measurement invariance was tested, namely configural invariance. Configural invariance was established between the three generational cohorts. This means that the same item was an indicator of the same latent factor (identity, responsibility and autonomy) in each group (Boomers, Gen X and Millenials), although the factor loadings differed across the groups.

Secondly, metric (factor loading) invariance was assessed. Metric invariance determines the strength of the linear relationship between each factor and its associated item or the observed variable. If metric invariance is achieved, it means that the observed indicator variables (items) measure the same constructs/factors in different groups. In the configural invariance model, no equality constraints were imposed on the values of the hypothesised factor loadings across the three generational cohorts, whereas the metric invariance model constrains the factor loadings to be equal in each group (Chen et al., 2005). The chi-square difference test is often used to compare the fit between the two models. The chi-square test should be non-significant. A significant chi-square is an indication of poor fit. A significant chi-square indicates a significant difference between groups suggesting that the metric invariance model is too strict and fails the test of measurement invariance across the groups. However, chi-square statistics are influenced by non-normality and large sample sizes, 'rendering it an impractical and unrealistic criterion on which to base evidence of invariance' (Byrne, & Stewart, 2006. p. 305). According to Byrne and Stewart (2006) and Cieciuch and Davidov (2015), evidence of invariance should instead be based on the following criteria: (1) acceptable fit of the multigroup model to the data and (2) a CFI difference value of 0.005 or 0.01. In addition, Cieciuch and Davidov (2015) proposed that for larger sample sizes (N > 300) a difference value of < 0.015 for RMSEA and an SRMR difference value < 0.03 be considered as well. In this study, the chi-square value between the configural and metric model was significant. This significant chi-square value could have been affected by the large sample size of the study (N = 945). Following the criteria suggested by Byrne and Stewart (2006) and Cieciuch and Davidov (2015), there is evidence of metric invariance in this study because (1) the multigroup model showed acceptable fit (χ2 = 957.81, df = 376, CFI = 0.93, TLI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.07, SRMR = 0.09) and (2) the difference in the CFI (ΔCFI = 0.00) value was 0.01. Other fit indices as suggested by Chen (2007) were also compared. The change in RMSEA (Δ RMSEA = 0.00) was smaller than the suggested 0.015 cut-off criteria, although the change in SRMR (Δ SRMR = 0.04) was larger than the suggested 0.03 cut-off criteria. Metric invariance implies that the same factors are measured by the same items for the Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials. It is, however, still uncertain whether the items of the SAPOS have the same origin (intercept) across the three generational cohorts, and therefore scalar invariance should be tested.

The scalar invariance model also shows adequate fit (χ2 = 1031.09, df = 404, CFI = 0.92, TLI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.07, SRMR = 0.09). The change in CFA (ΔCFI = 0.01) and RMSEA (Δ RMSEA = 0.00) were equal or smaller than the suggested cut-off. The change in SRMR was greater than the suggested cut-off criteria 0.01 (for metric vs. scalar). Scalar invariance was established meaning that psychological ownership as measured by the SAPOS is measured in the same way across the three generation groups. Respondents from all three generation cohorts thus interpret the items of the SAPOS in the same way.

Although the chi-square difference tests displayed in Table 7 showed that constraining the factor loadings and the intercepts to be equal across the three generational cohorts resulted in significant increases of the χ2 value, model fit remained very similar in terms of the other fit indices. The differences obtained from the various models were, although statistically significant, relatively small. From the results displayed in Table 4, it seems that the differences in the factor loadings across the three generation groups do not present systematic and meaning variation. The change in SRMR in both the metric and scalar invariance models did not meet the suggested cut-off criteria. According to Cieciuch and Davidov (2015), amongst the three indexes, CFI should rather be used as the main criteria because both RMSEA and SRMR are more likely to be affected by sample size and model complexity.

In summary, the second-order model of the psychological ownership as measured by the SAPOS comprising identity, responsibility and autonomy fit the Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials adequately. The test of measurement invariance indicated that the factor loadings and intercepts were invariant across the generational cohorts and that meaningful comparisons could be made.

Given the adequate level of measurement invariance, the difference between the group means was tested. Results indicated that Boomers displayed significantly higher levels of psychological ownership than Gen X. They specifically also displayed higher levels of identity and autonomy in comparison to Gen X. The possible reasons for Boomer's higher levels of psychological ownership and specifically with regard to identity and autonomy are explained in the discussion to follow.

Boomers have been described as loyal and driven workaholics (Smeak, 2020). They tend to remain at one organisation as they value loyalty towards the organisation (Cogin, 2012; Gursoy et al., 2008). Boomers are more committed to their organisation compared with the other generations (Rani & Samuel, 2019). It takes time for the development of psychological ownership, especially towards an organisation (Pierce & Jussila, 2010). A more prolonged association with an object will most probably lead to knowing the target better and developing a sense of ownership towards it. Boomers might experience a higher level of psychological ownership because they tend to remain in an organisation longer compared with the other generations, permitting the development of psychological ownership. Psychological ownership has also been associated with job search behaviour (Pierce & Jussila, 2010), which implies that people with a sense of possession (i.e. psychological ownership) are likely to maintain their working relationship with their organisation.

Boomers find their identity in their work because they are competitive workaholics who 'live to work' (Smeak, 2020; Van der Walt et al., 2016). Compared with Gen X and Millennials, Boomers need meaningful, purposeful and challenging work and they continuously look for self-improvement opportunities (Hernaus & Vokic, 2014; Wong et al., 2008). Moreover, Baby Boomers value job security and a secure working environment and they tend to identify strongly with their organisation (Smola & Sutton, 2002). Gen X identifies less with their organisation as they place little emphasis on their job and its value. Gen X tends to view their organisation as a smaller part of their identity (Wong et al., 2008) compared with the Boomers, as was confirmed by this study. Gen X is not interested in 'investing in targets' because they do not establish a strong linkage with their organisation, resulting in their being unwilling to create, shape or produce within the organisation (Jussila et al., 2015). Their independence and lack of loyalty towards their organisation compared with the Boomers (Lub, Bal, Blomme, & Schalk, 2016) might reduce the importance they attach to their organisation as part of their identity.

Numerous researchers have reported that Gen X value independence and autonomy (Hernaus & Vokic, 2014; Lu & Gursoy, 2016; Lub et al., 2016). The results of this study indicated that Gen X did value autonomy, but their score was significantly lower than that of the Boomers. Gen X, on the one hand, valued informal work environments and flexible working hours, and they are not as intensely involved with their jobs as were Boomers. They prefer to be independent and have complete autonomy whilst enjoying an informal and unstructured work environment (Van der Walt et al., 2016). Boomers, on the other hand, do not want the freedom to schedule their own work; however, they want to determine how they do their work because they view themselves as experienced and want recognition for their experience (Schullery, 2013). Hernaus and Vokic (2014) found that Boomers display higher levels of work autonomy than Gen X and Millennials, as was confirmed by this study.


Limitations and suggestions for future research

The sample for this study was not evenly distributed in respect of the different generational cohorts (Boomers [n = 282], Gen X [n = 486] and Millennials [n = 177]). Moreover, perhaps a more stratified probability sample technique could have been followed where each of the generational cohorts samples were selected in proportion to their size in the population. This would have increased the generalisability of the results.

Similar to other generational studies, a fundamental limitation of this study was the use of cross-sectional data, which does not enable the determination of the causality of effects; although Spector (2019) indicated that there is merit in cross-sectional studies. It is recommended that trends should be explored over time by employing longitudinal research or using time-lag methods. This would allow for comparing participants of the same age at different points in time and for determining if any differences could be ascribed to generational differences rather than to age differences (Twenge et al., 2010). Furthermore, the current research was based on self-evaluations and therefore, might have been biased.

Another limitation of the study was that the age categorisations for generations that are used across the globe (and also in the literature) might be too simplistic. Account should be taken of the statement by Burke et al. (2015) that generational attributes might be affected by socio-political events that create and shape generational cohorts. Therefore, more research is necessary to establish whether there is justification for the broad cut-off points for generations' ages and whether these generational age groups are indeed applicable in the South African context.

Greiff and Sherer (2018), however, warned against the use of 'golden cut-off rules' for the various fit indices and emphasise the fact that these cut-offs should not be generalised to all contexts. They suggest that researchers should statistically identify the items that function differently across groups by employing differential item functioning to supplement the findings obtained from multigroup CFA. The use of differential item functioning was beyond the scope of this study and could perhaps be explored in future research.

Practical implications

The results of the study indicated that the second-order SAPOS factor structure operates equivalently across the three generational cohorts. Psychological ownership is thus measured similarly across the three generation groups. This has significant practical implications for organisations (Man & Farquharson, 2015; Olckers & Du Plessis, 2012). Knowing how generational cohorts differ in their work values and being able to identify how psychological ownership can improve these values might result in better work-related outcomes such as commitment, job satisfaction and the intention to stay with the organisation (Avey et al., 2009; Olckers & Du Plessis, 2012). Also, knowing how the generational cohorts differ can assist organisations in the development of targeted interventions to develop, nurture and enhance psychological across generations. For example, Gen X should be allowed the freedom to work autonomously (Lu & Gursoy, 2016; Lub et al., 2016). An informal work environment and freedom to personalise their workspace will most probably enhance GenX's level of psychological ownership towards the organisation. This generation also prefers not to be supervised (Twenge et al., 2010). Millennials will develop a sense of psychological ownership if the organisation can satisfy their technological and lifestyle requirements. Boomers and Millennials value status and extrinsic rewards for their loyalty and attachment towards their organisation (Cogin, 2012); therefore, to enhance their level of psychological ownership, they should be provided with continuous, constructive feedback and be rewarded for their performance. Millennials need to see the meaning and added value of their contributions to the work before they take on full responsibility (Calk & Patrick, 2017). Therefore, to enhance their psychological ownership, Millenials should be informed in detail of what is expected of them. The provision of clear expectations will assist Millennials in finding meaning in their work. Therefore, their work will most likely become a target of ownership.



Measurement invariance (on configural, metric and scalar level) was established across three generational cohorts, Boomers, Gen X and Millennials indicating that these generations interpret the items of the SAPOS in the same way. Although several studies have made assertions about differences amongst generational cohorts, the issue of using equivalent measures has not been addressed. This study provides empirical evidence to confirm that the three generational cohorts used in this study perceive psychological ownership similarly, and therefore, comparisons can be made between the groups.



Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

C.O. and C.B. contributed equally to the design and implementation of the research, to the analysis of the results and to the writing of the manuscript.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

The authors confirm that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Chantal Olckers

Received: 13 Oct. 2020
Accepted: 08 Mar. 2021
Published: 13 May 2021

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Doing gender well: Women's perceptions on gender equality and career progression in the South African security industry



Shandré K. Jansen van Rensburg

Department of Criminology and Security Science, College of Law, University of South Africa, Tshwane, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Although significant progress has been made globally in gender equality, women still occupy less political influence, fewer leadership positions and yield less control over their careers than most men. Gender inequality is evident in male-dominated work environments such as the security industry
RESEARCH PURPOSE: This study reflects on women's perceptions on gender equality and career progression in the South African security industry
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: In post-democracy South Africa, women are categorised as previously disadvantaged, therefore a priority group in terms of advancement. However, it is still unclear, from the narratives of the women themselves, how their career progression is encumbered in the milieu of the security industry
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: Through qualitative one-on-one semi-structured interviews, 15 women, working in the security industry, shared their experiences concerning gender equality and career progression. Data were analysed thematically, guided by the context of the gendered security profession
MAIN FINDINGS: The findings reveal that women experience slower career progression than men in terms of rejection and work allocation. Moreover, negative perceptions of female leadership among colleagues was a factor hindering career progression
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: This study argues by doing gender well, equality in the security workplace can be obtained. Furthermore, the study encourages South African security managers to recognise how aspects such as rejection, work allocation and a negative perception of female leadership may encumber the career progression of female security professionals
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: The study contributes to scientific knowledge and discourse regarding women's perceptions on gender equality and career progression

Keywords: gender; gender equality; career progression; security industry; rejection; work allocation; female leadership.




Women empowerment is integral for sustaining economies and ultimately improving the quality of life for men and women, their families, communities and society at large (Ackermann & Velelo, 2013; UN Women, 2017). As is evident in South African statistics, women are increasingly entering the workplace, constituting 43.8% of the labour force (Statistics South Africa, 2018), and are, thus, contributing significantly towards the economy. This incline is attributed to a variety of reasons. Barker (2007) suggested the primary reasons to be the declining birth rate, the decrease of women being dependent on employed men (for reasons such as death of partners, unemployment of men, divorce or single parenthood), as well as an increasing number of formally educated women. In addition, the increase in remuneration and access to jobs, because of the decrease in gender discrimination, are contributing factors to the proliferation of women in the labour force. As gender is viewed in a binary way, the female is treated as 'other' and not as equal (Acker, 1990). In South Africa, statistics substantiate this by revealing that the workforce is benign to men, and that men are more likely to be in paid employment when compared with women. As explained by the expanded definition of unemployment, females account for 7.5% points higher than males (Statistics South Africa, 2018). In 2019, the rates of unemployment were estimated to be 31.3% and 27.2% amongst women and men, respectively (Statistics South Africa, 2019). Furthermore, the data reveal that gender equality is still below the halfway mark for women occupying the influential positions. Moreover, only 32% of women occupy a managerial position in South Africa. Men monopolise every occupation, including the security industry, besides domestic work or clerical occupations (Statistics South Africa, 2018).

In post-democracy South Africa, women are regarded as a previously marginalised group and have been placed as a priority on the government's mandate (Ackermann & Velelo, 2013). This mandate was substantiated through the Employment Equity Act, No. 55 of 1998, which advocates against discrimination and promotes equality (Republic of South Africa). Ideally, men and women should be equal contributors to the labour force, especially in positions of influence and power. Gender inequality in the workplace is an incessant topic under investigation (Ainsworth, 2019; Billing & Alvesson, 2000; Booysen & Nkomo, 2020; Head, 2018; Mcdonald, 2013; Memon & Jena, 2017; Nentwich & Kelan, 2014; Phipps, 2002; Wilén & Heinecken, 2018). Nevertheless, gender inequality continues to prevail particularly in the security industry of South Africa. Moreover, the female narrative on gender equality and career progression needs to be explored as a contribution to bridging this gap.

Industries specialised in security services tend to be largely male dominated. This trend is substantiated by local (Govender, 2012; Kole, 2015; Louw-Vaudran, 2015) and international (Eichler, 2013; Goldfine, 2014; Hinton & Friedman, 2016) research findings. This male-dominated work environment has implications on the career advancement of the women working there. In current news, issues of gender, particularly in favour of women, have been pushed to the forefront (Corcuera, 2017; Frye, 2018). However, this study argues for gender equality in the workplace as opposed to female superiority. The study contends that there is space in the security industry for both men and women if the gendering of professions is recognised and performed well. Gender differences should be recognised and celebrated. The contextual background sets the tone for the premise of the gendered discourse within the South African security industry.


Literature review

Contextual background

Although strides have been made globally in the gender equality movement, women still have less political influence, maintain fewer leadership positions and yield less control over their own future careers when compared with most men (Roseberry & Roos, 2014). These variables are rooted in remuneration inequality. In 2016, data obtained from a census revealed that women earned 80.5 cents for every $1 earned by men. These figures remained unchanged in 2017 (Institute for Women's Policy Research, 2018; Picchi, 2018). Consequently, women are losing more than $10 000 annually because of the pay gap, contributing to increased levels of poverty and decreased retirement security (Picchi, 2018). In South Africa, women earn 28% less than their male counterpart. Furthermore, South African part-time female employees (as compared with men) are ranked the second worst of countries surveyed for wage inequality (Head, 2018). The South African gender pay gap reveals that men earn up to 17% more than women. Subsequently, a woman would need to work two additional months in a year to earn a man's equivalent annual salary (Bosch, 2015).

The question arises: why does this remuneration gap exist? Because of gender stereotypes, boys and girls are encouraged to pursue different occupations. Men and women possess inherent neurobiological and genetic differences. These differences are further reinforced by socialisation in that most women are nurturing and empathetic, while men are aggressive and competitive. Consequently, men are socialised to outperform women in the workplace (Butler, 2014; Picchi, 2018; Roseberry & Roos, 2014). Thus, many women are less likely to aspire for higher paying positions, resulting in lower earnings across their lifespan. A research study indicates that women are paid less than men as soon as they enter the workforce (Picchi, 2018). In this way, women are trapped into earning less over time, as remuneration is often negotiated based on previous earnings. Moreover, women lag behind men concerning remuneration and career progression because of child-bearing and child-rearing responsibilities (Walsh, 2012). Organisations seem to prefer employees who sustain interminable careers (Roseberry & Roos, 2014). Accordingly, women's earnings decrease for each child they have, while conversely, men's earnings are increased when they have children (Picchi, 2018).

Considering the above, why are issues surrounding gender equality not persistently and strategically advocated for. In recent media coverage, especially on social media, gender inequality has been catalysed to the forefront on an international level through movements, such as '#MeToo' and '#femaleisthefuture'. The former movement seeks to expose sexual abuse and harassment among women, regardless of when it was committed (Frye, 2018). The latter encourages women empowerment and the expansion of female influence (Corcuera, 2017). As commendable as these movements are, this study contends that they may promote female dominance, and thus, create a reverse model of gender imbalance. The #femaleisthefuture movement endorses the demise of men, and encourages female rule and reign over men. In this way, men are alienated and, in turn, young men can be socialised into believing that they are less than and inadequate. Moreover, this movement elucidates a bleak and hopeless future for the male child (Bian, Leslie, & Cimpian, 2017). Subsequently, campaigning that women are better than men may be regarded as an overly regressive approach to gender equality. This regressive approach fuels the notion that neither men nor women have a real choice in gender equality. Equal opportunity only becomes effective when everyone (regardless of gender) is equally encouraged to seize those opportunities (Sandberg, 2013).

The gendering of the security profession

'Doing gender' is a term extensively used when theorising gender in organisational studies. By 'doing gender', gender can now be perceived as a social practice - something that is said and performed (Acker, 1990; Britton, 2000; Davies, 1996; Kelan, 2008; McDonald, 2013; Nentwich & Kelan, 2014; Phipps, 2002). West and Zimmerman (1987) put forth in their seminal body of work that gender is created in structures and does not merely exist in a vacuum. Furthermore, they maintain that gender is pertinent in every social situation. Nentwich and Kelan (2014) developed a topology to analyse 'doing gender' in empirical studies. The following themes emerged from their findings.


Gendered structures are rooted in jobs where gender identity is created and maintained. Often, the gender of the job influences the way people do their jobs. Moreover, the requirement of the gendered job is to perform duties that are stereotypical of a certain gender. The security industry is still gendered as a masculine profession (Erickson, Albanese, Drakulic, 2000, Govender, 2012; Kole, 2015) and it continues to be reinforced by traditional aspects of masculine security (Chisholm, 2017). Furthermore, there is a persistent underlying belief system that safety, security and protection is a 'man's job'.


Hierarchies in terms of 'doing gender' can lead to inequality in the workplace as masculine qualities are valued and praised, while feminine qualities are perceived as inferior and unprofessional. Particularly in a male-dominated environment, femininity is at risk of being disregarded and undervalued. Within the international milieu, the most powerful organisational positions are occupied by men, as the top of the hierarchy (Acker, 1990). Out of 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are governed by women, as they hold less than 30% of seats in parliament globally (Sandberg, 2013). This picture is not much different within the security industry. Although cybersecurity is fast-developing as society is dependent on technology as a security mechanism, female professionals in the field make up less than 15%. It was found that even though women held higher qualifications, they still earned less than men and often experience discrimination in their workplaces (Gregory & Wyatt-Swanson, 2018).


Individuals tend to find a deep sense of their identity in their gender. Thus, they carry out their occupations within these gendered norms. Moreover, their identities are constructed through emphasising or deemphasising specific facets of the job. As the security industry is male gendered, men are free to act out their masculine identities, while women work hard to minimise their feminine aspects and embrace any masculine traits they may possess.

Flexibility and context specificity

Despite the above-mentioned themes, gender is still recognised in terms of flexibility and context. Individuals perform gender differently across time and environment. Thus, when exploring gendered professions, aspects such as specific profession, context and environment, need to be reviewed in its fluidity. The study contextualises gender in the South African security context as a male-dominated industry, thus having implications on the women who work in it.

Relevant and subverted gender

Research on gender should explore gender when it is made relevant and explore situations where gender is undermined. Hence, gender should be explored when it is done and undone. Gender is both done and undone in the security industry, however by recognising these subverted themes, gender can be done well.

Key definitions pertinent to understanding shared meaning are outlined below.

An overview of concepts relevant to the gendering of professions

1. Gender: The differences between men and women are based on physical, social and cultural attributes (Lloyd-Jones, Bass, & Jean-Marie, 2014). It indicates two or more subdivisions, which are distinct from each other, such as masculine or feminine (Oakley, 2016). Gender is a central way of determining power in relationships (Acker, 1990).

2. Gender discrimination: The unfair treatment or creation of an intimidating environment in the workplace stems from gender-based belief systems (Lloyd-Jones et al., 2014). This leads to unequal conduct towards men and women, which involves deficiency of a fair return for effort made (Cotter, 2017).

3. Gender equality: It is a social structure, in which women and men will share equal opportunities and challenges regarding their role in the economic and domestic milieu (Lloyd-Jones et al., 2014).

4. Gender gap: This means differences produced in the outcomes that men and women attain in the workplace. These differences constitute the following: the ratio of men and women in the workplace, the occupations they choose and their remuneration packages (Goldin, 2019).

5. Security industry: The term 'security' denotes the notion of being free from harm, risk and danger. This definition is further extended, in that it entails the measures taken to guard against any form of espionage, sabotage, crime, attacks or escape (Byres & Cusimano, 2010). For the purpose of this study, the security industry is referred to as any working environment where the primary function is to promote and offer safety and security services.

Goal of the study

This study sought to explore and describe women's perceptions on gender equality and career progression in the South African security industry. It endeavoured to answer the following research question: what are the perceptions of women concerning gender equality and career progression within the security industry?

Methodological framework

Research paradigm

A paradigm is the way in which an individual perceives the world. It is described as a model sustained by continuous assumptions used for collecting and interpreting information (De Vos & Strydom, 2011). This study is routed in objectivism. Objectivity seeks to understand social situations as they really are. Although this paradigm is often used in quantitative studies, qualitative researchers acknowledge that the reality of participants can be revealed objectively (Fouché & Schurink, 2011).

Research approach

This study adopted a qualitative methodology when exploring women's perceptions on advancing in the security industry. Glaser and Strauss (2017) ascertained that the qualitative process encourages the research participants to share the meaning and understanding they have attributed to their personal experiences. Reality is perceived and experienced in its complex, multifaceted, subjective and ever-changing nature (Creswell, 2007). Thus, the way each participant experiences their context is unique.

Research strategy

A phenomenological methodology was used in this study. Phenomenology is invested in the meanings of the lived experiences as perceived by the research participants. It is dependent on the research participants because it unpacks the phenomenon as perceived through their experiences. Subsequently, the findings are interconnected to the current research (Delport, Fouché, & Schurink, 2011).

Research procedure

A non-probability and purposive sampling method was used to select participants to take part in the research study. The participants were purposively targeted based on their experiences as women working in the security industry. Creswell (ed. 2009) substantiated that small samples are useful when exploring lived experiences.

The sample consisted of 15 female participants, with ages ranging from 24 years to 79 years (see Table 1). The interviews were recorded, with the consent of the participants, and transcribed by the author. Within the South African context, it is important to document race, as it has historical and cultural implications for the individual.1 The sample varied with regard to race, marital status and dependents. Just over half of the participants (six) stated that they were married, while five identified themselves as not married. Three participants reported that they were divorced, and one is a widow. Most of the participants (11) revealed that they have children, while only four listed that they have no dependents. Moreover, their occupations varied within the security industry. For the purposes of this study, it is important to note participants' level of seniority within their work environment, ranging from the entry to executive level.

Data collection

The study used in-depth interviews to collect data. This entails the execution of rigorous and intensive interviews with a small number of participants in order to extract their experiences and perceptions on the topic at hand (Boyce & Neale, 2006). Furthermore, a semi-structured one-on-one interview schedule was used in order to guide the interview process (Greeff, 2011). One-on-one interviews with 15 participants were set up based on their willingness and availability to take part in the study. The interviews were conducted in English and took 20-90 min to complete. The study is limited by its small sample size; however, qualitative research emphasises quality over quantity.

Data analysis

The raw data were analysed by thematic analysis delineated by Braun and Clarke (2006). Data were familiarised by reading and re-reading the transcriptions of the interviews. Preliminary codes were identified and documented. Themes and sub-themes within the data were extracted, and then these themes and sub-themes were refined into categories. Thereafter, the themes were given clear labels and definitions, and the final report was prepared in the form of a research article.

Ethical considerations

The study received ethical approval from the College of Law Research Ethics Review Committee, University of South Africa (UNISA), reference number: P2/2017. This approval covered aspects such as informed consent, voluntary participation, avoidance of harm and confidentiality (Davies & Francis, 2011; Ruane, 2016). The participants consented to their involvement in the study and were assured of data confidentiality using pseudonyms. In order to endorse the validity and reliability of the data, no incentives were provided for participation in the study. Credibility and authenticity were enhanced by describing and identifying the participants' lived experiences accurately. Dependability was fostered by documenting the research in a rational, peer-reviewed manner. Moreover, conformability and transferability were fostered by engaging in a rigorous process of literature review to contextualise the raw data (Schurink, Fouché, & De Vos, 2011).


Findings and discussion

The following themes are derived from the empirical data: rejection, work allocation and the negative perception of female leadership.


The research study suggests that rejection is one of the most harmful stressors in modern life. Rejection is a social threat that may undermine an individual's social worth, esteem and status (Ronen & Baldwin, 2010). Men are inherently more accustomed to rejection than women are, resulting in greater resilience against it. This is pertinent to both social and professional environments (Devillard, Hunt, & Yee, 2018). Furthermore, Devillard et al. (2018) maintained that men are often assessed on their potential, while women are evaluated based on their accomplishments. Women receive less praise for their successes, when compared with men, and more reproach for failure. Rejection sensitivity refers to the belief system adopted by people from stigmatised backgrounds, specifically women, who perceive rejection as probable and costly. As a result, they prioritise guarding themselves against possible rejection (London, Downey, Romero-Canyas, Rattan, & Tyson, 2012). Rejection in the work environment is manifested in many ways. The following are some of the verbatim responses concerning rejection experienced by the participants of this study:

'I look at my male counterparts and they often exaggerate. They [men] will boast about things and I think to myself, "Is that really a big deal?" This is how they [men] are climbing the ladder. They [men] shout the little things which I think are part of my job. I see it in interviews as well. I look back on the men we hired a few years ago. The ones who were modest and quiet are my top achievers today. The ones with the big mouths ... [sighs] those are the little nuances that make us [women] different to men. We [women] tend to downplay our achievements while they [men] take a trumpet and tell it to the world. This makes them [men] appear to be better than women, which is not always the case. Men are naturals at selling themselves. It doesn't even take them a lot of effort to do so. Most men don't struggle with rejection. You reject me - no problem, I will go next door. That is why we [women] are not climbing the ladder fast enough because when I am being shot down, it's personal, even when it wasn't meant to be personal, whereas with a man, its water off a duck's back. So, you didn't like me, so what, I'm going to pitch this to someone who is going to like me. Whereas as with women, when we pitch something and get shot down, we become more wary and will not easily go and pitch it to the next person'. (Nandi, 50-year-old woman, senior-level employee)

Nandi highlights that in her work environment, women underplay their achievements, while men magnify their achievements. Budworth and Mann (2010), Butler (2014) and Devillard et al. (2018) supported this sentiment, as the research study suggests that women tend to be less assertive in the workplace and understate their value and contributions. Subverted gender roles are adopted as the female gender is undermined (Nentwich & Kelan, 2014). Moreover, men do not take rejection personally and will easily look for recognition and acceptance somewhere else, whereas women harp on these negative experiences:

'My supervisor asked me why I have never applied for a senior post. I answered him honestly to say, "I don't think you will give me a post." When advertisements are made, names are already heard about who will get that specific post'. (Chipo, 45-year-old woman, entry-level employee)

'Men have always been taken seriously in the boardroom and anywhere else. For example, a woman may have a solution on how to deal with a certain challenge; however, it will not be listened to. Later, a man who suggests the same solution to this challenge is then praised and given a pat on the back'. (Didi, 44-year-old woman, senior-level employee)

'Currently, there are more women with diplomas than there are males, but they don't get higher positions. The work environment doesn't allow us [women] to question such things. Now, when there is a position, we [women] don't even apply because we know they [management] have already earmarked a specific person for the position. They will even let the person they want for the position, know that it is theirs. They will phone the person and say, "apply, don't worry about the interview questions, I will give it to you." These things make you know where you stand. It doesn't matter how hard you work. It's a boys' club. They even drink and socialise together. When men graduate with their diplomas, they don't wait long until they get promoted, even though we have very intelligent women. An interview is made up of different panelists. Once the interviews are over, information leaks. You will find that your answers will be mocked among colleagues. It is very demotivating ... if you think about these things for too long, it will make that you won't even want to get out of bed in the morning. It's hard to challenge the system because you are just a drop in the ocean'. (Gonste, 43-year-old woman, entry-level employee)

The above verbatim experience illustrates how rejection or perceived rejection can be dangerously demotivating to the career progression of women working in the security industry.

Statistically, women make up more than 40% of the worldwide workforce, of which only 24% occupy senior positions (Catalyst, 2018). Within the work setting, the research study indicates that women are not as determined as men to pursue leadership roles, promotion, job transfers or high-profile assignments (Brands & Fernandez-Mateo, 2017). In a study conducted on 10 000 senior executives in the United Kingdom, the findings revealed that women, when compared with men, were significantly less likely to apply for a job if they have been previously rejected for a similar position. Moreover, the findings argue that this difference is noteworthy because rejection is a common practice in the workplace. Thus, this difference can have negative consequences for women, subsequently contributing to the gender gap. Additionally, the study found that women placed a significant value on the fairness of the recruitment and selection process, as they linked this to their own sense of recognition and belonging (Brands & Fernandez-Mateo, 2017).

Work allocation

Societal values emphasise the importance of promotions in the workplace (De Pater, Van Vianen, & Bechtoldt, 2010). However, the incongruity between men and women becomes evident, in that women tend to experience a slower career progression than men do (De Pater et al., 2010). Notably, many variables influence an individual's career success; yet, the literature proposes that work allocation is a significant factor contributing to career progression (De Pater et al., 2010). Women are often discriminated against men in safety and security environments; however, discrimination is particularly emphasised in combat and active roles. Resistance stems from perceptions that women cannot keep up with the physical requirements, women are more peaceful than men, and thus, are not suited for military and/or the presence of women affects the solidity of troops (Wilén & Heinecken, 2018). Through these inherent structures, the perception that men are the only gender deemed fit to provide safety and security is maintained (Nentwich & Kelan, 2014). The following experience of Eleanor echoes the current literature concerning women and the military:

'Although gender equality is actively discussed and implemented in this area, many women are mostly employed as support personnel and not in the battle arena. There are visibly fewer women than men in combat roles. Women are also excluded from unique and highly scarce roles. Restrictions are set on women based on what they [management] think women can handle'. (Eleanor, 32-year-old woman, senior-level employee)

Historically, women were discriminated against men both lawfully and socially. In ancient times, women were defined as 'mutilated males'. Furthermore, men were seen as being psychologically and biologically superior to women (Roseberry & Roos, 2014). Although no longer legalised or socially acceptable, women are often still perceived as the 'weaker' sex in industries specialising in safety and security. Society portrays men as protectors for vulnerable people, such as women and children. Thus, it may be difficult to instil the same trust in women who seek to occupy a similar role. Subsequently, women working in safety and security industries are given administrative, menial and organisational tasks despite their qualifications or position. This affects their opportunities for advancement, promotion and overall job satisfaction. Ashley and Bahira share a common sentiment practised in the security industry. Despite relevant qualifications or a clear job description, women are delegated to menial and administrative tasks (Michelman, 2017):

'On my level, men expect women to do the admin type of work. I've noticed if minutes need to be taken, a woman needs to take it. If procurement jobs need to be done - it's a woman. They [men] will put you in a position where you [women] do admin jobs rather than leading a project. They [men] still have that mentality that women are not equal to men. There are more men than women on the same level, but the women are always given admin work, whereas males are capable of doing it but are not given the jobs. This has happened to me personally in terms of taking minutes, doing all the administration and the organisation of a project. I think they [men] think that women organise better, so all the little jobs go to women - arranging catering and getting venues are women-tasked jobs. The problem is, if you get stuck with tasks such as organising conferences and administrative work, it takes a lot of time out of your schedule. It doesn't allow you to focus as much on the tasks you need to do to improve yourself and advance in your career. You would get rewarded more for doing tasks that grow your career as compared to administrative tasks'. (Ashley, 32-year-old woman, entry-level employee)

'The challenge is that the men in our [security] industry view us [women] as being subordinates ... because of that, every menial task is dished out to us [women]. Men don't have that challenge. The way tasks are delegated in staff meetings is ridiculous. Our line manager is a male, and he assigns tasks in a biased way. He tends to give the administrative tasks to women. Even though it affects me a lot, I think nothing will be done about it, so it's just a big waste of time and energy'. (Bahira, 31-year-old woman, entry-level employee)

Ingrid and Hiya shed light on how there is a limited scope for women to progress in the security industry. Ingrid highlights that in her company, no training is provided for women, whereas Hiya notes that no technical training is given to women:

'I don't really think women can progress to top management. There are not a lot of people who can come in and replace them so that they [women] can move up. Management doesn't seem to see much scope for women. There's no training for women. You come in, you do your job and that's it'. (Ingrid, 79-year-old woman, junior-level employee)

'We [women] are given opportunities, but it isn't seen as important to give women technical training. In that way, we [women] could have a holistic view of how the company runs'. (Hiya, 24-year-old woman, junior-level employee)

This study argues that the less scope women are given concerning responsibility and training, the more difficult it would be for them to advance in their careers.

Negative perception of female leadership

Leadership denotes the influential abilities of an individual to stimulate and empower others to contribute towards the efficiency and success of an organisation (Van Emmerik, Wendt, & Euwema, 2010). Leadership is often associated with masculine qualities, such as assertiveness, emotional detachment, superiority, task-centeredness, autonomy and independence (Billing & Alvesson, 2000). As individuals carry out their roles within their gendered norms, feminine traits are minimised and undervalued (Nentwich & Kelan, 2014). Subsequently, as detailed below, qualities that do not fit in this mould can be undermined, especially when not presented in a masculine structure:

'Initially, it was difficult for my male colleagues. What does a woman know about crime? Most of the criminals are males so what does a woman know about the way a man thinks? I needed to prove that I knew what I was doing. When a man says something, it is easily accepted because they have the knowledge and expertise'. (Margaret, 57-year-old woman, senior-level employee)

'My institution still has a lot of men who are very protective of their territories. It is what it is. When you look at the executive team - I can only think of one woman. It is still very much male-dominated. What helps the number is that most managers are women, but when you look at the top, it is mostly males. Sometimes you will see a woman excelling and climbing the corporate ladder. You will expect her to get a promotion, but then suddenly a male is appointed. We [women] don't do golf, so clearly we don't have conversations in the right places. Men tend to question you more as a woman. This happens in the security industry a lot because it is male-dominated. When I took over my current role, the man who had it previously, still works with us. Our work is intertwined. We work well together. In some meetings, if I say something, the staff will look to him to rubber stamp it. Initially, I used to be offended. Then I thought it actually has nothing to do with me. I can't change their perception of me. Hopefully, if he keeps on rubberstamping me long enough, they will believe me. Look at these boys' clubs. We [women] don't have girls' clubs. I will use the example of golf. I don't play golf maybe that's why I am not climbing the ladder fast enough. The number of deals that are happening on the golf course ... I am old school which is worse. I don't even drink alcohol. If I go to a function, I get bored very quickly because there are only so many cokes I drink before I leave. Whereas the men will go and sit at a bar until 2 in the morning and of course there is no child waiting for them. They function in environments where it's easy for them to share, give each other tips and help each other out. Those are the things we [women] need'. (Nandi, 50-year-old woman, senior-level employee)

The research study suggests that women face more barriers in attaining leadership positions when compared with men (Van Emmerik et al., 2010). Women may need to prove themselves in their working environments, thus creating an added pressure. Feminine leadership does not fit into the perception of what a leader should be, according to the hierarchies the workplace subscribes to (Nentwich & Kelan, 2014). Nandi points out that women make up most of the low- and middle-management roles, thus appearing to meet equity quota. However, men still occupy top-level management structures. Furthermore, Nandi alludes to the conducive work environment men have created for themselves. An ethos of exclusion is sustained through the absence of female voices and the presence of male patterns of networking (Toni & Moodly, 2019). Men make it easy for men to succeed in terms of mutual encouragement, operational guidance and practical assistance. In her working environment, Nandi mentions the absence of such conductivity for women. Counterproductively, the research study indicates that once women achieve success, they notice gender discrimination less, particularly in gender-bias work environments (Vinnicomber, Doldor, Sealy, Pryce, & Turner, 2015).

Additionally, women are perceived as caring and nurturing; consequently, carrying the biggest load when it comes to caregiving within the family. Caregiving is often extended beyond children, and can include parents and frail family members (Lloyd-Jones et al., 2014). This is true within the African principle spirit of Ubuntu [kindness and assistance to others], whereby women extend themselves to nurture and care for those close to them. Acker (1990) ascertained that in a gendered industry, the ideal worker has minimal to no caregiving responsibilities as a spouse or another caregiver takes care of these responsibilities. This traditional belief system is encumbrance to women's career trajectories in male-dominated work environments. This is evident in the way Nandi perceives women's roles in an African context. Furthermore, Olwethu raises the challenges in managing men, as women in leadership positions are viewed as inferior and likened to their own interpersonal relationships:

'I had encounters where male subordinates would not take instructions as required due to my gender. I manage and monitor security companies, which are male-dominated. There was no cooperation due to my gender. I will receive statements such as "I won't listen to a woman"; or "A woman can't tell me what to do"; or "I have left my wife at home, so no woman can tell me what to do"'. (Olwethu, 41-year-old woman, executive-level employee)

The above extract highlights the innate patriarchal belief systems often found in the African culture (Jaga, Arabandi, Bagraim, & Mdlongwa, 2017). The research study reveals that women may feel obliged to adopt an androgynous professional style to appease male management and both male and female subordinates (Herbst, 2020). The lines between work and personal life seem to be blurred as Olwethu's subordinates struggle to submit to her leadership. This is common in the South African context as the workplace promotes black female excellence, and therefore, sidelines black men (Booysen & Nkomo, 2010: Bosch, De Bruin, Kgaladi, & De Bruin, 2012). Naturally, this can cause cataclysm in gender relationships.



Women empowerment is vital for fuelling economies and improving the quality of life. Although issues surrounding women empowerment should be continuously advocated for, caution should be exercised to avoid creating a reverse model of gender imbalance by striving for women to be in a superior position. Women working in the security industry encounter more challenges in their career advancement compared with men. These challenges should be recognised and strategically dealt with. This study has found that challenges, such as rejection, work allocation and the negative perception of female leadership, remain prevalent in the South African security industry. South African security professionals occupying influential positions should acknowledge the negative consequences of these findings on gender equality and career progression for female employees, and should work towards overcoming them. This can be performed through awareness campaigns amongst both genders strategically targeting these challenges.



The author would like to thank those who participated in the study.

Competing interests

The author declares that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Author's contributions

S.K.J.v.R. is the sole author of this research article.

Funding information

The research work was funded by the College of Law (UNISA) by providing the author time to conduct this research study during her research and development leave.

Data availability

Raw data are stored electronically on a password-protected laptop.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the author.



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Shandré Jansen van Rensburg

Received: 15 June 2020
Accepted: 05 Mar. 2021
Published: 17 May 2021



1. Racial categories are still significant in South Africa because of the apartheid classification system. 'White' refers to people with pale skin and European decent. 'Coloured' is not a derogatory term but rather a race group categorised by people with a mixed heritage (black and white). 'Black' refers to people with an African descent and who have darker skin, while 'Indians' are Asian people whose ancestry lineage can be traced back to India (Seekings, 2008, p. 3).

^rND^sAcker^nJ.^rND^sAckermann^nL.^rND^sVelelo^nN.^rND^sBian^nL.^rND^sLeslie^nS.^rND^sCimpian^nA.^rND^sBilling^nY.D.^rND^sAlvesson^nM.^rND^sBooysen^nL.A.^rND^sNkomo^nS.M.^rND^sBosch^nA.^rND^sDe Bruin^nG.P.^rND^sKgaladi^nB.^rND^sDe Bruin^nK.^rND^sBraun^nV.^rND^sClarke^nV.^rND^sBritton^nD.M.^rND^sBudworth^nM.^rND^sMann^nS.L.^rND^sButler^nR.^rND^sChisholm^nA.^rND^sDavies^nC.^rND^sDavies^nP.^rND^sFrancis^nP.^rND^sDelport^nC.S.L.^rND^sFouché^nC.B.^rND^sSchurink^nW.^rND^sDe Pater^nI.E.^rND^sVan Vianen^nA.E.M.^rND^sBechtoldt^nM.N.^rND^sDe Vos^nA.S.^rND^sStrydom^nH.^rND^sEichler^nM.^rND^sErickson^nB.H.^rND^sAlbanese^nP.^rND^sDrakulic^nS.^rND^sFouché^nC.B.^rND^sSchurink^nW.^rND^sGreeff^nM.^rND^sHerbst^nH.H.^rND^sJaga^nA.^rND^sArabandi^nB.^rND^sBagraim^nJ.^rND^sMdlongwa^nS.^rND^sKelan^nE.K.^rND^sLloyd-Jones^nB.^rND^sBass^nL.^rND^sJean-Marie^nG.^rND^sLondon^nB.^rND^sDowney^nG.^rND^sRomero-Canyas^nR.^rND^sRattan^nA.^rND^sTyson^nD.^rND^sMcdonald^nJ.^rND^sMemon^nN.Z.^rND^sJena^nL.K.^rND^sMichelman^nB.^rND^sNentwich^nJ.C.^rND^sKelan^nE.K.^rND^sPhipps^nA.^rND^sRonen^nS.^rND^sBaldwin^nM.W.^rND^sSchurink^nW.^rND^sFouché^nC.B.^rND^sDe Vos^nA.S.^rND^sSeekings^nJ.^rND^sToni^nN.M.^rND^sMoodly^nA.L.^rND^sVan Emmerik^nH.^rND^sWendt^nH.^rND^sEuwema^nM.C.^rND^sWalsh^nJ.^rND^sWest^nC.^rND^sZimmerman^nD.^rND^sWilén^nN.^rND^sHeinecken^nL.^rND^1A01^nFrans^sCilliers^rND^1A02^nSanchen^sHenning^rND^1A01^nFrans^sCilliers^rND^1A02^nSanchen^sHenning^rND^1A01^nFrans^sCilliers^rND^1A02^nSanchen^sHenning



A systems psychodynamic description of clinical psychologists' role transition towards becoming organisational development consultants



Frans CilliersI; Sanchen HenningII

IDepartment of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
IIGraduate School of Leadership, University of South Africa, Midrand, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Clinical psychologists' transition from practising in a clinical context to a large organisation implies an intensely experienced professional identity shift
RESEARCH PURPOSE: To provide a systems psychodynamic description of the lived experiences of a group of clinical psychologists' role transition towards becoming organisational development (OD) consultants
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Although the role of clinical psychologists in organisations is theoretically explicated, limited research exists on their role transition experiences. Their lack of theoretical knowledge about and experience in organisational psychology make them vulnerable for exclusion and isolation
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: A hermeneutic phenomenological research design using a collective case study, consisting of eight clinical psychologists, was used. The data gathering methods included a Listening Post and socio-analytic interviews. Systems psychodynamic data analysis was performed
MAIN FINDINGS: The manifesting themes related to experiences of diverse and intense anxiety, defensive structures, role, task, boundary and authorisation conflicts as well as solitary pilgrimages. Participants experienced an attack on their personal and professional identities, a sense of being overwhelmed, excluded and isolated from their colleagues and peers
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The findings will facilitate clinical psychologists' transition into OD roles and organisations' awareness of their identity challenges
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: Although employing clinical psychologists in OD roles is practised in many large organisations, the findings suggest that their transition into this role is underestimated in terms of emotional intensity

Keywords: clinical psychologists; role transition; OD consultant; systems psychodynamics; qualitative; hermeneutic phenomenology.




Organisational development (OD) is an established function in organisations tasked to optimise organisational functioning and relationship building. Organisational development is mostly populated by staff members with academic qualifications, experience and competence in human resources and organisational psychology (OP). Large organisations also often employ clinical psychologists (CPs) in OD consultant roles.

The Professional Board for Psychology as a division of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) ( recently reviewed its scope of practise. The review included the discontent over CPs crossing the boundary into industrial psychology, whilst industrial psychologists (IPs) are not allowed to cross over into clinical work. Although this matter may be seen as contextual in this research, the focus is on the lived experiences of CPs during their transition into the world of OP.

The HPCSA category of industrial psychology (academically known as industrial and organisational psychology [IOP]) is defined as the science and practise of professionals functioning in organisational and occupational settings. Their task is to ethically explain, assess and influence human behaviour, its reciprocity at individual, group and organisational levels, aiming to direct human flourishing and the sustainable development of all affected stakeholders ( As a subdivision of IOP, OP studies individual assessment and interventions to change problematic behaviour towards optimal individual, group and organisational functioning (Berg & Geldenhuys, 2013). In addition, the dynamics towards the promotion of employee wellness and productivity, as well as organisational behaviour in terms of structure, design, culture, change, job satisfaction and leadership development are within the scope of practise of IOP (Schreuder & Coetzee, 2010).

Within OP, OD functions as a scientific behavioural discipline, a field of practise and consultation, concerned with long-range multifaceted change programmes, processes and interventions, primarily of a planned and sustainable nature. Its purpose is to enhance the adaptive and self-renewing capabilities of organisational systems in response to, or in anticipation of shifts in the needs and demands of clients, as reflected by diagnostic data. The data are generated mainly through the application of behavioural science knowledge and technology and interpreted through collaborative and collective sense making and learning processes (Brown, 2014; Viljoen, 2015). Organisational development is based on respect, trust, support and participation as values and acts as a container for the planning, design and implementation of organisational change strategies. Various methodologies are used (e.g. action research) to bring about technical, structural, behavioural and social change in organisations (Robbins & Judge, 2009). Most OD consultants work systemically on the individual level (e.g. executive coaching), group level (e.g. team coaching) and organisational level (change management, transformation) in active participation with a variety of internal and/or external stakeholders (Lowman, 2016).

The HPCSA category of clinical psychology is defined as a specialist category within professional psychology. The task is to provide continuing and comprehensive mental and behavioural healthcare to individuals and groups across the lifespan. This includes the assessment, diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of psychological and mental health disorders ranging from mild to severe and complex. Psychological assessment, diagnosis and formulation are based on biological, social and psychological factors. Clinical psychologists deliver a range of high-intensity psychological interventions with demonstrated effectiveness in treating mental health disorders and psychological distress associated with medical conditions (

Although organisational consulting psychology (OCP) is not a recognised HPCSA registration category, it has become a field of study and practise of integration of the knowledge and organisational applications from various psychological disciplines including organisational, clinical and social psychology (Berg & Geldenhuys, 2013; Lowman, 2016). Organisational consulting psychology is defined as the application of psychological knowledge to organisational behaviour, advising individuals, groups and organisations as a whole to work more effectively in creating conditions of high satisfaction, motivation and effective relationship building (Levinson, 2009; Lowman, 2016).


Literature review

The role of the clinical psychologist in organisations

Although OD was recognised in large international organisations since the 1970s, it did not yet function from a systematic body of professional knowledge. During this time, Levinson (1972) published his seminal work on the extrapolation of clinical diagnostic methods from the individual to the organisation. He integrated individual and group (collective) psychology, applying personality, motivational, leadership, small group and open system theories, as well as a range of therapeutic interventions. He then encouraged CPs to join OD divisions in the role of organisational diagnosticians, consulting to the conscious clarification of employees' feelings and perceived problems as well as the understanding of unconscious behavioural processes. This included defences such as resistance and transference towards consultants. Levinson's (1972) work laid the foundation of a scientific OD consultancy in a five-step procedure, namely (1) a study of the history of the systems, (2) a study of the present system (organisational structure, physical facilities, people, finances, practices, procedures, policies, values, technology and context), (3) interpretation of the consultant's observations (interviews, psychometric data, management of information, personality characteristics of dominant role players and style of the organisational personality), (4) the above summarised in an interpretive diagnosis and a working hypothesis about what may be manifesting in the system and (5) a feedback report to the system to establish a basis for action in the format of intervention methods to test the hypothesis or revise the hypothesis and its methods towards solving the problem.

Consulting to organisational culture from a clinical descriptive approach consisting of systemic observation (similar to the socio-technical approach developed at the Tavistock Institute) was also suggested by Schein (1990, 2013). Later, Levinson (2002, 2008) suggested that organisational consultants should preferably use a broad organisational assessment stance. This focus is on systemically studying individuals, executive selection, career development, coaching and leadership, informed by psychoanalytic and organisational theory, dynamics of personality development, emotions, motivation, irrational and unconscious feelings, thoughts and behaviour.

In some countries, CPs in OD roles are referred to as consultant CPs (Miller, 2018) which require a doctorate in psychology and experience in clinical, counselling, industrial-organisational and consulting psychology. This role combines clinical practise with organisational consultancy work, providing assessments, evaluations and advice. No such training exists in South Africa. In South African universities, the CP curriculum contains no reference to OP or OD. Thus, CP training does not prepare the psychologist to work with organisational systemic dynamics, integrating human relationships (people matters) with business strategy (the task) (Viljoen, 2015). The closest to such training is the PhD in consulting psychology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) which includes a general and integrative view on organisational consulting.

Although the present OD literature (Brown, 2014; Viljoen, 2015) does not differentiate between roles for clinical and other psychologists, Schein (1999, 2016) differentiated between directive versus non-directive OD approaches. A directive approach refers to a task focus such as proposing guidelines, persuasion and directing problem solving, performed by the OD consultant in an expert and informing role. A non-directive approach refers to process facilitation and consultation focussing on observation and raising questions for reflection about problem solving. Non-directionality is different in its complexity, requiring knowledge and competence in various psychologies (including clinical). It focusses on the building of client relationships characterised by a personal connection, openness, authenticity, curiosity and humility (Schein, 2016). This role implies using the self as an instrument (Cardona, 2020).

Systems psychodynamic role transitioning

The OD role is discussed in standard OD textbooks mostly from a positivist, rational, mechanistic and psychometric stance (Kilburg, 2012). However, to study dynamic, complex, uncontrollable, unpredictable, unconscious systemic organisational behaviour prevailing in resistant, regressive and emotionally charged situations, Levinson (2009) and Schein (2016) suggested a systemic and psychodynamic stance. This gives the OD consultant access to in-depth organisational diagnosis, process consultation, socio-technical and structural changes and dynamic team behaviour from a systemic framework (Cardona, 2020).

Systems psychodynamics (SP) is a depth psychology, organisational consulting, coaching and research stance (French & Simpson, 2015), based on social psychoanalysis, group relations, object relations, the notions of social structures as defences against anxiety, group-as-whole, the well-known iceberg model (Cardona, 2020; Layton & Leavy-Sperounis, 2020) and the psycho-social research approach (Clarke & Hoggett, 2009). As such it studies the manifestation of systemic and dynamic conscious-rational and unconscious-irrational behaviour in organisations (Brunner, Nutkevitch, & Sher, 2006).

In SP, transition implies a change in identity which refers to what gives rootedness to one's life (Freud, as quoted by Frosh, 2011). Furthermore, it represents the outcome of individuation, it is the sum of the representations of the self and forms a part of the ego related to narcissism that holds continuity and the ability to remain the same despite changes (Arundale, 2017; De Mijolla, 2005). Frosh (2011) defined identity as the personal essence or core of a consciously recognisable selfhood and a private, unknown and unconscious internal arena. Identity also refers to one's subjective experience of a persistent sense of sameness within oneself (Akhtar & Twemlow, 2018). Erikson (1980) defined ego identity as the unconscious quest for personal and existential continuity and the synthesis of the ego. In terms of human development, identity starts from birth with somatic experiences of pleasure and unpleasure formed through one's primary intersubjective relationships (Verhaeghe, 2008). Taking-up organisational roles imply having a plurality of context-dependant hierarchical, salient and dormant identities (Vansina & Vansina-Cobbaert, 2008). Employees are constantly moving back and forth between their private, social, role and organisational identities (Passmore, Peterson, & Freire, 2013). Kets De Vries, Korotov and Florent-Treacy (2007) described such changes as being between identities which are typically experienced as being suspended, in no human's land, in the middle and having to cope with a stumbling block on the road to personal and professional transformation. At the same time, this situation serves as a transitional space (Winnicott, 2006) - an opportunity for heightened awareness, creativity, self-discovery, experimentation, examining of past and developing new identities. This process needs safe and caring psychological boundaries. Systemically, organisational identity refers to the totality of repetitive patterns of individual behaviour and interpersonal relationships that collectively comprise the unacknowledged meaning of organisational life (Allcorn & Stein, 2015). Thus, the collective identity consists of employees' conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings and the transferences (including connections, attachments and understanding) manifesting beneath visible organisational structures.

Smith, Crafford and Schurink (2015) studied the shifts in work identity amongst researchers from a conscious and rational perspective. No research on the unconscious identity experiences of employees during transition could be found.

During high levels of particularly survival anxiety, the shadow side of identity manifests in various defences such as denial, misrecognition, losing a sense of one's boundaries and a capacity for narcissistic masquerading (Arundale, 2017; Frosh, 2011). The experience of one's identity being under attack manifests as the diffusion of the self, the disintegration of representations of the self and the object and acting out behaviour (Erikson, 1980). On the macro level, the shadow side of organisational identity manifests when the system through leadership engages in subtle coercive practises that subjugate employees to subscribe to the prevailing idealised identity. Thus, employees can be drawn into a collusive, regressive psychological relationship with the organisation and its powerful and narcissistic dependency needs. Kets De Vries (2006) referred to this scenario as identity deformation.

Problem statement, purpose, aim, contribution and layout

The role of CPs in OD is historically explicated in terms of context, content, structure and complexity. Yet, no research could be found indicating whether in practise organisations consciously and deliberately differentiate between tasks assigned to IPs and CPs. It could be argued that the registration category boundaries are not strictly applied in OD and that all psychologists work within OCP. Furthermore, research on the experiences of CPs transitioning to OD roles is limited. Only one article (Liebowitz & Blatter, 2015) could be found which provides steps of 'how to become' an OD consultant and an executive coach. No mention is made to their lived experiences.

The research purpose was to investigate the professional identity shift for CPs becoming OD consultants. The aim of the research was to provide a systems psychodynamic description of the lived experiences of a group of CPs' role transition towards becoming OD consultants. The contribution of this research is to create an awareness about and to offer a deep understanding of these experiences. The rest of the article consists of the research method, the findings presented per interview question, the discussion containing the extracted themes, practical implications, limitations and recommendations. Lastly, the conclusion is formulated.


Research design

Research approach

Qualitative and descriptive research in the psycho-social tradition was performed (Clarke & Hoggett, 2009). A participatory action research approach (Terre Blanche, Durrheim, & Painter, 2006; Thorne, 2016) was chosen based on the ideas of promoting knowledge about social systems, promoting well-being, using collaborative relationships and mediating between individual and collective needs. This approach served to ensure continuous connectivity, effective communication and active researcher involvement towards an understanding of participants' lived experiences (Wagner, Kawulich, & Garner, 2012). Hermeneutic phenomenology was chosen as an interpretive stance to facilitate the understanding and interpretation of the frames of reference of the observer and the observed (Clarke & Hoggett, 2009). The epistemological assumption is that empathetic listening allows for deep understanding of shared experiences (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2010).

Research strategy

The strategy comprised a collective case study with the unit of analysis being the participant group-as-a-whole (Wilson & MacLean 2011). Thus, data analysis and interpretations are presented for the case as a collective.


Research method

Research setting

The research was performed amongst various large South African organisations with well-established OD divisions, and which included CPs as OD consultants.

Entrée and establishing researcher roles

Both researchers are psychologists (an IOP and a research psychologist), academics and external OD consultants. In these roles, they became aware of how CPs in OD divisions seemed to experience similar difficulties related to fitting into their organisational roles. Being trained as systems' psycho-dynamically informed consultants and researchers, they became curious about the unconscious causes of the experienced symptoms (Layton & Leavy-Sperounis, 2020).

Sampling and research participants

Purposive and deliberate sampling was used (Thorne, 2016) consisting of eight CPs, all registered with the HPCSA for between 6 and 9 years. They started their professional careers in clinical positions in hospitals, resigned and joined their present organisations as an OD consultant and have been in these roles for at least 4 years. The sample consisted of women (4), men (4), black people (3), an Indian person (1) and white people (4), with an average age of 38.

Data collection

Step 1: A systems psychodynamic Listening Post

The systems psychodynamic Listening Post (SPLP) (Long, 2013) is an unstructured group method based on the notion that the group's experiences allow for the understanding of the collective system. The whole sample attended the event that was digitally recorded. The first author acted as a convenor of this event, following standard SPLP directions (Stapley, 2006) with reference to managing task, time and space boundaries. The SPLP consisted of two parts. Part 1 (60 min): Participants were invited to share and free associate about their experiences in transitioning from a previous clinical psychology role to an OD role in their present organisation. Part 2 (30 min): Participants were invited to collectively and retrospectively identify the main themes that manifested in part 1 of the SPLP.

Step 2: Determining the validity of the transitional questions

Conceptual analysis (coding of the text into manageable content categories) (Sekaran & Bougie, 2018) was applied to the SPLP part 1 data towards the researchers' understanding of the content. Next, relational analysis (exploring the relationships between categories in the data) was applied to the SPLP part 2 data to ensure face validity and congruence (Thorne, 2016) between part 1's content and part 2's formulated themes (which was found to be congruent). The researchers re-formulated these themes into questions (for interview purposes). The questions were: (1) What motivated you to transition from clinical to organisational psychology?, (2) What were your experiences in crossing the boundary into your organisation?, (3) What were your experiences in crossing the boundary into organisational psychology?, (4) How are you coping in your role as an OD consultant?, (5) What characterises your new professional role identity?, (6) What is your contribution to the organisation?

Step 3: A 60-min individual socio-analytic interview

This qualitative in-depth interview (Long, 2013) uses an existential and phenomenological approach to uncover, understand and hypothesise about thoughts and feelings related to unconscious systemic processes and dynamics that support, obscure and influence experiences. Participants are provided the space to 'think the unknown known' and to access the unconscious infinite (Schafer, 2003). The interviewer's responses include observation, active listening, clarifying, challenging, empathising, encouraging free association and notetaking. The interview consisted of an introduction (explaining purpose, conditions and ethics), the above six (SPLP generated) questions asked in succession and a review of the conversation. Interviews were conducted per appointment by the first author in a boardroom, digitally recorded and transcribed.

Data analysis

Simple hermeneutics (Clarke & Hoggett, 2009) was applied to the interview data that facilitated an understanding of the lived experiences of participants (reported per question under findings below). Double hermeneutics comprising the application of the SP lens was applied to the SPLP part 1 data as well as the interview data that facilitated six SP themes (reported under discussion below). The data were integrated and encapsulated in the conclusion (Huffington, Armstrong, Halton, Hoyle, & Pooley, 2004; Newton, Long, & Sievers, 2006). Data analysis comprised the hermeneutic circle (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2010) where each unique individual experience was considered in relation to its meaning in the collective, which again could only be understood in respect of its constituent parts. This idea is congruent to the systems psychodynamic principle of systemic relatedness - the individual (micro-system) speaks on behalf of and represents the collective (the macro-system) (De Board, 2014).

Strategies employed to ensure data quality and integrity

Scientific rigour and trustworthiness were ensured as follows (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Graneheim & Lundman, 2003; Terre Blanche et al., 2006; Thorne, 2016). Firstly, dependability was attended to by means of scientific rigour applied to the planning and execution of the research project. Secondly, credibility was ensured by means of the authorised involvement of and intense research engagement with participants (Hirschhorn, 1997). Being OD consultants specialising in the systems psychodynamic stance, the researchers focussed, on the one hand, on the insider-outsider dialogue in the minds (Terre Blanche et al., 2006), and, on the other hand, on using themselves as research instruments to scientifically answer the research question (Clarke & Hoggett, 2009). Confirmability was ensured by using 'member checking' (Thorne, 2016) to establish congruence in the SPLP as well as having an independent psychologists (practising in SP) scrutinise the data through which the research was found to be dependable, rich and saturated.

Reporting style

Congruent to hermeneutic phenomenology methodology, the data are presented in a narrative format. The findings contain rich data and descriptive verbatim responses on the six interview questions, and discuss the interpretation of the manifesting lived experience themes from an SP stance.

Ethical considerations

Ethical approval to conduct this study was granted by UNISA's School of Business Leadership, Research Ethics Review Committee (GSBL CRERC) on 26 July 2019, reference number: 2019_SBL_AC_011_FA. Each individual participant signed a consent form referring to their consent, maintaining anonymity and focussing on not causing harm or invading privacy (Wilson & MacLean, 2011).



The findings contain participants' responses to the six interview questions.

What motivated you to transition from clinical to organisational psychology?

Participants' motivation in 'moving away from' clinical psychology included experiencing the work as 'routine', 'unsatisfying', 'depressing', 'too focussed on individual work', 'even boring' and 'not suited to my extravert personality'. Their motivation in 'moving towards organisational work' was stimulated by studying for an MBA and/or a 'general curiosity' towards doing something 'new', 'exiting' and 'diverse'. Over time participants became involved in doing psychometric assessment in organisations and organisational group consultancy. They became intrigued with the focus of organisations on 'growth' and 'self-development' ('so different from clinical psychology'). They were fascinated by how being involved with a team's growth actually stimulated their own self-development. Organisational work became 'more glamourous' in terms of exposure, 'connections with influential people', 'remuneration, benefits and opportunities to travel'.

What were your experiences on crossing the boundary into the organisation?

Participants found their employment interviews 'daunting', 'nerve wrecking' and 'anxiety provoking' ('I had four interviews - two with the CEO and the board!'). The 'job was sold to me as something so attractive and different from what I was used to'. They understood their psychological contract as 'to expand' and 'deepen the psychological thinking', 'especially in leadership assessment, development and coaching', executive work and systems thinking. Getting the position 'was a great boost for my ego' - 'I felt so good about myself'. Participants joined an existing OD division which meant that they 'did not have to establish the OD function in the organisation' ('which would have been impossible for me to do because I had no idea what OD was about'). They experienced their induction as 'friendly' and 'inviting'. Where there were other CPs already on staff, participants 'firstly paired-up with them'. Where 'I was the only clinical psychologist' they were 'treated with suspicion' and 'held at a distance'. Amongst internal clients 'fears were expressed that as a clinical psychologist I can read their minds'. 'Someone even said, we don't need your kind of psychologist - we are not mad'. Participants were strongly aware of their perceived difference - yet when they were assigned tasks, they 'could not see a difference' in 'how the different types of psychologists were assigned to internal clients' or 'were expected to perform the work'.

What were your experiences on crossing the boundary into organisational psychology?

Participants thought that OP and OD 'was common sense', that it 'focusses on keeping workers happy' - 'something I would easily pick up with my clinical training'. ('In my second year in social psychology we learned about leadership and power - I thought I know what it is about'). Similarly, they were told by colleagues that they 'will easily get the hang of it'. In taking up their role, they realised that although they may have experience of organisational psychological work, they 'had no qualification in IOP' or 'OD consulting'. They 'felt ignorant of what this field of study comprises', 'did not know the subject matter', theories, applications or 'the jargon' (such as 'performance', 'culture', 'sustainability', 'pipelines' and 'burning platforms'). They 'underestimated' and were 'overwhelmed' by 'the complexity of the organisation as a social system'. Descriptions of experiences included the following remarks: 'I felt out of my depth in working with systemic leadership complexity', 'unexpectantly nervous in facilitating sessions', 'doubting my competence as a psychologist' and 'I regretted my decision to work in organisational psychology'.

How are you coping in your role as an organisational development consultant?

Participants reported a change in focus: 'I had to give up my strong inherent focus on searching for' and 'diagnosing pathology', 'doing therapy with employees without them asking for it' and 'only focussing on individual behaviour'. 'Although I was used to work in a multi-professional team, the nature of the work and the role players are very different now' - 'the client is not a patient with a pathological diagnosis'. Thinking and working systemically were difficult - 'I was trained mostly in individual psychology'. Working with parts of large and matrix systems, 'it's interdependence', 'mirroring' and 'keeping the whole system in the mind' represented a whole new and complex way of thinking and working. The 'unpredictability' and 'fast pace of process consulting' caused high levels of performance anxiety ('so different from slow moving therapeutic sessions with time in-between to think and reflect' and 'to write reports'). The 'demand for immediate results' by powerful leaders in the system ('who are often aggressive' and 'shout at me') 'exhausted me so much'. 'I thought I was going to burn out' - 'it felt as if I will just never get it right'. 'I am still trying to find my way and understand everything'. Participants compared themselves to the IPs who 'seemed to find it all so easy'. Although 'the organisation does not offer mentorship to clinical psychologists', some of the IPs were helpful 'in providing context'. Others were 'not as friendly', as if they were 'irritated with my presence' and 'me not always understanding the complexities of the large system'. 'I have learned to reframe OD as a way of addressing' complex systemic leadership dynamics and 'coaching as a vehicle' to unleash leadership potential.

What characterises your new professional role identity?

Participants thought that they would be doing clinical work in the organisation. 'I thought I would be employed as a clinical psychologist, doing what I was trained for' - 'therapy with patients not coping with work life and stress'. 'I quickly realised that the organisation does not operate like a clinic'. 'I have to sink or swim'. They realised that their new employment contract demanded 'a dramatic change in focus' and 'a new role identity'. Participants experienced this change as 'deeply rooted in my being a psychologist' and 'in being human'. 'Becoming an OD consultant does not mean that I need to give up myself' and 'my competence'. They found themselves 'in an intensely experienced' transitional space for a 'good couple of months' filled with 'cognitive dissonance', personal and professional 'conflicts of belonging'. The feedback from colleagues and clients about their 'successes in their new role' was 'the most important factor' in making the 'emotional journey' easier, leading to a 'much more comfortable place'. ('I am still inclined to use my diagnostic lens to understand what is going on in a client system'; 'I have made peace with what I do best and use this to my advantage'; 'I have become more observant of who I am in the organisational system and to use my sensitivity and awareness to facilitate effective performance and relationships'; 'I try to be aware of what I represent in the organisation and realise that not everyone will like me and what I do'). Their new role was summarised as being a CP consulting to people and systems in the organisation on their complex and dynamic work environment, relationships and leadership matters. Final remarks related to perceived failure: 'A few of our clinical psychology colleagues did not make it', perhaps 'because the organisation did not attend to their transition' - or 'maybe we did not do enough to rescue them'.

What is your contribution to the organisation?

Participants' answers to this question were vague as if they have not thought about this before. They referred to what they 'were trained' and 'were good at' - 'facilitating deep insight', 'understanding' of and 'empathy' towards 'behavioural dynamics', and 'slowing decisions down to ensure the full picture of the manifesting dynamics are realised'. Participants who were exposed to depth psychology and psychodynamics in their training found those stances to serve as 'links between what we know and what the organisation can benefit from'.



The aim of the research was to provide a systems psychodynamic description of the lived experiences of a group of CPs' role transition towards becoming OD consultants.

Outline of findings

The findings are interpreted using the SP lens (Cardona, 2020) in terms of seven themes, namely Experiences of diverse and intense anxiety, Manifestation of defensive structures, Role and task transition arrest, Boundary management conflict, On being authorised and de-authorised, Fragmentation of introjected role dynamics and The Crossing: a solitary pilgrimage. The conclusion will address the relevant identity experiences.

Experiences of diverse and intense anxiety

The CPs experienced high levels of different kinds of anxieties (Curtis, 2015). Separation anxiety manifested in their feelings of being disconnected from their previous position of status and competence, followed by being overwhelmed by the unexpected new demands with the loss of stability and the known (Dejours, 2015). Transition anxiety manifested in their feelings of fear, insecurity, unfamiliarity, strangeness and not being part of the organisation - they became dependent on reassurance and avoidant of exploration of their new reality (Amado & Elsner, 2007). Fragmentation anxiety manifested in being overwhelmed by the repetition of new demands, opinions, choices and contradictory information. Survival anxiety manifested in their feelings of fear, confusion, contradiction and chaos related to the career decision they made and the realisation that they may fail (Long, 2016). Performance anxiety manifested in their quest to be the best and to impress others (Cilliers, 2018). Persecutory anxiety manifested in their internal loneliness and isolation and free-floating anxiety manifested in their confusion in how and which role to take up in the system (Curtis, 2015). Their high levels of anxiety initially kept the CPs dependant on others' needs and approval, which manifested in difficulty to form their own opinions, affirming their own decisions, and to be in touch with their own intuition, values and wishes.

Manifestation of defensive structures

As response to their anxiety, the CPs illustrated the following array of defences (Armstrong & Rustin, 2015; Blackman, 2004). The primal defence of splitting manifested all through the data. Their past-present split manifested in the idealisation of the organisational work (the good object) where they seemed to be seduced by their curiosity, need for self-development and status symbols, versus the denigration of clinical work (the bad object) associated with boredom. They split competence (projected onto the IOPs) and incompetence (introjected) and struggled to claim back their competence. They rationalised their experiences as 'fitting the situation' whilst at the same time resisting the impact of the transition. Regression and transference manifested in their efforts to make the present similar to the past (Amado & Elsner, 2007). They began to see the present context as very different from what they initially expected, indicating their paranoid response, whilst the unfamiliarity of the new system is experienced as persecution (Blackman, 2004) and being under attack (Curtis, 2015).

Role and task transition arrest

The CPs experienced the transition as conflictual (Allcorn & Stein, 2015) in many ways. Their macro-level conflict was about whether they will fit and belong in the organisation. Their meso-level conflict referred to how they assess themselves as less competent as the IO psychologists.

On the micro level, they (intellectually) experienced a sense of contradiction, imperceptibility, complexity and getting stuck in the paradox between struggling and learning. Emotionally, they were trapped between the past (representing the denigrated knowing) and the present (representing the idealised not-knowing) which had an immobilising effect, between their morals (of seeing this through) and their narcissism (of quitting) (Arundale, 2017), between their fear of failing and desperately wanting to be successful (legitimate, integrated, fulfilling a career choice with energy, desire and hope), between quick, impulsive and irrational solutions (adapted child ego state behaviour) and rationally (analytically considering what was happening to them - adult ego state behaviour) (Tudor & Summers, 2014). In trying to solve these conflicts, they tended to over analyse their experiences leading to more doubt and confusion. Motivationally, they experienced being overwhelmed by the intellectual and emotional demands that inhibited their curiosity, reflection, creativity and risk-behaviour and kept them stuck and searching for recipes as solutions (Allcorn & Stein, 2015). Interpersonally, they experienced conflict in terms of their acceptance by the system - they split acceptance by the other CPs (good object) and non-acceptance from some IOPs (bad object) which inhibited their sense of being supported and contained. They showed a lack of contextual empathy by not having emotional energy to listen attentively to themselves and others, realising their impact and to communicate with understanding of the situation (Amado & Elsner, 2007).

The above rendition of CP's high levels of anxiety, defensive behaviours and conflicts can be interpreted as regressive and dysfunctional (Kilburg, 2012).

Boundary management conflict

On the boundary with the organisational identity (Allcorn & Stein, 2015), the CPs experienced conflict between the psychological and the employment contracts (Wangithi & Muceke, 2012). The organisational identity seduced them to enter the system to represent difference ('a special niche', 'clinical' and 'depth psychology') in the search 'to solve difficult people issues' (their psychological contract in the mind). In reality, the employment contract specified one primary task for all consultants. This caused performance anxiety for being off-task, incompetent, ashamed for not knowing and guilty of not delivering on the primary task (Curtis, 2015).

On being authorised and de-authorised

Initially, participants experienced being authorised (Hirschhorn, 1997) from above (by leadership) in how they were introduced and received in the organisation and their role. Whilst settling in, they experienced being de-authorised by the constraints set by the system, to not abdicate clinical work. From the side, they were initially authorised from colleagues especially other CPs on staff. From some IOPs and internal clients, they experienced and perceived to be de-authorised through the withholding of support and goodwill, the projections of incompetence and a sense of indebtedness for the honour to be recruited. They struggled to integrate the paradox of being authorised (accepted and idealised) and of being de-authorised (rejected and denigrated) at the same time and from the same parts of the system. They experienced conflict in self-authorisation (Cardona, 2020) - initially using flight away from clinical work towards OD work and once they are in the system, the reverse happened - not being accepted. This created regressive self-doubt and longing back to 'the way it was'. In terms of the primary task, they experienced that it was more complex than anticipated and that they did not feel academically authorised to do the work. This left them overwhelmed, disillusioned and regretful towards joining the organisation. It was as if they suffered from narcissistic injury in the sense that they were not given the space to make up their own mind about their psychological autonomy (Kets De Vries, 2006).

Fragmentation of introjected role dynamics

The above-mentioned free-floating anxiety was related to the incongruence between the CPs normative, existential and phenomenal roles (Allcorn & Stein, 2015). Their normative roles as understood when crossing the boundary into the system changed once they were assigned to clients. In their existential roles, CPs initially introjected the good object containing experiences of narcissism (Arundale, 2017) - feeling special, privileged, academically superior and bringing quality to the system. This changed once they realised their lack of knowledge and experience in OD - feeling conflicted, incompetent and de-authorised. This led to projections of badness onto the organisation, leadership and colleagues as non-caring, brutal and un-containing ('the organisation is not sure what it is looking for in employing clinical psychologists'). In their phenomenal role, they initially received projections of envy, superiority, privilege and being advantaged (French & Simpson, 2015). During their struggle to cope with the above conflicts, they received projections of denigration (incompetence, moaning, not coping well, intrusive, not good-enough for the system). The above role dynamics can be referred to as fragmentation anxiety (Amado & Elsner, 2007) which manifested in a strong sense of being emotionally overwhelmed by constantly being bombarded by conflicting information about the self and self-worth.

The crossing: A solitary pilgrimage

The transition was experienced as a potential yet painful source for individual evolution and the development of role competence (Amado & Elsner, 2007). In their life-long maturational process towards autonomy and self-efficacy, CPs were confronted by an episode that facilitated an opportunity to face the frustration and ambivalence between what is, what might be and what is being defended against (Dias, 2016). In the interviews, CPs started to realise that they were working through a totally new experience far beyond just taking on a new job or role - it was referred to as 'a troubled birth'. They referred to this being a pronounced transition where both the complexities of the individual and the organisation collided. They mentioned being confronted with an organisational environment short of offering good-enough containment for them to struggle through aspects of their own maturation processes and its impact on applying their resilience versus their defences (Allcorn & Stein, 2015; Dejours, 2015). Authority in the mind was active in all of their experiences, represented in the objects of psychology, OD, the corporate world, leadership and management. Authority represented a critical parent (Tudor & Summers, 2014) intensely scrutinising their acceptance into the idealised family and not attending to the natural child's suffocation. This created an existential stuck-ness (Campbell & Groenbaek, 2006) which they had to work through alone, without official support from authority figures, leading to loneliness and narcissistic injury (Arundale, 2017).

The cognitive, affective and conative experienced change-related conflicts predicted in the literature (Allcorn & Stein, 2015) manifested amongst these CPs. They struggled with mourning the past and processing the emotional transition towards the present and future. Instead, they took refuge in rejection and being overwhelmed. The loss inherent in any transition (Kilburg, 2012) could not be grieved as if it was not allowed or facilitated in the new system. Instead, they got stuck in their experiences of self-protective anger, grief and shame (French & Simpson, 2015). The shame had a sense of not being good-enough and even worthless. It is hypothesised that the suppressed shame stimulated anger which they internalised (to keep up appearances of coping) and rationalised. Interestingly, the participants did not express intense sadness (depression) (Kilburg, 2012). It could be hypothesised that the experienced rejection was compensated for by holding onto their professional status in their previous roles. Interpersonally, it is as if attachment forming within the system was hard work and took a very long time (Amado & Elsner, 2007).

The CPs in this study persevered through the transition. They referred to previous colleagues who resigned because they were overwhelmed by the situation. This was ascribed to their non-coping with the ambiguity and intense systemic demands of the OD role. Evidence was also given of intense psychosomatic symptoms and feelings of failure. It is hypothesised that the illness and failure of the system were projected onto these colleagues in the fantasy that they will export the negative on behalf of the system (Allcorn & Stein, 2015).

Practical implications

The findings of this study offer novel insight into the lived experiences of CPs transitioning into (for them) the new field of OP and the OD role. Whilst they may be attracted to this role for various reasons, they have limited background or training in order to take up the role with authorisation. Once organisationally inducted into the OD role, it seems as if leadership and even colleagues do not offer emotional or systemic support to the CPs. The evidence suggests that most CPs struggle through the difficulties, whilst others may just give up and resign without the problem being addressed.


Limitations and recommendations

Previous research on the phenomenon under study is not available. Therefore, no benchmark or comparison to previous or current research findings was possible. The authors had to trust their own competence and insights throughout the study. It is hoped that the researchers' empathic listening, analysis and recording of participants' lived experiences did justice to this anxiety provoking professional transition.

Research on both the conscious and unconscious experiences of CPs in OD roles is needed. The relevance of Levinson's (1972, 2008) guidelines for CPs in OD roles should be studied and explicated for organisational implementation.

Organisational psychology and CP should collaborate to optimise the OD function. Organisations and OD departments should be made aware of the rationale for employing CPs in OD roles, the difference in training and its application in an OD division. Furthermore, CPs should be supported, trained and coached in taking up their differently focussed OD role in an authorised capacity.



The CPs in this study gave in to the organisational seduction to join a powerful system with an idealised and narcissistic organisation in the mind (De Board, 2014). The organisation as an object did not realise the impact of its shadow on colleagues from a similar (psychology) and also different (clinical) background. This impact manifests as an attack on the CPs personal and professional identities of which the extent and intensity can be described as identity deformation (Kets De Vries, 2006). In their transitional space, the CPs experienced ontological insecurity (Amado & Elsner, 2007) manifesting as being rationally inhibited, struggling in dealing with chaos, complexity and containing paradoxes (e.g. distance and closeness, outside and inside and integrating past and present), feeling emotionally overwhelmed, fragmented and fragile and motivationally immobilised. Interpersonally, they felt unaccepted, de-valued, isolated, excluded and as if they have lost their autonomy.

From a systemic, psychodynamic and object relations stance, it is hypothesised that this research revealed the marriage between OP as the powerful animus object (typical of large organisations) and CP as anima associated with caring, support and intimacy. Animus narcissistically seduces anima to join the system, denies her historical systemic role and identity and forces her into an animus role that causes her psychological conflict and an identity crisis.



Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

F.C. conducted the data gathering. F.C. and S.H. shared responsibility for the theoretical and empirical work, as well as the final writing of the article.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

The authors confirm that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Frans Cilliers

Received: 24 Feb. 2021
Accepted: 12 Apr. 2021
Published: 07 June 2021

^rND^sCilliers^nF.^rND^sFrosh^nS.^rND^sGraneheim^nU.H.^rND^sLundman^nB.^rND^sLevinson^nH.^rND^sLevinson^nH.^rND^sLiebowitz^nB.^rND^sBlatter^nJ.^rND^sSchein^nE.H.^rND^sSmith^nR.A.^rND^sCrafford^nA.^rND^sSchurink^nW.J.^rND^sWangithi^nW.E.^rND^sMuceke^nN.J.^rND^1A01^nDirk J.^sGeldenhuys^rND^1A01^nSarah^sJohnson^rND^1A01^nDirk J.^sGeldenhuys^rND^1A01^nSarah^sJohnson^rND^1A01^nDirk J^sGeldenhuys^rND^1A01^nSarah^sJohnson



Experience of meaningful work for self-employed individuals



Dirk J. Geldenhuys; Sarah Johnson

Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa





ORIENTATION: This article is about the experience of meaningful work for self-employed individuals
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to explore how meaningful work is experienced by self-employed individuals
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Research tends to focus on meaningful work from either the formally employed individual or the organisational perspective, and very little research has included the perspective of self-employed individuals. The number of employed individuals considering self-employment, however, has increased since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which triggered a global recession that has resulted in a substantial number of job losses and questionable job security in various employment sectors
RESEARCH DESIGN/APPROACH AND METHOD: This was an interactive qualitative study to explore the experience of meaningful work for self-employed individuals. A social constructionist paradigm was adopted to study participants' attitudes towards their work, their values and feelings, what drives them and their perceptions of meaningful work. Data was collected and analysed from a purposive sample of five self-employed individuals
MAIN FINDINGS: This study revealed that purpose is the primary driver in self-employed individuals' experience of meaningful work. Purpose facilitates feeling stimulated and creative expression. Cooperation encourages participation in meaningful work. Fulfilment is the primary outcome of self-employed individuals' experience of meaningful work
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: Self-employed individuals can create opportunities for meaningful work. This study provides an understanding of the experience of self-employed individuals when they perform work they consider meaningful and the implications thereof
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: This study complemented existing literature on meaningful work and literature on self-employment, and may facilitate the experience of meaningfulness by the growing number of self-employed individuals

Keywords: self-employed; meaningful work; interactive qualitative analysis; purpose; affinities.




The literature on meaningful work remains highly fragmented (Lips-Wiersma & Morris, 2009; Lysova, Allan, Dik, Duffy, & Steger, 2019), despite efforts to combine it. Former empirical efforts indicated that instead of simply the extrinsic appeal of a salary, a clear intrinsic value for people is the meaning that they derive from their work (Jena, Bhattacharyya, & Pradhan, 2019; Simonet & Castille, 2020). It is no longer just about work being a means to an end, as people want their work to have meaning (Steger, Littman-Ovadia, Miller, Menger, & Rothmann, 2012). The higher educational level, availability of improved opportunities and the heightened sense of curiosity to better understand one's life with regard to personal and professional contexts have attributed to the rising interest amongst contemporary researchers to study meaningfulness of work (Geldenhuys, Łaba, & Venter, 2014; Jena et al., 2019).

Meaning is both an objective and a subjective concept (Reitinger, 2015). When a person performs work that is a best possible match for their interests, skills and values (Bunderson & Thompson, 2009; Duffy, Allan, Autin, & Bott, 2013; Haney-Loehlein, McKenna, Robie, Austin, & Ecker, 2015; Willemse & Deacon, 2015), they experience direction and a sense of purpose as well as the desire to be of service and personal fulfilment (Hall & Chandler, 2005; Lips-Wiersma, Wright, & Dik, 2016; Willemse & Deacon, 2015). This serves as a source of a motivation to fulfil one's larger purpose and serve the greater good (Hunter, Dik, & Banning, 2010; Willemse & Deacon, 2015). Hall and Chandler (2005) noted that one of the deepest forms of satisfaction or psychological success takes place when a person experiences work as greater than merely a job or career. It arises from a strong perception of inner direction (Hall & Chandler, 2005; Lips-Wiersma, 2002). Merely obtaining fulfilment in working or in the belief that one's work has an effect on society in one way or another (Hall & Chandler, 2005) can therefore be regarded as essential to one's identity and life.

Meaningful work comprises over and above that what a person's work means to them (i.e. meaning of work) (Fouché, Rothmann, & Van der Vyver, 2017; Steger et al., 2012). It is the all-consuming and meaningful fervour a person experiences towards a profession (Bunderson & Thompson, 2009; Guo et al., 2014; Hall & Chandler, 2005). A person will be more fulfilled when they can find meaning in their work (Burger, Roodt, & Crous, 2013).

It is argued in this article that job losses in the formal sector because of the global pandemic since the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) will lead to more educated individuals leaving the formal sector to become self-employed. Research indicates that self-employed individuals have an appreciation of and commitment to hard work, perseverance, greater job satisfaction and a need for autonomy, achievement and meaningful work (Beutell, Schneer, & Alstete, 2014; Gorgievski, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2010; Warr & Inceoglu, 2018; Wolfe & Patel, 2019). Although there has recently been an increased focus on the subjective characteristics of meaningful work (the experience of meaningful work), instead of the conditions from which meaningful work arises (Lips-Wiersma et al., 2016) and in spite of the amount of research on hand regarding meaningful work, the focal point has been on employed individuals. Self-employed individuals and employed individuals are argued to be members of two qualitatively diverse subcultures (Gorgievski et al., 2010), and it can therefore be deduced that the experience of meaningful work cannot be deemed equal across both groups. It is noted that when compared with employed individuals, self-employed individuals have been found to be 'significantly higher on work-family synergy (WFS), in better mental health, earned higher incomes, [and] had more autonomy, flexibility, and learning opportunities on the job', and to be 'more satisfied with family life and life in general' (Beutell et al., 2014, p. 408).

Therefore, the experience of meaningful work by self-employed individuals seems to be different from that of employed individuals. There is, however, limited information regarding how self-employed individuals experience meaningful work, as the research literature does not appear to be keeping up with the fast growth of the self-employment sector (Beutell et al., 2014; Perry, Penney, & Witt, 2008).


Research purpose

Amidst a pandemic since the outbreak of COVID-19, which has triggered a global recession that has resulted in a substantial number of job losses and questionable job security in various employment sectors, there has been an increase in the number of employed individuals considering self-employment. Self-employed individuals and employed individuals are argued to be members of two qualitatively diverse subcultures (Gorgievski et al., 2010); however, research tends to focus on only a few variables from either the formally employed individual or the organisational perspective, and very little research has included the perspective of self-employed individuals, as the research literature does not appear to be keeping up with the fast growth of the self-employment sector (Beutell et al., 2014; Perry et al., 2008). The purpose of this study was therefore to explore the experience of meaningful work by self-employed individuals.

Trends from the research literature

Definition of meaningful work

There are various ways in which meaningful work has been defined and operationalised (Allan, 2017). Pratt and Ashforth (2003), Allan (2017) and Lysova et al. (2019) differentiated between 'meaning' and 'meaningfulness'. They expressed that 'meaning' comprises people making sense of the work they perform, through the process of meaning-making, and may be considered as positive, negative or neutral (Lepisto & Pratt, 2017; Lysova et al., 2019). 'Meaningfulness' or 'meaningful work', on the contrary, refers to the experience of as being especially significant and valuable to oneself and/or others and has positive valence (Allan, 2017; Lysova et al., 2019; Pratt & Ashforth, 2003; Van Wingerden & Van der Stoep, 2018). Meaningfulness therefore denotes a positive, subjective, personal experience concerning work (Bailey et al., 2019b). For the purposes of this article, meaningful work is generally referred to as work that is deemed personally significant and worthwhile. This relates to work that is considered linked to fulfilling one's purpose and as the uppermost form of subjective career success, and work that is significant to the nature of one's existence (Lepisto & Pratt, 2017; Onça & Bido, 2019; Rosso, Dekas, & Wrzesniewski, 2010).

Theories of meaningful work

Chalofsky (2003) cited the works of Maslow (1943, 1954, 1970, 1971) as well as Herzberg (1959), McClelland (1965) and Alderfer (1972), who theorised that the fulfilment of needs thought to be intrinsic in all humans motivates people to take certain actions. These theorists suggested that as people's needs move from fundamental survival needs to higher-order needs, they become more inherent and reflective in nature. The higher-order needs are translated as values, working towards a greater cause, life purpose and meaningfulness (Chalofsky, 2003).

Following the conception of his hierarchy of needs, Maslow (1971, as cited in Chalofsky, 2003) began to explore the meaning of work. He held that people have the potential to reach what he termed self-actualisation, which is the process of expressing oneself to the highest possible degree in a way that is personally fulfilling and developing one's potential. It is not an end-state but an ongoing process of becoming (Chalofsky, 2003; Fairlie, 2011; Lieff, 2009). Also worth mentioning is the detailed discourse by Rogers (1961), Locke (1975) and Ackoff (1981), as summarised by Chalofsky (2003). Rogers (1961) believed that people find purpose when they experience freedom to just be themselves in an adaptable and changing way. According to Locke (1975), people strive to attain goals with the purpose of fulfilling their aspirations and emotions. Ackoff (1981) described meaning and purpose as progression towards an ideal that changes trivial existence into significant living (Chalofsky, 2003; Joseph & Murphy, 2013).

Research on the meaning of work covers a broad terrain across numerous disciplines and has focussed on questions regarding where people find meaningfulness in their work, how different meanings are made of the same work, the personal and organisational implications of maintaining different beliefs about the meaning of work and how the meaning of work has changed over time and across cultures (Rosso et al., 2010). Researchers' interest in this subject has been powered by the extensiveness of personal and organisational effects correlated with perceptions of meaning and meaningfulness in work.

The subject of the meaning of work also appeals to researchers because it transcends hedonic perspectives of work behaviour to deeper considerations of purpose and significance and eudaimonic aspects of well-being (Rosso et al., 2010). Although the work one performs relates to both Maslow's level of self-actualisation and Alderfer's growth levels, and to a degree to Herzberg's motivators, the focal point is on carrying out one's purpose through the work itself; it is about working and growing as an ongoing process rather than about productivity or an end-state (Chalofsky, 2003).

The single most fundamental descriptor that defines one's sense of purpose is the need for meaningful work (Jaeger, 1994, as cited in Chalofsky, 2003). According to Chalofsky (2003), work is a recognised part of one's personal identity; it is that which brings about enjoyment, meaning and satisfaction to their lives. In this regard, three themes have emerged from research on meaningful work, namely the work itself, a sense of self and a sense of balance. These themes are reflected in the term 'integrated wholeness' (Svendsen, 1997, as cited in Chalofsky, 2003). They therefore overlap and are intertwined. Meaningful work requires the interaction of all these elements.

Models and dimensions of meaningful work

According to Lips-Wiersma and Wright (2012) and Lips-Wiersma et al. (2016), there are four dimensions of meaningful work, namely developing the inner self (inward and reflective), unity with others (a sense of shared values and belonging), service to others (contributing to others' well-being and making a difference) and expressing full potential (active and outward-directed). This framework portrays the tensions inherent in the pursuit for meaning, including the significance of meeting the needs of the self and of others as well as the need for being (reflection) and doing (action). These are inherent in meaningful work (Bailey et al., 2019; Lips-Wiersma & Wright, 2012).

Furthermore, Rosso et al. (2010) proposed that meaningful work can be elucidated by using two psychological dimensions, which vary based on the direction of action (towards self or others) and the person's underlying motives (agency or communion). In their model, the self-other dimension indicates the target towards which the effort to create meaningfulness is directed (whether internal to the self or external). Work experiences that are oriented towards the self can be experienced as meaningful, as can experiences that are oriented towards others. However, the processes through which these sources are experienced as meaningful appear to be quite different, as they refer to perceptions of meaningful work. The agency-communion dimension, in contrast, refers to the person's motives, where agency motives (seeking to create, assert or divide elements, as one would do when playing a musical instrument) are distinguished from communion motives (seeking to connect or unite elements, as in the case of evaluating one's life goals or rekindling past relationships). The processes of meaningfulness therefore differ as it refers to the extent to which experiences are perceived as internal or external to the self (Lysova et al., 2019; Rosso et al., 2010). Both the self-other and the agency-communion dimensions relate to human action, through the motive for and the target of the action, respectively. Action directed towards the self (internally) or others (externally) and with the intention of expressing agency or achieving communion therefore seems to be especially meaningful (Rosso et al., 2010).

It is believed that meaningful work resides at the intersection of these dimensions, which reveals four primary pathways by which meaningful work is created or sustained, namely individuation (self-agency), contribution (other-agency), self-connection (self-communion) and unification (other-communion) (Rosso et al., 2010). Individuation represents the meaningfulness of actions that delineate and differentiate the self as valuable and worthy; contribution represents the meaningfulness of actions perceived as extensive and/or done in service of something larger than the self; self-connection reflects the meaningfulness of actions that bring individuals more in alignment with how they see themselves; and unification represents the meaningfulness of actions that bring individuals into harmony with other people or principles (Rosso et al., 2010).

A third model, proposed by Steger and Dik (2010), maintains that meaning arises when one is able to make sense of one's experience (e.g. who they are, their place in the world), directly or indirectly contribute to the greater good and develop a sense of purpose (i.e. identify and pursue highly valued, overarching goals).

The focal point of the above theoretical models of meaningful work is on the individual experience of meaningful work and includes an individual's attempts to express the self or serve the greater good. They, however, do not entirely include the societal and organisational factors that affect an individual in work, and where some theories have addressed the one factor, they do not address the other. Although there are different job-level, organisational-level and societal-level sources that individuals utilise to find meaningfulness in their work, it is the fit between the individual and the environment that ensures a smooth course towards meaningful work (Lysova et al., 2019).

One theme that emerges from the dimensions of meaning is the concept of self-transcendence. This means that people appear to have a need to transform themselves (i.e. development) and the world around them (i.e. generativity), whilst progressing towards important end-states (i.e. purpose, achievement) (Fairlie, 2011). Meaningful work facilitates the achievement or preservation of one or more dimensions of meaning.

Meaningful work occurs at the intersection of where one is and what one does. It is evident from the body of research available on meaningful work (Kim & Allan, 2019; Verleysen, Lambrechts, & Van Acker, 2015) that there are various personal fundamental needs that, if manifested, can have a direct influence on an individual's perception of the meaning of their work and their experience of meaningful work. These personal fundamental needs include the need for a legacy, spiritual growth, autonomy, helping or serving others and creative expression.

Outcomes of meaningful work

The outcomes associated with work play a central role in people's lives and in society in general. Working and the outcomes thereof are considered by a large amount of people as being a major part of their lives, for several reasons, namely that it has an economic/instrumental aspect (i.e. work provides an income, which ensures one's livelihood and provides for one's material needs), and the commitment to work is perceived as part of human nature or needs (i.e. work provides the will to strive, learn, develop and accomplish, as well as to construct one's reality) (Sharabi, 2017).

Undeniably, the meaning of work has been revealed to influence some of the most important outcomes in organisational studies, such as motivation (Chalofsky, 2003; Van Wingerden & Van der Stoep, 2018), work behaviour and engagement (Fairlie, 2011; Lips-Wiersma et al., 2016; Simonet & Castille, 2020; Van der Walt, 2018), job satisfaction (Bailey et al., 2019; Fairlie, 2011; Lips-Wiersma et al., 2016; Simonet & Castille, 2020), empowerment (Chalofsky, 2003; Jena et al., 2019), stress (Allan, Dexter, Kinsey, & Parker, 2018; Jena et al., 2019; Simonet & Castille, 2020; Wolfe & Patel, 2019), career development (Jena et al., 2019; Lieff, 2009), individual performance (Jena et al., 2019; Sharabi, 2017; Van Wingerden & Van der Stoep, 2018) and personal fulfilment (Jena et al., 2019).

Involvement in meaningful work has also been associated with higher levels of well-being, zest, an overall feeling of contributing to the greater good and a perception of the importance of work (Allan et al., 2018; Burger et al., 2013; Gazica & Spector, 2015; Hagmaier & Abele, 2015; Horvath, 2015; Janik & Rothmann, 2015; Rosso et al., 2010; Willemse & Deacon, 2015). Research indicates that work has a direct impact on an individual's physical and psychological health, and to be psychologically healthy an individual needs to feel that what he or she is doing is meaningful and serves a valuable purpose (Veltman, 2015). Meaningful work therefore improves mental health (Allan et al., 2018; Mulki & Lassk, 2019) and is also an important contributor to an individual's physical health (Martela & Steger, 2016; Veltman, 2015).

Thomas (2000, as cited in Chalofsky, 2003) captures what the research has confirmed, with his list of the four crucial inherent rewards of meaningful work, namely a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of choice, a sense of competence and a sense of progress or moving towards accomplishment.

Meaningful work is therefore not limited to an individual's subjective perception, but it includes themes of human development. This includes self-actualising work (i.e. realising one's potential through work), realising one's purpose in life, values, goals and social impact (i.e. having an impact on people and things through work) (Fairlie, 2011; Lips-Wiersma et al., 2016). What is recognised as meaningful in the lives of many people is frequently directly linked to self and identity (Fairlie, 2011). However, sociological aspects have a definite contribution to an individual's experience of meaningful work (Allan, 2017; Fairlie, 2011; Lysova et al., 2019). The outcomes of meaningful work are therefore even broader than the work context, and they influence life in a holistic way.

Research design

Research approach

A social-constructionist approach was adopted, by using interactive qualitative analysis (IQA). Interactive qualitative analysis is a qualitative research methodology that provides a systemic, accountable and rigorous framework for qualitative inquiry. It is considered an apt design when researchers want to examine in what way phenomena are socially formulated, and whether they want to construct a theory of the research phenomenon that illustrates a systemic comprehension of the phenomenon (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). Interactive qualitative analysis entrusts the role of generating and interpreting data to the constituents, although the process is facilitated by the researcher (Bargate, 2014; Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). According to Northcutt and McCoy (2004), IQA addresses power relations between participants and the researcher. Participants, or constituents, as referred to in IQA terminology, are involved in the generation, collection and analysis of their own data through various IQA protocols.

The ontological assumptions surrounding IQA directly address the dependence of power and knowledge positions between participants and the researcher (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). A socially constructed ontology is supported by an IQA research design, and it recognises that several phenomena are social constructions filled with social meaning. Northcutt and McCoy (2004, p. 40) expound that in IQA the focus is on social systems, which are defined as 'systems in which human interpretation of meaning is involved'. According to Geldenhuys (2015), social constructionism is interested in the meanings attributed to things, or the so-called 'facts', and it focusses on the methods through which people come to their understanding of themselves and their world (Geldenhuys, 2015).

Although the ontological foundation of IQA is that of social constructionism, the epistemological foundation is social constructivist, as it acknowledges that people experience their world through the social construction of meaning. Both deduction and induction are deemed necessary to investigations of meaning (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004, p. 16). Participants are therefore requested to induce categories of meaning (induction), then to define and refine these (induction and deduction) and, finally, to deductively examine the relationships of influence between the categories. These three stages of data analysis are consistent with the three formal categories of analysis of coding (i.e. emergent, axial and theoretical) (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). Geldenhuys (2015) asserts that the epistemological assumption of social constructionism is concerned with how knowledge can be formed, obtained and conveyed (i.e. what it means to 'know').

Research strategy

The research strategy selected for this study was a focus group, with subsequent individual semi-structured interviews. The focus group encouraged simultaneous collection and analysis of data, and through the affinities (themes) that emerged in the focus group the content of the individual semi-structured interviews was ascertained. The semi-structured interviews were utilised to corroborate the findings of the focus group (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004) and facilitated data saturation for the purposes of this qualitative study because they provided the group-level processes with additional depth and individual experience (Fusch & Ness, 2015).

Research method

Research setting

The research was conducted at the Titanium Boardroom at the Silverstar Centre in Krugersdorp. This was considered a neutral location, which allowed for and encouraged the voluntary participation of the constituents. The researchers were not directly associated with the organisation, and access to the boardroom was obtained at the researchers' own cost.

Entrée and establishing researcher roles

The location selected for the focus group was considered ideal because of the nature of the study (exploring the experience of meaningful work for self-employed individuals). It was therefore deemed appropriate to secure a location that allowed for and encouraged the voluntary participation of the constituents in a neutral setting.

The researcher's role in an IQA focus group is that of a facilitator, where the purpose is to allow constituents to reflect on their experience of the phenomenon being investigated. The role of the researcher as facilitator of the process minimises the researcher's power and influence over constituents during data analysis.

Research participants and sampling methods

A purposive sampling method was used to select participants, or constituents, as referred to in IQA terminology (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The participants in an IQA study are selected as representatives of a constituency, which means that they are considered as an expert on the phenomenon under investigation on account of their affiliation to a specific group (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004).

Participants for this study were selected based on their self-employed status, but they represent diverse backgrounds in terms of age, skills and occupation. Representivity in IQA refers to a participant having personal experience of the constructs being studied from a specific perspective as a result of their association to a specific group (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004).

For the study, 21 self-employed individuals were identified and contacted to participate in the study. A total of nine self-employed individuals agreed to participate in the study. Only five participants arrived for the focus group. One of the participants has been working in a self-employed capacity for 3 years and is involved in the agricultural sector. One of the participants has been working in a self-employed capacity for over 10 years and is involved in renovation and restoration projects of houses. The other participants had been working in a self-employed capacity for over 20 years, with one being involved in Internet hosting services and systems analysis, one being involved in photography, laser engraving and woodworking ventures and one being involved in several network marketing ventures. The participants' ages ranged between 25 and 55 years.

Data collection methods

In accordance with IQA protocol, the data were collected in two phases (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The first phase involved a focus group and the construction of a visual representation. During the first phase, participants were requested to silently brainstorm the phenomenon being explored, so as to initiate reflection and generate ideas. The brainstorming process was driven by an issue statement to stimulate thoughts and feelings (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The issue statement presented was 'When you think about your experience of meaningful work, what comes to mind?' Participants were requested to write down one thought or reflection per Post-it® note, and they were not limited regarding the number of thoughts they could generate (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The Post-it® notes were then stuck on a wall to enable the participants to reach a socially constructed, common meaning of each response and also to reduce any ambiguity associated with the meaning of the words or phrases on the Post-it® notes (Bargate, 2014; Northcutt & McCoy, 2004).

The second phase of the study entailed the individual semi-structured interviews, which were based on the affinities (themes) developed by the focus group. In IQA, the purpose of the individual semi-structured interviews is to provide analytical and interpretive depth to the system influence diagrams (SIDs). They do not denote a new phase in the collection of data but provide participants with an opportunity to reflect on what the phenomenon personally means to them (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). As a starting point for the purposes of the individual semi-structured interviews, the uncluttered linear SID (see Figure 1) was presented.



Data recording

The focus group and the individual semi-structured interviews were audio-recorded by using a digital voice recorder. As audio recordings are difficult to anonymise, this was only used for transcription purposes. The audio recordings have been saved on a password-protected computer. An audit trail was created as it refers to the IQA data analysis method, where every step and decision in the analysis of the data was recorded and accounted for (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004).

Strategies employed to ensure data quality and integrity

According to Northcutt and McCoy (2004, p. 17), IQA is 'clearly favourable to theory, both from the point of view of inducing theory and of testing it', and it provides a systemic, accountable and rigorous framework for qualitative inquiry. Because of the fact that participants were involved in the thematic analysis, and by confirming themes with participants during the individual semi-structured interviews, this provided the ideal platform for triangulation (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The researchers ensured that the findings came solely from the participants. An audit trail of traceable and transparent procedures was created, where the participants were actively involved in the process of data collection and analysis (Bargate, 2014). The researchers furthermore used a thick description to show that the findings of the study can be applicable to other contexts, circumstances and situations (Anney, 2014; Elo et al., 2014).

Data analysis


After the meaning of the responses was clarified, the participants were invited to recognise themes or commonalities in the different responses. The purpose of this analysis was to cluster, or categorise, the cards according to 'as-yet-unarticulated, but nevertheless meaningful criteria' (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004, pp. 97-98). By means of inductive coding, the data were categorised into thematically organised groups and to identify affinities, which was the point where categories and topics began to emerge (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004, p. 98).

Affinities were described, refined and narrowed by means of group discussion, until every participant agreed that the meaning of the affinity was accurately reflected by the definition thereof. By means of deductive coding, the group then generated titles or headings that accurately described the meaning of each affinity. These titles, or headings, were documented on header notepads and were placed at the top of each vertical column. From the cards and the affinities generated, the researchers recorded a brief description representing the general content and meaning of each affinity, as collectively described by the group (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004).

Theoretical coding

Interactive qualitative analysis is designed to determine the causal relationship between the affinities through theoretical coding. This is where participants establish what they perceive to be the cause-and-effect relationship (influences) between each of the affinities (AB or AB) or the absence of a relationship between affinities (A< >B). (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004, p. 149). Of importance to note is that participants are not assessing the strength of a relationship, but simply the existence and direction of a relationship (Human-Vogel & Van Petegem, 2008).

The Pareto principle was used to determine which relationships to analyse from several potential causal relationships (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). It states that 20.0% of the variables in the system will account for 80% of the total variation in outcomes (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004, p. 158). In this study, the selected relationships reflected all those relationships up to 80.0%.

Constructs were then sorted to identify the relative drivers (causes) and outcomes (effects) in the system (Human-Vogel & Van Petegem, 2008; Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The primary driver (a significant cause) affects numerous other affinities but is not affected by other affinities. The secondary driver is a relative cause of or influence on affinities. The circulators/pivots take place when there are equal numbers of influences by and on other affinities. The primary outcome (a significant effect) is caused by numerous affinities, but does not affect others, whereas the secondary outcome reveals a relative effect (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The results of the theoretical coding are presented in the group interrelationship diagram (IRD).

System influence diagram

In the final phase of the data analysis for the focus group, a SID is drawn to visually depict the entire system of the affinities and the relationships between them. The SID represents a summary of the underlying structure or mind map of the group. To identify the placement of the affinities in the SID, a tentative SID assignments chart was constructed.

As the SID is often too complex to be meaningful, redundant links are eliminated to obtain a simpler representation. This process, known as 'rationalisation' (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004, p. 37), is carried out for comprehensiveness, complexity, parsimony or simplicity and visual interpretability.

The process of eliminating redundant links resulted in a clearer representation of the relationship between affinities and is depicted in an uncluttered SID. The uncluttered SID represents a mind map, consisting of only the minimum number of links needed to fully represent the underlying logic of the IRD (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The uncluttered SID was modified to be represented in a more linear style, and it was used for the second phase of the IQA process, namely the individual semi-structured interviews.


The key findings are detailed in the following section. The findings from the focus group are reported on, followed by the findings from the individual semi-structured interviews. The researchers utilised verbatim extracts from the focus group and the individual semi-structured interviews, and numbers have been assigned to the participants ('P1', 'P2', etc.) to ensure anonymity.



Focus group

The focus group generated five affinities, which participants used to generate a theory through inductive and deductive processes. The affinities are detailed in Table 1.



To construct the IRD, the affinities were assigned a comparative position within the system, by arranging them in descending order of delta, and thereby enabling the identification of drivers (causes) and outcomes (effects) within the system. The IRD is presented in Table 2.



The tentative SID assignments of the affinities are visually depicted in Table 3.



The resultant visual representation (SID) that was constructed is a depiction of the theory generated by the group (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004), and it is provided as the uncluttered linear SID in Figure 1.

Primary driver: Purpose

Purpose is linked to meaningful work, and as visually demonstrated (see Figure 1), this was indicated as what drives the group to participate in meaningful work. Identified as the primary driver, 'purpose' is considered the 'fundamental cause', or 'source of influence', in the system (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004, p. 32). As a significant cause, several other affinities are affected by purpose, but purpose is not affected by other affinities.

The participants linked this affinity to words such as 'ministry' and 'service'. They emphasised that purpose and core values and goals are an essential component of their experience of and participation in meaningful work. In this regard, P4 stated that 'goals is just breaking purpose into categories' (P4, systems analysis/web hosting/rife technology, November 2019), and that 'having a purpose motivates your serving (others)' (P4, systems analysis/web hosting/rife technology, November 2019). The participants agreed that one's purpose drives everything in one's life and is the primary motivator in what one does. In this regard, P1 stated that 'your purpose is innate in you. You can't change it' (P1, environmental solutions, November 2019). P2 agreed, stating that 'I do believe we all have this innate purpose; it's ingrained in us, it's in our DNA, it's built into us' (P2, network marketing, November 2019).

Secondary driver: Cooperation

'Cooperation' was identified as the secondary driver. Secondary drivers are relative causes of or influences on affinities in the system and are identified when there are both 'outs' and 'ins', but there are a higher number of 'outs' than 'ins'.

There was a lengthy debate between the participants about this affinity. P5 stated the following:

'You have to get some kind of cooperation, or buy-in, before you are in a position to serve. Service would be your initial motivation, but you would need something that would motivate you to serve. So, if you were going to start a church, for instance, you would need to have some kind of congregation before you could start that church, and that would require engaging with people, bringing some sort of collaboration together, even if it was just 10 people. But I would need to create that first before I have a platform from which to serve.' (P5, team building and corporate events/construction, November 2019)

P4 noted that 'actually, I guess you don't need cooperation, because, if you think about it, you can serve people without [cooperation], but you are still cooperating with them even if they're not cooperating with you' (P4, systems analysis/web hosting/rife technology, November 2019). P5 stated the following:

'It comes back to the primary motivation, [which is] "I wanted to serve. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to show love and compassion, and all of that stuff", but in order to get the end result, I need to create cooperation.' (P5, team building and corporate events/construction, November 2019)

P1 argued, by using the example given by P5, that 'if your motivation is to start a church, you will start a church. You won't worry about whether you've got [a congregation]' (P1, environmental solutions, November 2019). To reach consensus, the group related instances where cooperation was required for them to perform their respective work and achieve their intended outcome, and they agreed that to get the end result, one would need cooperation from others.

Circulator: Stimulation

The circulator 'stimulation' had the same number of 'ins' and 'outs' and is considered both a cause of and an effect on other affinities.

The participants described stimulation as the seed that leads to the work being done, and they noted that purpose will stimulate a person to do what they are doing. Some participants felt, however, that stimulation is reciprocal to fulfilment. In this regard, P4 stated that 'if you have stimulation, you have fulfilment. [...] It's why you're doing what you are', but also noted that 'you need to be stimulated yourself before you can stimulate others' (P4, systems analysis/web hosting/rife technology, November 2019). P5 added that 'for self-stimulation, or for the stimulation of others, you would still need to have a launching pad' (P5, team building and corporate events/construction, November 2019).

Secondary outcome: Creativity

The secondary outcome affinity was indicated as 'creativity'. A secondary outcome reveals a relative effect. It is recognised when there are both 'ins' and 'outs', but there are more 'ins' than 'outs'.

The participants felt that people are creative beings, and that they have an innate desire to be creative. Creativity relates to fulfilling a need, and it stimulates a person for the next thing. P4 described creativity as 'any action, because as soon as you use your brain, you're creating' (P4, systems analysis/web hosting/rife technology, November 2019). The group agreed, stating that being able to create something new and to change circumstances is important in what they do. They used words such as 'innovate', 'empower', 'educate', 'uplift', 'insight' and 'motivate' to describe the importance of creativity in their experience of meaningful work.

Primary outcome: Fulfilment

The primary outcome is recognised as the affinity in the system with many 'ins' but no 'outs'. It is a significant affect that is caused by many of the affinities, but does not affect others (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004). The affinity identified as the primary outcome in this system was 'fulfilment'.

During the discussion on fulfilment, it was noted that 'the service side of doing what you're doing is because you have love and compassion for people, or you want to heal or make a difference, or build relationships' (P5, team building and corporate events/construction, November 2019). In response to this statement, it was noted that 'the motivation for it all is for fulfilment; fulfilment is the objective, and service is what is required to get there' (P4, systems analysis/web hosting/rife technology, November 2019).

Individual semi-structured interviews

The participants who were interviewed were not surprised by the outcome of the SID, and they agreed with the conclusion that was drawn from the SID. When the participants were probed about their thoughts regarding how affinities were arranged in the SID, they reiterated the importance of purpose as the driving force of their experience of meaningful work. In this regard, P1 stated that purpose is 'something that is inherent in us that aligns with our values, our core values' (P1, environmental solutions, November 2019). P4 also stated that purpose 'represents our core values' (P4, systems analysis/web hosting/rife technology, November 2019). This view was shared by the other participants, and, in particular, P5 added the following:

'[Purpose is] the reason behind doing something, to obviously reach that end goal of satisfaction. Purpose could be defined from an individual point of view, as something that gives you purpose, or something that is the purpose of the company that you're working with or working for. So I think for me, it would be an understanding of it as an individual goal, something that I want to set out to achieve, and that, in turn, would give me the purpose and the drive to reach that point of satisfaction or achievement, whatever it is I've predetermined there.' (P5, team building and corporate events/construction, November 2019)

The participants further agreed with the primary outcome of the affinities, namely fulfilment. In this regard, P3 noted that she can see when a client is happy with the end result and added that:

'[F]or me that's fulfilling, because I know that I've done something in their life that makes a difference. [...] Meaningful work to me is when I make people feel better about themselves' (P3, photography/graphic design/laser cutting, November 2019)

P2 noted that for him, helping others to change their lives is fulfilling, as he has experienced both successes and failures in business. He explained the following:

'Although the initial [objective] is yes, we get involved because of finances, secondary to that, which eventually sort of becomes the primary aspect, is the personal development and the motivation and the growth of an individual, having been involved with that.' (P2, network marketing, November 2019)

P1 noted that fulfilment for her means 'doing something that makes a difference to somebody else. [...] I think fulfilment comes from doing something well and just making a difference in some small way. It doesn't have to be huge' (P1, environmental solutions, November 2019). P5 noted that 'fulfilment would be reaching that end goal, the thing we started out with' (P5, team building and corporate events/construction, November 2019).



The purpose of this study was to explore the experience of meaningful work for self-employed individuals. The study aimed to delve into not only how meaningful work is conceptualised, but to also develop an understanding of the experience of self-employed individuals when they perform work that they consider meaningful, as well as the implications thereof.

The study revealed that purpose is the primary driver of self-employed individuals' experience of meaningful work, and it was found that they link it to one's core values. This is consistent with what is noted by Costin and Vignoles (2019), who mentioned that purpose is understood as a motivational dimension that organises and stimulates goals and manages behaviour. It is also noted from Martela and Steger (2016) that purpose means having a sense of core goals and direction in life. In this regard, Gaudry (2018) concluded that subjective emotions have physical outcomes, by motivating purposeful, goal-directed behaviour.

Other affinities that emerged from the study were cooperation, stimulation and creativity. These affinities were noted to contribute to self-employed individuals' experience of meaningful work. Research indicates that meaningfulness is experienced in cooperation, or working together, when mutual support and a sense of belonging and shared values are experienced (Lips-Wiersma et al., 2016). It is noted in this regard that collaboration, or working together, is inherently meaningful, as the action of doing something together establishes a connection and provides the experience of common purpose (Lips-Wiersma & Morris, 2009). It was emphasised in the study that without the involvement of others, work is meaningless. Research also indicates that work that is more interesting or stimulating produces feelings of accomplishment, promotes helpfulness and contributes to people's lives, which is considered crucial for achieving meaningful work (Geldenhuys et al., 2014), and that work that provides mental stimulation, amongst other things, is conducive to flourishing, even outside of work (Veltman, 2015). It is further noted from Chalofsky (2003) that for work itself to be considered meaningful, it requires more autonomy, or independence, empowerment, flexibility, risk-taking, continuous learning and creativity. According to Jena et al. (2019), meaningful work fosters empowerment. It was also noted that people have a desire to 'make a difference and create a meaningful world or an inner wisdom and compassion' (Chalofsky, 2003, p. 75). This is consistent with what is noted by Csikszentmihalyi (1997), namely that people value the process of discovery and creating most of all. People have a desire to be creative (Antal, Debucquet, & Frémeaux, 2018) and to express this creativity through their work.

The study concluded that fulfilment is the primary outcome of self-employed individuals' experience of meaningful work. Research indicates that fulfilment is important in meaningful work (Geldenhuys et al., 2014), and reciprocally that meaningful work is a source of personal fulfilment (Simonet & Castille, 2020). Duffy, Allan and Bott (2012) noted in this regard that serving others in some capacity contributes to a sense of meaning, or purpose, and can be linked to fulfilment. This was confirmed in the focus group and the semi-structured interviews.

Practical implications

This study expands the existing research on meaningful work, but with the focus being on the experience of self-employed individuals. Meaningful work has direct implications for an individual's ability to realise their potential, purpose, values and goals. To capitalise on the positive impact of meaningful work, self-employed individuals should continually strive to measure their work against their perceived purpose and goals. It was reiterated in the study that having a sense of purpose, which is inherent in every individual, is central to the experience of meaningful work and is linked to goals and values. Self-employed individuals are fortunate to be in a position where they can create opportunities for meaningful work, and in this regard, it would be of value for them to create a vision board, linked to their perceived purpose and goals, showing where they see themselves in future, as a means to drive them in their pursuit of fulfilment and self-actualisation. A vision board enables a person to portray their thoughts visually, and when this is coupled with emotion (feeling associated with achieving their purpose, or goals), this enables them to create belief in their ability to do so. If an individual feels they are living out their purpose, they will believe it, and belief results in an individual taking the necessary action to create their desired result. Discussions with other self-employed individuals could also provide one with an understanding and appreciation of the experience of other self-employed individuals, and it could possibly influence one's own experience of meaningful work in a positive way.


Despite the contribution of this study in helping to understand the experience of meaningful work for self-employed individuals, there are some limitations that are worth mentioning. One of the possible limitations of this study may be the sample size of participants in the focus group. Although the results were similar amongst the participants, which enabled the researchers to reach data saturation, it is acknowledged that this study was restricted to a small number of participants.

Recommendations for future research

It is recommended that studies of a similar nature be carried out with a larger number of participants, to facilitate a more extensive understanding of the experience of meaningful work for self-employed individuals. It is also recommended that consideration be given to the difference in the experience of meaningful work between newly self-employed individuals and those who have been self-employed for a period of time. It would furthermore be useful to compare the experience of meaningful work for self-employed individuals with those who are not self-employed. Further studies could also include research on meaningful work as it refers to societal or cultural influences that drive interpretations of meaning.



Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

The research was compiled by S.J. and supervised by D.J.G.

Ethical considerations

Ethical clearance to conduct the study was obtained from the University of South Africa Research Ethics Review committee (ERC reference number: 2019_CEMS/IOP_024). The researchers were continuously cognisant of the Health Professions Council of South Africa's (HPCSA) 'Ethical Principles and Guidelines' as well as the University of South Africa's 'Policy on Research Ethics'. All participants provided signed informed consent and voluntarily contributed to the study.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Dirk Geldenhuys

Received: 19 June 2020
Accepted: 09 Mar. 2021
Published: 08 June 2021

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Impact of positive practices on turnover intention, in-role performance and organisational citizenship behaviour



Kleinjan Redelinghuys

Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa





ORIENTATION: The literature on positive organisational scholarship (POS) could offer valuable suggestions on how to rekindle a sense of positivity amongst teachers. Under the POS umbrella, the current study specifically focusses on positive practices, as the research study shows the importance of a positive school climate for teachers and learners
RESEARCH PURPOSE: This study set out to inspect associations amongst positive practices, turnover intention, in-role performance and organisational citizenship behaviours (OCBs) (towards others and the organisation
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Although positive practices is not a novel construct, scientific enquiry into the topic has been scarce
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: A cross-sectional survey design with 258 secondary school teachers from the Sedibeng East and West districts was used. The Positive Practices, Turnover Intention, OCB and In-Role Behaviour scales were administered. Structural equation modelling was used for hypotheses testing
MAIN FINDINGS: The results of this study confirmed the negative association between positive practices and turnover intention, whereas positive associations were established amongst positive practices, in-role performance (to a lesser extent) and the two different types of OCBs used in this study
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: Organisations are faced with two options: create a respectful, supportive, caring, inspirational, meaningful and forgiving organisational environment for employees and see them prosper and take the organisation to greater heights, or treat them poorly and bear the consequences
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: This study makes a valuable contribution to POS through the assessment of outcomes associated with positive practices that have not been studied previously

Keywords: positive practices; turnover intention; in-role performance; organisational citizenship behaviour; teachers.




This study set out to inspect associations amongst positive practices, turnover intention, in-role performance and organisational citizenship behaviours (OCBs) (towards others and the organisation). 'Teaching has been ranked as one of the most stressful professions in various cultural and educational contexts' (Saloviita & Pakarinen, 2021, para. 3). Consequently, an extensive literature base has been built around the negative outcomes associated with teaching, investigating prominent issues such as victimisation (e.g. Yang et al., 2019), depression (e.g. Martínez-Monteagudo, Inglés, Granados, Aparisi, & García-Fernández, 2019), burnout (GarcíaCarmona, Marín, & Aguayo, 2019), musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. Ng, Voo, & Maakip, 2019), and time pressure and discipline problems (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2018) amongst others. Although it is important to focus on negative issues teachers face and the events that precede it, it is also essential to cast attention to antecedents that may promote positive outcomes amongst teachers. The literature on positive organisational scholarship (POS; see Cameron & Spreitzer, 2011) could offer valuable suggestions on how to rekindle a sense of positivity amongst teachers. Under the POS umbrella, this study specifically focusses on positive practices, as this research shows the importance of a positive school climate for teachers and learners alike (Collie, Shapka, & Perry, 2012).

Positive practices

In an attempt to capture behaviours and characteristics of positivity in organisations, Cameron, Mora, Leutscher and Calarco (2011) derived a list of six positive practices: (1) respect, integrity and gratitude; (2) compassionate support; (3) caring; (4) meaning; (5) inspiration; and (6) forgiveness. Respect, integrity and gratitude1 refer to practices where employees trust each other, treat one another respectfully, display integrity, show belief in others, and openly express their gratefulness towards colleagues. Compassionate support2 involves assisting and caring for coworkers who are facing adversity, providing emotional support and compassion, building strong social ties, being kind-hearted and cherishing each other's unique talents. Caring involves showing genuine interest and concern to fellow workers, nurturing friendships and being responsive to one another. Meaning involves finding elevation, rejuvenation, meaning, motivation and purpose at work. Inspiration involves finding inspiration in one another, sharing enthusiasm with each other and publicly praising the good in others. Finally, forgiveness involves reserving judgement when any blunders are made, correcting errors without pointing fingers and not keeping record of any mistakes made by colleagues.

Although positive practices is not a novel construct, scientific enquiry into the topic has been scarce (Janse van Rensburg & Rothmann, 2020). Organisations with positive practices in their arsenal are more inclined to retain their personnel and attain greater levels of organisational efficiency (Cameron et al., 2011). At the team level, positive practices have been associated with task performance and work engagement (Geue, 2018). Within the South African context, Rautenbach (2015) established a positive association between three positive practices (coined positive emotions, support and inspiration) and employee flourishing in the fast-moving consumer goods industry. Amongst secondary school teachers in the North West province, Fouché (2015) observed that two positive practices (meaning and inspiration) related to the psychological well-being of employees. Similarly, Redelinghuys, Rothmann and Botha (2019) found that positive practices related to the emotional, psychological and social well-being of secondary school educators in two Gauteng districts. More recently, Janse van Rensburg and Rothmann (2020) uncovered that the perceived absence of positive organisational practices related to diminished employee well-being, overload perceptions, unsatisfactory workplace relationships and a lack of person-environment fit and role clarity.

Even though in-role performance in relation to positive practices has been studied previously, the current study differs from that of Cameron et al.'s (2011) study by focussing on positive practices and in-role performance at the individual level of analysis. Additionally, this study includes individual-level outcomes (turnover intention and OCBs) that have not been assessed in relation to positive practices to the best of the author's knowledge.

In-role performance, turnover intention and organisational citizenship behaviours as outcomes of positive practices

Teacher retention and performance are important focus points within the South African education system (Redelinghuys et al., 2019). Therefore, it is vital to grasp the factors that inhibit teacher attrition (Ryan et al., 2017), especially because of the longstanding problem of teachers leaving the profession (Perryman & Calvert, 2020). Turnover intention signals an employee's premeditated intent to pursue alternative employment opportunities (Tett & Meyer, 1993). Schools should by all means necessary retain competent staff members, as successful educational institutions depend on teachers' excellence (i.e. teachers performing well and exceeding expectations) (Imran, Allil, & Mahmoud, 2017). In-role performance, also known as task performance, indicates the formal work activities employees are expected to execute as specified in their work contracts (Borman & Motowidlo, 1997; Williams & Anderson, 1991). Fouché (2015) contends that South African teachers often do not possess the necessary qualifications and in many cases their performance is unsatisfactory. Consequently, low teacher performance detrimentally impacts the quality of education students receive (Fouché 2015). Thus, it is key for schools to pinpoint and institutionalise factors that may contribute towards better performance of teachers. Individual performance is however not bound to merely formal job tasks but also behaviours that transcend it. Organisational citizenship behaviours reflect beneficial employee actions that exceed job expectations (Lambert, 2006). Williams and Anderson (1991) suggested that a distinction could be made between two types of OCBs: (1) OCB-I and (2) OCB-O. The first refers to aid towards colleagues,3 whilst the latter reflects helping behaviours directed at one's organisation4. High-performing schools rely on the eagerness of teachers to go above and beyond of what is expected from them (DiPaola & Tschannen-Moran, 2001). This necessitates establishing antecedents that may encourage OCB.

A possible avenue through which positive practices may relate to the outcomes of the study is social exchange theory (SET). Cropanzano and Mitchell (2005) suggest that SET is best described as an amalgamation of various conceptual frameworks rather than a single theory. One of its basic tenets is the reciprocity principle (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). A positive reciprocity orientation entails the inclination of an employee to respond positively towards his or her organisation and/or colleagues when positive treatment is received (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). The same principle also applies to negative or unfavourable treatment. Consequently, social exchange relationships blossom when organisations look after their employees, as this promotes positive employee behaviours and attitudes that are beneficial to all the involved parties (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). For example, studies have found that when exchange relationships are formed, employees do not merely reciprocate through performance but also engage in behaviours that transcend their formal work tasks (Mitchell, Cropanzano, & Quisenberry, 2012). In the context of the current study, the presence of positive practices (positive treatment by the organisation and/or colleagues) should propel employees to positively respond to their organisation and colleagues through lowered turnover intention, as well as elevated performance and helping behaviours.

Emanating from the preceding discussion, the following hypotheses were formulated:

  • Hypothesis 1: Positive practices negatively associate with turnover intention.

  • Hypothesis 2: Positive practices positively associate with in-role performance.

  • Hypothesis 3: Positive practices positively associate with OCB (others).

  • Hypothesis 4: Positive practices positively associate with OCB (organisation).


Research design

Research approach

This study used a quantitative cross-sectional survey research design. This approach enabled the researcher to structurally model the relationships between the variables used in the study and in the process accept or reject the study hypotheses.

Research method


The study included 258 participants gathered through convenience sampling. Schools within relatively close proximity to the researcher were chosen to limit research-related expenses. Although a probability sampling technique would have been more ideal, it was not feasible for a non-funded project. In the recruitment and data collection phases, several stumbling blocks were encountered, which to a certain extent influenced the heterogeneity of the sample. These include (1) principals rejecting the invitation to participate on behalf of their school; (2) principals accepting the invitation to participate on behalf of their school, but no one participated; (3) no response from various principals; and (4) an inability to make contact with schools because of faulty telephone numbers and/or email addresses (this was particularly a problem with rural schools). The participants' mean age equalled 39.97 years (median = 39, standard deviation [SD] = 12.45). Frequencies and percentages (ranging from highest to lowest) for the different biographical categories are reported next;5 gender: women (n = 190, 73.70%) and men (n = 62, 24%). Racial groups included were: white people (n = 192, 74.40%), black African people (n = 48, 18.60%), Indian and/or Asian (n = 9, 3.50%) and mixed race (n = 2, 0.8%); marital status: married (n = 158, 61.20%), single (n = 45, 17.40%), living with partner (n = 18, 7%), divorced (n = 18, 7%) and widowed (n = 4, 1.60%); highest educational level: degree (n = 115, 44.60%), postgraduate degree (n = 94, 36.40%), diploma (n = 39, 15.10%) and matric (n = 4, 1.60%); experience: more than 10 years (n = 134, 51.90%) and 0-10 years (n = 104, 40.30%); job position: teacher (n = 204, 79.1%), head of department (n = 30, 11.6%), vice-principal (n = 10, 3.9%) and principal (n = 6, 2.3%).

Measuring instruments

The Positive Practices Questionnaire (PPQ; Cameron et al., 2011) measured positive practices. The scale consists of 29 items recorded on a five-point scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The PPQ embodies six dimensions: respect, support, caring, meaning, inspiration and forgiveness. Respect (e.g. '[w]e show appreciation for one another') and support (e.g. '[w]e show kindness to one another') were both measured by seven items. Inspiration (e.g. '[w]e communicate the good we see in one another') and forgiveness (e.g. '[w]e do not blame one other when mistakes are made') were both measured by three items. Additionally, caring was measured by four items (e.g. 'We genuinely care about each other') and meaning by five items (e.g. '[w]e feel that our work has profound meaning'). In a South African study, Redelinghuys et al. (2019) established excellent reliability for the PPQ (ρ > 0.90).

The Turnover Intention Scale (TIS; Sjöberg & Sverke, 2000) measured turnover intention. Scored on a five-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), the TIS encompasses three items on a solitary dimension. A sample item is: 'I am actively looking for other jobs'. In a South African study, Rossouw and Rothmann (2020) established a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of 0.84 for the TIS.

The In-Role Behaviour Scale (Williams & Anderson, 1991) measured in-role performance. Scored on a seven-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree), the scale encompasses seven items on a solitary dimension. A sample item is: 'I fulfil responsibilities specified in my job description'. The items were formulated in a way that allowed participants to evaluate their own performance as the Department of Education prohibited external evaluation. In a South African study, Dhliwayo and Coetzee (2020) established a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of 0.83 for the scale.

The Organisational Citizenship Behaviour Scale (OCBS; Rothmann, 2010) measured both OCB (others) and OCB (organisation). Scored on a seven-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree), each dimension encompasses three items. A sample item for OCB others is: 'I assist others with their duties'. 'I offer ideas to improve the functioning of the organisation' is a sample item of OCB organisation. In a South African study, Sepeng, Stander, Van der Vaart and Coxen (2020) established acceptable reliability coefficients for the OCBS (ω = 0.79, α = 0.79).


To conduct research amongst secondary school teaching staff, the researcher had to complete a research request form obtained from the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE). The completed form was sent to the GDE's research division for approval. Once the GDE approved the study, scientific and ethics clearance could be obtained and further arrangements could be made with the selected district offices (Sedibeng East and West), principals, and probable participants. Teaching personnel at the participating schools received a clear outline of the study and an informed consent form and were made aware that they were by no means obliged to participate in the study. The teaching personnel included anyone (teacher, head of department, vice-principal or principal) fulfilling some sort of teaching role in either a permanent or school governing body position. Paper-based surveys were circulated amongst consenting participants. Arrangements were made for the secure return of participants' survey papers.

Statistical analysis

Two statistical software programmes were used to analyse the dataset: Mplus version 8.4 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998-2017) and JASP version 0.14 (JASP Team, 2020). Descriptive statistics (means and standard deviations), Cronbach's alpha coefficients (α) and McDonald's omega coefficients (ω) were calculated by using JASP. Composite reliability coefficients (ρ) were calculated by using Mplus. Reliability coefficients reflect measurement consistency (Netemeyer, Bearden, & Sharma, 2003) and play a crucial part in assessing the psychometric properties of a measuring instrument. For the preceding reliability coefficients, values 0.70 were deemed to be acceptable according to Nunnally and Bernstein's (1994) guidelines. John and Soto (2007), however, suggested that:

[A]lthough it would be quite convenient to have a simple cookbook for measurement decisions, there is no minimum or optimum reliability that is necessary, adequate, or even desirable in all contexts. (p. 464)

Consequently, the 0.70 benchmark is not set in stone and should be cautiously interpreted with a specific context in mind (John & Soto, 2007; Pedhazur & Schmelkin, 1991). Correlations, confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modelling were also tested by using Mplus. Values 0.05 indicated statistical significance (p-values), whilst the practical significance of the correlation coefficients according to Cohen's (1992) criteria were as follows: 0.10 to 0.29 (small effect), 0.30 to 0.49 (medium effect) and 0.50 (large effect). To assess the fit of the measurement models (using confirmatory analysis) and the structural model (using structural equation modelling), the standard Mplus fit indices were used. Values 0.90 are deemed to be acceptable for the Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) and the comparative fit index (CFI) (Wang & Wang, 2020). Values 0.08 are acceptable for the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) (Browne & Cudeck, 1993) and the standardised root mean square residual (SRMR) (Hu & Bentler, 1999). Although there are no cut-off values for the Chi-square statistic (χ2), or the Akaike and Bayes information criteria (BIC), lower values usually indicate a better model fit. When a model displays acceptable fit according to the preceding criteria, it means that valid deductions can be made regarding aspects, such as the proposed relationships in the study and the factor structure/s of the respective constructs, amongst other things. Regarding the variance explained (R2) in the structural model, values 0.09 indicated a small effect, values < 0.25 indicated a medium effect and values 0.25 indicated a large effect (Cohen, 1988).

Ethical considerations

Ethical clearance for the study was granted by the HHREC Committee, North-West University (No.: NWU-HS-2015-0193).



Descriptive statistics, reliability coefficients and correlations are reported in Table 1.

As shown in Table 1, the correlation coefficients between almost all of the latent variables were statistically significant (p 0.001). The correlation between turnover intention and in-role performance (p = 0.03), as well as between turnover intention and OCB others (p = 0.003), was also statistically significant, although it displayed higher p-values in comparison with the rest. In terms of the practical significance of the correlation coefficients, small, medium and large effects were observed. All of the measuring instruments exceeded the reliability threshold of 0.70 on all the reliability indicators used in the study, ranging from 0.80 to 0.98. Accordingly, the measuring instruments exhibited sufficient measurement consistency.

Confirmatory factor analysis

To assess the validity of the measuring instruments, confirmatory factor analyses were carried out using Mplus. Confirmatory factor analysis is generally used to test existing theoretical frameworks (Matsunaga, 2010) and provides information regarding the factor structure of a construct (e.g. whether it is unidimensional or multidimensional), how well items load onto their intended construct (e.g. factor loadings) and so on. Two measurement models were specified and tested for fit purposes using the maximum likelihood robust (MLR) estimator. The MLR estimator was used as it takes skewness and kurtosis into account (Kline, 2016).

In the original hypothesised model, positive practices were specified as a second-order factor, entailing respect (seven observed variables6), support (seven observed variables), caring (four observed variables), meaning (five observed variables), inspiration (three observed variables) and forgiveness (three observed variables). The remaining variables were all specified as first-order factors: turnover intention (three observed variables), in-role performance (seven observed variables), OCB others (three observed variables) and OCB organisation (three observed variables). The fit statistics for the model were as follows: χ2 = 1943.45, df = 929, χ2/df = 2.09, CFI = 0.90, TLI = 0.89, RMSEA = 0.06 (90% confidence intervals [CIs] = 0.06, 0.007), and SRMR = 0.06. Because of the TLI's slight underperformance (< 0.90), the researcher looked at high modification indices to see whether the model fit can be improved. A modification index value of 88.08 was established between item 6 ('I neglect aspects of the job that I am obligated to perform') and item 7 ('I fail to perform essential duties') of the In-Role Behaviour Scale (Williams & Anderson, 1991). As these items formed part of the same construct (in-role performance) and both were reverse scored, they were allowed to correlate. Following the adjustments, the model yielded the following acceptable fit results: χ2 = 1835.648, df = 928, χ2/df = 1.98, CFI = 0.91, TLI = 0.90, RMSEA = 0.06 (90% CI = 0.06, 0.07) and SRMR = 0.05. In an alternative measurement model, positive practices were specified as a first-order factor, entailing 29 observed variables. The fit statistics for the model were as follows: χ2 = 2791.262, df = 934, χ2/df = 2.99, CFI = 0.82, TLI = 0.81, RMSEA = 0.09 (90% CI = 0.08, 0.09) and SRMR = 0.06. From the preceding results, the original hypothesised model comfortably displayed the best fit. The acceptable fit statistics from the original hypothesised model suggests that the data adequately captured the constructs of the study, and that further relationships between the variables can be assessed. Consequently, using the specifications of the first model, the researcher proceeded to add structural paths to the equation (i.e. regress the dependent variables of the study onto the independent variable).

Structural equation modelling

Figure 1 illustrates the standard path coefficients from the independent variable (positive practices) to the dependent variables (turnover intention, in-role performance, OCB others and OCB organisation).



The structural path from positive practices to turnover intention was statistically significant, and the direction of the relationship was negative as anticipated (β = -0.53; p = < 0.001). Positive practices explained 29% (large effect) of the variance in turnover intention. Consequently, Hypothesis 1 is supported.

The structural path from positive practices to in-role performance was statistically significant, and the direction of the relationship was positive as anticipated (β = 0.22; p = < 0.001). Positive practices explained 5% (small effect) of the variance in in-role performance. Consequently, Hypothesis 2 is partially supported.

The structural path from positive practices to OCB others was statistically significant, and the direction of the relationship was positive as anticipated (β = 0.45; p = < 0.001). Positive practices explained 21% (medium effect) of the variance in OCB others. Consequently, Hypothesis 3 is supported.

The structural path from positive practices to OCB organisation was statistically significant, and the direction of the relationship was positive as anticipated (β = 0.50; p = < 0.001). Positive practices explained 25% (large effect) of the variance in OCB organisation. Consequently, Hypothesis 4 is supported.



This study set out to inspect associations amongst positive practices, turnover intention, in-role performance and OCBs towards others and the organisation.

The results confirmed the negative association between positive practices and turnover intention, whilst positive associations were established amongst positive practices, in-role performance (to a lesser extent) and the two different types of OCBs used in this study. Consequently, employees are less likely to contemplate departure from their current organisation, are more prone to satisfactorily execute their formal work tasks and are more inclined to walk the extra mile for their colleagues and organisation when positive practices are embedded in the school environment. The positive association between positive practices and in-role performance is partially in line with the findings of Cameron et al. (2011), although different levels of analysis came into effect. To the best of the researcher's knowledge, this was the first study to assess relationships between positive practices, turnover intention and OCBs. In this regard, the study makes a valuable contribution to POS. In general, the findings seem to support the reciprocity principle of SET whereby positive treatment from one entity is matched with positive treatment from another entity (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005).

Implications for management

When looking at the findings of this study, a classic case of 'you reap what you sow' springs to mind. Although not all employees will value reciprocity to the same extent (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005), some researchers (e.g. Gouldner, 1960; Wang, Tsui, Zhang, & Ma, 2003) believe in its universality. Therefore, when an employee perceives unfavourable treatment from either his or her colleagues or organisation, he or she will be more inclined to act negatively towards the entity from which the negative treatment originates. For example, when the negative treatment is received from colleagues, an employee is unlikely to offer any form of assistance to that specific colleague or a group of colleagues. Similarly, when the negative treatment stems from the organisation, an employee may retaliate through withdrawal behaviours, as well as a decrease in performance (in-role and extra-role). In contrast, when employees are treated well, a vast range of positive outcomes may ensue. Therefore, organisations are faced with two options: create a respectful, supportive, caring, inspirational, meaningful and forgiving organisational environment for employees and see them prosper and take the organisation to greater heights, or treat them poorly and bear the consequences.

This poses the question: how does one cultivate positive practices in one's organisation? Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer as this will vary from organisation to organisation. Therefore, it is important for organisations to obtain direct input from their employees regarding how they perceive organisational practices (e.g. negative, neutral and positive). Information can be obtained through sources, such as focus groups, surveys or interviews. Obtaining information from as many employees as possible is important because of differences in individual perceptions. Richer data may assist organisations to identify the areas that warrant the most attention. Accordingly, organisations can use this information to implement strategies aimed at rectifying negative or neutral areas, as well as strategies to reinforce current practices that are positively perceived. When organisations extensively and continuously invest in creating a better work atmosphere for their employees, a host of positive outcomes should follow.

Limitations and recommendations for future research

The study was not free from limitations. Firstly, positive practices were not assessed at the organisational level of analysis as the researcher could not obtain enough participants from each school to aggregate their responses. It would be interesting to see if the individual-level results in the current study correspond to analyses conducted at the team, business-unit or organisational level. This could be a topic of interest for future studies. Secondly, by using a cross-sectional design, the author cannot definitively imply that positive practices will cause any of the outcomes tested in the study. Future studies using longitudinal designs may shed more light on this topic. Finally, some researchers may argue that self-reported measures (as used in the current study) may lead to common method bias (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). Although not always feasible (like certain measures utilised in this study), collecting information from other sources in addition to self-reported measures may provide valuable insights.



The embodiment of respectful, supportive, caring, inspirational, meaningful and forgiving organisational practices should positively impact employee retention, performance and helping behaviours.



Competing interests

The author declares that he has no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced him in writing this article.

Author's contributions

K.R. declares that he is the sole author of this research article.

Funding information

The author received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

Data availability

Only the primary researcher has access to the primary data as approved by the ethics committee.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position or policy of any affiliated agency or institution of the author.



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Kleinjan Redelinghuys

Received: 15 Jan. 2021
Accepted: 16 Apr. 2021
Published: 09 June 2021



1. Hereafter referred to as respect.
2. Hereafter referred to as support.
3. The study uses the term OCB others in the rest of the article to describe this phenomenon.
4. The study uses the term OCB organisation in the rest of the article to describe this phenomenon.
5. Where percentages do not add up to a 100%, missing values were involved.
6. Observed variables refer to the items of a scale or subscale (i.e. in the case of the respect subscale, seven items were used in specifying the construct based on theory). The same principle applies to the rest of the scales and subscales. The number of observed variables should correspond to the number of items of each scale and subscale as outlined in the 'measuring instruments' section of this study.

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The influence of compensation, training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour



Portia M. Manenzhe; Hlanganipai Ngirande

Department of Human Resources Management and Labour Relations, Faculty of Management Sciences, Commerce and Law, University of Venda, Thohoyandou, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Extra role behaviours, also known as organisational citizenship behaviours, are very important for an organisation's success. Organisational objectives can be efficiently achieved when employees are willing to do work that is beyond their job description. Organisations with employees with high organisational citizenship behaviour have a competitive advantage and are highly productive
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The study investigated the influence of compensation and training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff at a rural-based South African institution of higher learning
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Research on the influence of compensation and training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour is not new. However, the studies were carried out in different sectors outside South Africa. There is still scant information known about citizenship behaviour in the higher education sector in general and in South African rural-based institutions of higher learning in particular
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: The study was based on a quantitative approach, which used a cross-sectional research design. A sample of 152 academic staff participated in this study. Data were gathered using a self-administered questionnaire. Descriptive statistics, correlation and multiple regression analysis technique were conducted using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 26.0
MAIN FINDINGS: The findings revealed a significant relationship between compensation and organisational citizenship behaviour. A significant correlation was also found between training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour. However, in multiple regression analysis, compensation was found to be the only predictor of organisational citizenship behaviour. Moreover, no significant difference in levels of organisational citizenship behaviour between men and women was found
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The management of the institution should continuously review its compensation or rewards policies to enhance organisational citizenship behaviour amongst the academic staff. Institutions of higher learning should also compensate their employees and develop them fairly regardless of gender in order to promote organisational citizenship behaviour
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: The study's findings will assist the university management in making strategic decisions on compensation systems and staff development that will enhance the citizenship behaviour of the academic staff

Keywords: academic staff; compensation; higher education; human resource management practices; organisational citizenship behaviour; South Africa; training and development; university.




Extra role behaviours, also known as organisational citizenship behaviours, are very important for an organisation's success. Organisational objectives can be efficiently achieved when employees are willing to do work that is beyond their job description (Chattopadhyay, 2017). Organisations with employees with high organisational citizenship behaviour have a competitive advantage and are highly productive (Morales-Sánchez & Pasamar, 2019; Rawabdeh, Nawafleh, Alsari, & Melhem, 2019; Salas-Vallina, Alegre, & Fernandez, 2017). However, few organisations have a clear organisational citizenship behaviour strategy. It is, therefore, crucial for organisations to align their human management practices to their strategic objectives (Tashtoush & Eyupoglu, 2020). Tashtoush and Eyupoglu (2020) argued that the effective management of human resource management practices enhance the organisational citizenship behaviour of employees. Therefore, this study investigates the influence of compensation and training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour.

The South African higher education sector is currently facing different challenges and changes. These include massive increase in enrolment of students in excess of their capacity (Mohamedbhai, 2014). As most students have increased access to higher education, the literature has shown that access to quality learning and success rate (Boughey & McKenna, 2016) is still a challenge because of large classes (Teferra, 2015), staff to student ratio imbalances, shortage of institutional resources and student diversity (Smit, 2012). Furthermore, the sector is faced with high employee mobility and gender disparities amongst the academic staff (Department of Higher Education and Training [DHET], 2015). These challenges mostly affect the under resourced institutions such as rural-based historically black universities (HBU) (Bozalek & Boughey, 2012). In order to function effectively, higher education institutions are, to a large extent, dependent on the intellectual abilities and commitment of academic staff (Pienaar & Bester, 2008; Theron, Barkhuizen, & Du Plessis, 2014). It is, therefore, important to investigate the influence of compensation and training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour amongst the academic staff in the higher education sector.



Compensation can be defined as the entire sum of monetary and non-monetary pay agreed to be given to an employee by the employer in return for work performed as required (Bussin & Brigman, 2019). Compensation is further viewed as a mixture of the worth of one's remuneration, vacation, bonuses, health insurance and any other perks one may receive, including free lunches, complimentary events and parking (Odunlade, 2012). Compensation systems, therefore, are intended to reward past and influence future employee behaviours (Olson, Slater, Hult, & Olson, 2018).

David (2013) identified two forms of compensation that are normally offered to employees, namely direct forms, which include wages, commissions, bonuses and hourly payments and indirect forms, which include equity-based programmes, retirements plans and paid vacations. These rewards should meet both the organisation's ability to pay and any governing legal regulations (Bussin, 2011). Employees who perceive their compensation to be adequate tend to put more effort than expected in their contracts of employment.

In addition to these forms of compensation, Chenga (2018) identified two categories of compensation, namely a job-based approach and a skills-based approach. A job-based approach is where an individual is compensated for the job assigned regardless of the skills they possess (Milkovich, Newman, & Gerhart, 2013) whereas, a skills-based approach is where an individual is paid for how skilled they are at performing the job or multiple tasks (Kim, Halliday, Zhao, Wang, & Von Glinow, 2018). This study is premised on the skills-based approach because academics are compensated based on their skills.

Compensation is vital for employees as the amount of compensation imitates the size and value of their work (Boardman, Greenberg, Vining, & Weimer, 2017) and influences their level of citizenship behaviour. As such, institutions of higher learning need to compensate human capital skills possessed by academic staff fairly and equitably for them to be competitive in terms of quality student learning and high throughput, which may be attributed to employees' extra effort. However, it is not compensation alone that inspires employees to put extra effort beyond their expectations. Employee development opportunities such as training and development may also influence one's level of organisational citizenship behaviour.


Training and development

Training and development refers to the process of giving employees instruction, seminars, coaching, mentoring and other learning opportunities that inspire, educate and enable them to serve their positions to the best of their knowledge within the requirements set by their organisation (Jahan, 2015). Organisations have many reasons for engaging in training and development. According to Organ, Podsakoff and MacKenzie (2006), training practices can encourage employees to upgrade their abilities and be more confident to complete their wider roles. Through better skills and confidence, employees may go beyond their expected normal duties.

The basic purpose of a training and development programme is to contribute to the overall goal achievement of an organisation. In addition, it improves knowledge, skills and transforms attitudes or behaviour of employees. Therefore, training and development can improve organisational citizenship behaviour within employees, leading to many benefits such as enhanced employees' confidence, satisfaction and comfortableness (Ahmed, 2016). The capacity of organisations to attain their objectives may be enhanced, thereby putting them in a more competitive position (Ford, Kraiger, & Merritt, 2010; Zehra, 2016). This helps in employee retention, in the sense that employees value the opportunities that organisations offer them with regard to improving their learning (Elnagal & Imran, 2013).


Organisational citizenship behaviour

Organisations are increasingly anticipating employees to go beyond their prescribed job descriptions and execute tasks that are out of their formal job descriptions and reward arrangements to cope with competitive forces (Dekas, Bauer, Welle, Kurkoski, & Sullivan, 2013). According to Chin, Ho, Lim, Loh and Low (2017), organisational citizenship behaviour is exhibited when employees are willing to do work that is beyond their job description. Organisational citizenship behaviour can be viewed as a special part of work behaviour. It includes behaviour that is beneficial to the organisation which is not subject to formal rewards systems, but often part of the psychological contract between the individual and the organisation and hoped to be rewarded by the employer or organisation (Kolade, Oluseye, & Omotayo, 2014).

According to Organ (1988), an employee who exhibits organisational citizenship behaviour helps others, complies with organisational norms, manages small matters internally and considers the effect an action might have on others, prior to taking it. An employee can show citizenship behaviour through civic virtue, which is the ability of being up to date with important matters in the organisation. Thus, organisational citizenship behaviour patterns may lead to organisational efficiency by providing effective ways to manage relationships between participants of the work unit, thereby improving the cumulative outcomes obtained (Ibrahim, Ghani, & Salleh, 2013). Organisational citizenship behaviours also improve organisational efficiency and effectiveness by contributing to resource transformations, creativity and adaptability (Bonaparte, 2008). For the South African higher education sector to be efficient and effective, it requires academic staff that go beyond the call of their day to day duties when performing their work. The COVID-19 pandemic during 2019 and 2020 worsened challenges faced by the higher education sector in the country. For institutions of higher learning to remain productive in the knowledge production and for them to have a competitive advantage, their academic staff need to exhibit organisational citizenship behaviour. Hence, the sector needs to reward its human capital adequately and empower them with adequate skills through proper training. This may make academic staff more committed to their organisation and perform their duties beyond what is expected of them because of a positive psychological contract created with their organisation.

The relationship between compensations and organisational citizenship behaviour

Compensation can influence the organisational citizenship behaviour of employees because it is a payment for individual performance that can increase awareness and performance (Suryani, Gama, & Prwita, 2019). Makau, Nzulwa and Wabala (2017) found that compensation has a significant positive relationship with organisational citizenship behaviour. Hence, it can inspire employees to contribute an extra effort in their jobs, thus contributing towards organisational citizenship behaviour. Findings from a research by Snape and Redman (2010) on employees in North-East England also revealed a positive effect of human resource management practices, compensation included, on organisational citizenship behaviour. One can, therefore, argue that a correlation exists between compensation and organisational citizenship behaviour.

A study conducted by Ahmed (2016) amongst banking staff in Sudan found that high compensation contributes to higher organisational citizenship behaviour. Similarly, a study conducted by Owor (2016) in selected firms in Uganda and another conducted by Tashtoush and Eyupoglu (2020) amongst administrators in Jordanian universities revealed that fair compensation is a significant predictor of organisational citizenship behaviour. Contrary to this, Patil and Ramanjaneyalu (2018) revealed that compensation has no significant impact on organisational citizenship behaviour. However, none of these studies focused on a historically disadvantaged rural-based university in South Africa.

The relationship between training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour

Through training and development, employees can become motivated to go an extra mile in doing their job (Ahmed, 2016). Thus, if employees perceive their training and development to be adequate, they are likely to return the favour by exhibiting citizenship behaviour to the organisation. Hence, organisations may need to consider training and development as a key practice that encourages organisational citizenship behaviour because it generates plenty of benefits to employees and the organisation at large.

A study on the effect of training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour in private commercial banks in Bangladesh revealed a significant and positive relationship between training and development practices and organisational citizenship behaviour (Rubel & Rahman, 2018). A similar relationship was found between training and development and employee's organisational citizenship behaviour (Ahmed, 2016; Tang & Tang, 2012). Narang and Singh (2012) concluded that training and development practices have significant positive effect on organisational citizenship behaviour.

Contrary to these findings, a negative relationship between training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour was found (Patil & Ramanjaneyalu, 2018). Although these relationships were found, no study on these study variables could be found in the higher education sector, hence the need to investigate further.

To achieve a competitive advantage, it is important for big organisations such as universities to improve or enhance organisational citizenship behaviours amongst their employees. The human resource management department needs to provide human resource practices (HRP), such as compensation systems and training and development that are fair and inclusive for employees to demonstrate good citizenship to their organisations. The South African higher education system is not immune to challenges of redressing the past gender and income imbalances amongst their workforce. Therefore, the sector should be gender-sensitive in order to promote organisational citizenship behaviour. Similarly, Cloninger, Ramamoorthy and Flood (2011) argued that organisations should develop reward systems, which promote cooperation instead of competition in order to cultivate organisational citizenship behaviour amongst its workforce. Cloninger et al. (2011) found that women display higher citizenship behaviour than men when rewards are more equitable. In line with gender socialisation and social role theory, women are naturally more relationship-oriented and thus may present greater organisational citizenship behaviours than men (Cloninger et al., 2011). Therefore, organisations should be gender-sensitive when compensating and empowering their employees in order to promote high citizenship behaviour. In contrast, a study by Meng, Hein, Huey, Cheik and Hui (2014) found an insignificant difference in organisational citizenship behaviour between genders.


Problem statement

Research on the influence of compensation and training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour is not new. However, the studies were carried out in different sectors such as telecommunications and banking (Ahmed, 2016; Ibrahimet al., 2013; Jahan, 2015) outside South Africa (Tashtoush & Eyupoglu, 2020). Little is known about citizenship behaviour in the higher education sector in general and in South African rural-based institutions of higher learning in particular. One of the purposes of higher education is to provide quality learning to students. Achieving this depends to a large extent on the level of citizenship behaviour of academic staff, 'availability of adequate number of capable academic staff, who are fully representative of a democratic South Africa' (DHET, 2013). This may be promoted through perceived good compensation systems and employee development programmes. Therefore, it is important to investigate whether similar results can be found in the South African higher education sector.

Previous studies mainly focused on the influence of human resource management practices on variables such as employee organisational commitment (Valeau & Paille, 2019), productivity or performance (Atteya, 2012; Hassan, 2016) and job satisfaction (Madanat & Khasawneh, 2018). However, there is dearth of knowledge about compensation, training and development as HRP in relation to organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff in the higher education sector. Therefore, this study seeks to investigate the influence of compensation and training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff at a selected comprehensive South African higher education institution.


Research objectives

The objectives of this study were as follows:

  • to investigate the influence of compensation on employees' organisational citizenship behaviour amongst the academic staff

  • to investigate the influence of training and development practices on organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff

  • to determine whether both compensation and training and development are predictors of organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff

  • to determine whether there is a significant difference in the mean organisational citizenship behaviour scores for men and women.

This article will give recommendations on possible strategies of improving employee organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academics in higher learning institutions based on the study's findings.


Research hypotheses

The present study hypothesised that:

H1: There is a positive and significant relationship between compensation and employee organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff.

H2: There is a positive and significant relationship between training and development and employee organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff.

H3: Both compensation and training and development are predictors of employee organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff.

H4: There is a statistically significant difference in the mean scores of males and females in terms of their organisational citizenship behaviour levels amongst academic staff.



Research design

The study was based on quantitative approach, using a cross-sectional research design. A total of 152 academics at a selected rural-based comprehensive institution of higher learning were purposively selected to participate in this study regardless of their type of employment contract.

Research participants

A sample of 152 respondents was purposively selected at a rural-based comprehensive university in the Limpopo province of South Africa, using Raosoft sample size online calculator software. Results in Table 1 show that the majority, 82 (54%) were females, whereas there were 70 males (46%). The majority of the respondents were between 30 and 39 years and 40-49 (29.6%) years age-group, respectively. The lowest number of respondents were respondents between 20 and 29 years old and 60 years and above age-groups. Moreover, the majority of the respondents 56 (37%) had a Masters degree as their highest qualification and were employed on a full-time basis 139 (91%). Furthermore, 79 (52%) respondents had been in the academic profession from 3 to 5 years, followed by those who had served in the academic profession for less than 2 years (35) representing 23% of the respondents.




A self-administered questionnaire that comprised of different instruments to measure demographic characteristics, training and development, compensation and organisational citizenship behaviour was used to obtain information from a sample of 152 academic staff. To measure compensation, Tessema and Soeters' (2006) HRP scale, which contains eight items on compensation practices was used. This scale was previously used by Terera and Ngirande (2014) and an alpha coefficient of 0.82 was found. Snell and Deans' (1992) training and development scale was used to measure training and development and is a five-item index intended to collect data on how extensive staff development policies and procedures function. Its previous Cronbach's alpha value was 0.89 (Khan & Rasheed, 2015). Organisational citizenship behaviour was measured using the 24-item scale established by Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Moorman and Fetter (1990). From a previous study, the scale has found a Cronbach's alpha value of above 0.7 (Kung, Kwok, & Brown, 2018). All scales were measured on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly agree to 5 = strongly disagree.

Data analysis

The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 26 was used to analyse data. Item analysis was performed to inspect the internal consistency of variables under investigation. Exploratory factor analysis was conducted to determine the dimensionality of the scales. Correlation and multiple regression analysis were conducted to test the relationship between compensation, training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour and to determine which variable between compensation and training and development had a significant predictive value to organisational citizenship behaviour amongst the academic staff. t-Tests were also conducted to determine whether there is a significant difference in the mean organisational citizenship behaviour scores for male and female academic staff.

Research procedure and ethical considerations

To collect the data, questionnaires were distributed physically to the academic staff. Respondents were informed about how the data would be collected and their privacy handled. To preserve the anonymity of the respondents, no personal identifiers such as names or office numbers were requested during the research process.



Descriptive statistics and scale reliability

Table 2 gives a summary of the key descriptive statistics on compensation, training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour scales by showing mean and standard deviations. The normality of the data set was also assessed using skewness and kurtosis values. Cronbach's alphas are also presented. The mean scores of compensation, training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour were 2.8 (SD = 2.868), 2.4 (SD = 1.544) and 2.0 (SD = 3.146), respectively. This implies that most respondents were in agreement with the statements. Data were also normally distributed to allow for further analysis as it ranges from 2 to 2 for skewness (Tabachinick & Fidell, 2013) and 3 to 3 for kurtosis.



The reliability of the instruments was also shown using Cronbach's alpha coefficients as shown in Table 2. Items correlating below 0.30 with the total score were considered as poor items and were excluded from further analysis (Pallant, 2016). The compensation, training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour scales obtained good coefficient alphas of 0.70, 0.73 and 0.71, respectively (Pallant, 2016).

Exploratory factor analysis

The principal component analysis was carried out using the varimax rotation method. The compensation scale obtained an acceptable Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy value of 0.64 whilst the Bartlett's test of sphericity statistic value was 141.64 (df = 6; p = 0.000) (Pallant, 2016). One factor was produced, explaining 54% of the variance. The training and development scale also obtained an acceptable Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy value of 0.59 and Bartlett's test of sphericity statistic value was 26.13 (df = 3; p = 0.000). The scale was found to be unidimensional that explained 50% of the variance. Furthermore, the organisational citizenship behaviour scale obtained an acceptable Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy value of 0.62 and Bartlett's test of sphericity statistic value of 232.07 (df = 28; p = 0.000) (Pallant, 2016). Two factors were found: Factor one explained 28% and factor two explained 22% of the variance, to explain a total variance of 50%. The retained items for the three scales are shown in Table 3.

Hypothesis testing: Correlations results

The Pearson product moment correlation was used to investigate the relationship between compensation, training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff. Hypothesis one stated that there is a significant relationship between compensation and organisational citizenship behaviour, and hypothesis two assumed that there is a significant relationship between training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff.

The results in Table 4 show that there is a significant relationship between compensation and organisational citizenship behaviour (r = 0.450; p = 0.000), thus confirming hypothesis one. Results also show that there is a significant relationship between training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour (r = 0.287; p = 0.000). This confirmed hypothesis two which stated that there is a significant relationship between training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour.



Regression analysis results

Regression analysis was carried out to determine which variable between compensation and training and development is the best predictor of organisational citizenship behaviour. Hypothesis three states that both compensation and training and development are predictors of employee organisational citizenship behaviour amongst the academic staff.

In model 1, organisational citizenship behaviour was used as the dependent variable, with compensation and training and development as independent variables. As shown in Table 5, entry of compensation and training and development at the first step of the regression analysis produced a statistically significant model (F(2.149)= 12.699; p < 0.01) and accounted for 14.6% of the variance. From the results, compensation (β = 0.384; t = 4.752; p < 0.01) was a significant predictor of organisational citizenship behaviour. Training and development was reported as an insignificant predictor of organisational citizenship behaviour (β = 0.007; t = 0.088; p > 0.05).



Independent sample t-test result

An independent-sample t-test was conducted to compare the organisational citizenship behaviour scores for males and females. The assumptions of independent samples test were checked using the Lavene's test for equality of variances. The results in Table 6 show that there was no significant difference in scores for males (M = 1.91; SD = 2.99) and females (M = 2.0; SD = 3.25); (t(150)= 1.49, p = 0.140, two-tailed). The magnitude of the difference in the mean (mean difference = 0.76, 95%, CI: 1.76 to 0.25) was small (eta squared = 0.01) (Pallant, 2016). This implies that regardless of gender, the level of citizenship behaviour of males and females is the same. This finding fails to confirm hypothesis four which states that there is a statistically significant difference in the mean organisational citizenship behaviour scores for male and female academic staff.




This study revealed that all three scales obtained acceptable Cronbach's alpha coefficients (α) according to the guidelines of α 0.70 (Pallant, 2016) and Briggs and Cheek (1986) of 0.2-0.4, when using the inter item correlations when scale items are fewer than 10. The highest reliabilities amongst the scales included organisational citizenship behaviour (α = 0.71), followed by compensation (α = 0.70). The training and development scale obtained the lowest alpha coefficient (α = 0.50). This result might be attributed to the fact that the scale had few items. This is also raised by Pallant (2016), who argued that Cronbach's alpha values are quite sensitive to the number of scale items and it is common to find quite low Cronbach values.

The researchers conducted exploratory factor analyses on the compensation scale, training and development scale, and organisational citizenship behaviour scale. The analysis of the compensation scale and the training and development scale showed that a 1-factor model suits the data in this study best. This is contrary to the three structures previously identified (Siegrist, Wege, Pühlhoferm, & Wahrendorf, 2009). The exploratory factor analysis on organisational citizenship behaviour scale showed that a 2-factor model suits the data best.

A positive significant relationship between compensation and organisational citizenship behaviour was found. This shows that if compensation is perceived as high or fair, organisational citizenship behaviour also increases. The results confirmed the first hypothesis of the study that there is a significant relationship between compensation and organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff. Several studies support this finding (Makau et al., 2017; Rahman & Chowdhuri, 2018; Snape & Redman, 2010), meaning that if employees perceive their salaries and benefits to be fair, their organisational citizenship behaviour will also increase. Thus, the higher education human resource management department should provide compensation systems, which are fairly competitive enough in order to promote employee organisational citizenship behaviour amongst the academic staff.

The results also show that a significant relationship exists between training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour. This shows that as training and development increase in an organisation, employees tend to show citizenship behaviour. This means that as organisations appreciate and empower their employees, the employees will be prepared to go an extra mile in doing their jobs. Therefore, hypothesis two is supported. Previous studies confirm the finding that a positive significant relationship exists between training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour (Tang & Tang, 2012). Therefore, management in the public higher education sector may need to constantly revise its compensation and staff development policy in order to promote organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff so as to remain competitive.

The regression analysis results also confirm the relationship between compensation and organisational citizenship behaviour and its predictive value to organisational citizenship behaviour. This means that compensation plays a key role in motivating employees to go an extra mile and display extra-role behaviours thereby enhancing the competitive advantage of the organisation. Whilst training and development was found to have a relationship with organisational citizenship behaviour, results revealed that it is not a significant predictor of organisational citizenship behaviour. The reason might be that, people tend to value compensation more than career development opportunities. However, these results are still important as employee behaviour is determined by various organisational aspects, which need to be explored. This will assist organisations to make well-informed policies.

To test hypothesis four which states that there is a significant difference between males and females' levels of organisational citizenship behaviour. Results revealed that both males and females exhibit the same levels of organisational citizenship behaviour. This shows that gender has no influence on one's level of organisational citizenship behaviour. Hence, hypothesis four is not supported.

These findings brought new insights into the importance of compensation and training and development, thus expanding the body of knowledge in promoting organisational citizenship behaviour as there is dearth of knowledge about this phenomenon in the South African higher learning institutions context. Universities can use the study's findings to develop interventions and strategies that promote employee organisational citizenship behaviour.



Whilst this study explored the HRP such as compensation and training and development and the effect thereof on organisational citizenship behaviour for individuals and organisations, it had some limitations. The population of academic staff based on two faculties is too small to generalise these findings to the larger population. A cross-sectional sample was employed, which may result in people overthinking their responses on items in the scales. Relatively little enquiry has been carried out on the study variables in South African higher learning institutions, more especially, from a rural based historically black comprehensive university, which makes it difficult to relate the findings to the South African context.


Recommendations for future research

Future studies should consider using a longitudinal design to repeatedly observe and measure the relationship between compensation, training and development and organisational citizenship behaviour of academic staff in higher education over a long period of time. Future research could address the limitations of the generalisation of the study results by using a larger sample size of faculties and a greater number of higher education institutions to take part in studies of this nature.



The South African higher education sector has a challenge of an ageing workforce and academic staff working in a mass education system (DHET, 2015; Pienaar & Bester, 2008). The new knowledge gained from observing the relationships between compensation and training and development may be useful in making sure that the management should not overlook the importance of compensation, training and the development of its workforce if it wants to promote organisational citizenship behaviour in the higher education sector, especially the black and young academic staff because of their high mobility. Furthermore, the information gained can be useful in retaining black and female academic staff as a way of addressing their very serious under-representation at all levels in the higher learning sector as alluded to in the Department of Higher Education and Training's Staffing South Africa's Universities Framework (DHET, 2013). The results suggest that in order to have employees who exhibit citizenship behaviour to their respective organisations and to fellow employees, managers need to review existing human resource management practices and policies such as compensation and training and development opportunities for their employees.



The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of compensation practices and training and development on organisational citizenship behaviour amongst academic staff at a selected South African rural institution of higher learning. The study results revealed that indeed, compensation and training and development have an influence on the organisational citizenship behaviour of employees. Thus, compensation and training and development can be viewed as valuable HRP that should be constantly monitored in order to promote organisational citizenship behaviour amongst employees.



The authors would like to acknowledge Dr Sharon Ruvimbo Terera for assistance with some statistical analysis and Professor Sherran Clarence for guidance in writing this article.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them

in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

P.M.M. is an honours student who initialised the research topic, collected the data and wrote much of the article under the supervision of H.N.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author, H.N., upon reasonable request.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Hlanganipai Ngirande

Received: 25 Oct. 2020
Accepted: 29 Mar. 2021
Published: 11 June 2021

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Regulating emotions at work: The role of emotional intelligence in the process of conflict, job crafting and performance



Monique SloanI; Madelyn GeldenhuysI, II

IDepartment of Industrial Psychology and People Management, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
IIDiscipline of Psychological Sciences, Australian College of Applied Psychology, Sydney, Australia





ORIENTATION: This study aimed to investigate the role of emotional intelligence (EQ) in the process of workplace conflict, job crafting and job performance
RESEARCH PURPOSE: To explore the relationship between self-focused EQ, task conflict, task crafting and in-role performance, as well as the relationship between other-focused EQ, relational conflict, relational crafting and extra-role performance
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Peer relationships and conflict may have an impact on work performance and enabling employees to manage relationships and conflict at work and may contribute to better overall productivity
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: A quantitative research design with cross-sectional analysis utilising PROCESS moderated mediation was followed in this study. The sample consisted of 293 employees across various industries in South Africa
MAIN FINDINGS: The results showed that task crafting mediates the relationship between task conflict and in-role performance, whilst self-focused EQ moderated the relationship between task conflict, task crafting and in-role performance in the second stage. Relational crafting further mediated the relationship between task conflict and extra-role performance
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The study shows that job crafting is important for managing conflict on performance, whilst recognising self-focused EQ as an important predisposition to initiate self-driven behaviour that employees embark on in order to perform well
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: By analysing these relationships, organisations may better equip their employees with the internal resources needed to perform. Furthermore, an investigation into emotion regulation methods combined with proactive workplace behaviours increases our understanding of how to support and promote positive interactions and proactivity at work

Keywords: self-focused emotional intelligence; other-focused emotional intelligence; task and relational conflict; task crafting; relational crafting; in-role performance; extra-role performance.




Workplace conflict relates negatively to performance and can induce stress and inhibit employees' ability to be flexible and creative (see De Dreu & Weingart, 2003). Organisations require proactive and high-performing employees in order to thrive (Jackson, 2014), whilst also requiring employees who can effectively deal with workplace conflict, manage work tasks, manage relationships at work and regulate their emotional responses at work. Furthermore, organisations are unable to fully micro-manage employee relations (Augustine, Payne, Sencindiver, & Woodcock, 2005), but it is important for organisations and employees to identify the underlying factors (e.g. building rapport amongst colleagues or allowing flexibility in altering a task procedure) that could assist employees in managing performance, relationships and conflict on their own at work for them to function optimally.

Previous research suggests that employees should also take responsibility for their own well-being (Tims, Bakker, & Derks, 2015) and this becomes especially important during conflict (Boyd, 2007). As a proactive workplace behaviour, job crafting can be useful in promoting overall workplace well-being and performance (Petrou, Demerouti, Peeters, Schaufeli, & Hetland, 2012), whilst also allowing them to have control of job tasks and relationships. If employees can change the task and relational boundaries of their work (e.g. job crafting) and have opportunities for advocacy and inquiry, they will likely be more engaged in and perform better at work (Bakker & Bal, 2010; Bakker, Tims, & Derks, 2012; Hakanen, Perhoniemi, & Toppinen-Tanner, 2008).

O'Boyle, Humphrey, Pollack, Hawyer and Story (2011) found that having control over one's emotions can help employees overcome stress. Having control over one's emotions and also having a sense of mastery over particularly difficult relationships (e.g. managing conflict) and tasks could therefore benefit employees because they are more capable of managing stress at work. We therefore argue that the ability to change work boundaries will enable employees to deal with conflict and perform well when they are able to appropriately regulate their emotions throughout this process. It is known that individuals who display greater levels of emotional intelligence (EQ) are better equipped to handle conflict at work (Morrison, 2008), whilst also being more able to exhibit self-control, effective communication skills and self-awareness (Yukl, 2002). Possessing these attributes enhances individuals' ability to respond appropriately during conflict (Erkutlu & Chafra, 2012) and supports productivity and subsequent performance.

This study aims to investigate the impact of employees' EQ on their use of job crafting as a means of dealing with conflict in order to perform effectively. Firstly, this study contributes by showing the relationship between self- and other-focused EQ respectively (Pekaar, Bakker, Born, & Van der Linden, 2018a) and the process of workplace conflict, job crafting and performance. Secondly, the study examines the effect of job crafting on performance and whether a certain level of EQ may strengthen the positive effects of job crafting on employee performance. This study specifically contributes by showing how self-focused EQ moderates the relationship between task conflict, task crafting and in-role performance and how other-focused EQ moderates the relationship between relational conflict, relational crafting and extra-role performance.


Theoretical framework

Karasek (1979) developed the job demands-control (JDC) model that explains the relationship between job demands and job controls in understanding employee strain. Job demands include aspects of the job which exert both physical and psychological pressure on the employee, such as working hours, task difficulty and emotional labour (Theorell, Karasek, & Eneroth, 1990), whilst job control is the autonomy that employees have to regulate and organise their work. De Bruin and Taylor (2006) defined control as an employee's level of autonomy in overall workplace decision-making. The JDC model is underpinned by the notion that work is composed of different demands and accompanying levels of control, which affect how employees experience their work (Karasek, 1979). This, for example, would mean that low levels of job control and high levels of job demands result in the negative effect of high job strain. However, jobs with both high demand and high control result in employee well-being, as these employees are more active in their roles (Salanova, Peiró, & Schaufeli, 2002). This produces active jobs where employees learn how to develop new behaviours (see Petrou et al., 2012) - thus having control (e.g. through job crafting) over job demands (e.g. difficult relationships and conflict) can create opportunities for employees to develop new or improved ways of responding to others at work and consequently managing stress.

Conflict is defined as a disagreement between two parties, resulting from discordancy in views on tasks, processes, values and personal areas (Combrink, 2014). Hahn (2000) modelled conflict as one of the greatest stressors that an employee can face in the workplace. As a job demand, workplace conflict is perceived as threatening to an employee's competence (De Bruin & Taylor, 2006; Rispens & Demerouti, 2016). This, in turn, creates a situation to which an employee must find a solution, thus further enforcing the notion that conflict is a demand placed on an employee. Skills discretion and decision-making authority form part of the factors of job control (Spreitzer & Sonenshein, 2003; Theorell & Karasek, 1996).

These job-control factors focus on employees' discretion to manage and make their own decisions regarding their work. Warren (2003) found that job crafting requires discretion, whereby employees conduct themselves in an autonomous manner. Based on this, employees may gain control in the workplace through job crafting. In this proactive process (Grant & Ashford, 2008), job crafting allows employees to alter the way in which they use their competencies, expertise and preferences in constructing their overall work experience (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). Job crafting is seen as a reflexive role behaviour (Ghitulescu, 2007) and therefore it implies that employees craft their own role, free from rewards or the opinions of others. The job crafting theory posits that employees might alter their work boundaries based on what motivates them and to satisfy basic needs to have control and to connect with others (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001).

Ghitulescu (2007) found that, when employees face difficulty at work, they took to crafting behaviours as a means to overcome the difficulty. Wall, Jackson, Mullarkey and Parker (1996) stated that employees with the means to control their work-environment stressors are better equipped to deal with their work demands. As job crafting is a self-initiated action, employees may take up crafting to realign themselves to their role (Ghitulescu, 2007) and regain control of their situation. Karasek (1979) understood jobs to be made up of job demands and job controls, and by conceptualising their relationship, also related to increased performance. Workplace conflict as a job demand is unavoidable and, by exerting control over one's work through changing the task and relational boundaries at work, allows employees to better deal with conflict demands at work. Both task and relational crafting offer employees a way to make their work meaningful and aligned with their identity (Berg, Grant, & Johnson, 2010).

The job task: Task conflict, task crafting and in-role performance

Although an acceptable level of conflict may increase the overall performance outcomes (Schulz-Hardt, Jochims, & Frey, 2002), high levels of conflict cause employees to feel overwhelmed and they are unable to direct their thoughts appropriately (De Dreu & Weingart, 2003). Different types of conflict yield different outcomes (Greer, Jehn, & Mannix, 2008); in the present study, two broad categories of conflict are discussed, namely, task and relational conflict.

Task conflict evolves from disagreements on work goals, tasks, processes and policies (De Dreu & Weingart, 2003; Desivilya, Somech, & Lidgoster, 2010). Yang and Mossholder (2004) stated that task conflict is likely to occur when employees disagree on how to approach a task, as each employee may interpret information differently. If not handled well, conflict may supersede the task that the employee or group is required to complete. Although task conflict is perceived as a negative experience by employees (Rispens & Demerouti, 2016), it allows employees to organise their thoughts constructively (Simons & Peterson, 2000) and increase their task performance (Hansen, 2015). Thus, task conflict stimulates employees to make reasonable decisions regarding the task disagreement or problem (Lukasik, 2009), which could possibly be promoted with the correct amount of control over their work. Employees craft their jobs because they wish to do things differently, thereby benefiting the organisation's innovativeness (Frese & Fay, 2001). Employees who shape their work experience through job crafting have shown increases in their overall job satisfaction (Slemp & Vella-Brodrick, 2013) and job performance (Thompson, 2005). This may be because of an employee feeling a stronger fit with his or her workplace environment when crafting (Tims & Bakker, 2010).

Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) identified task and relational crafting techniques that employees can adopt to redefine their jobs. Task crafting involves the changing of tasks by adding tasks, emphasising certain tasks over others or redesigning current tasks (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013; Nielsen & Abildgaard, 2012). For example, an employee may volunteer to compile the company performance results into a PowerPoint presentation for a public company presentation because he or she enjoys being creative. In-role performance includes all employees' job duties that are essential to the organisation's functioning (Devonish & Greenidge, 2010). These job duties form part of the employees' formal job description and include a set of expected behaviours and responsibilities (Sparrowe, Liden, Wayne, & Kraimer, 2001). In-role performance is usually measured by means of the quality and quantity of output an employee produces within his or her job role and is therefore also referred to as task performance (Kahya, 2007).

H1: Task crafting mediates1 the relationship between task conflict and in-role performance.

Relationships at work: Relational conflict, relational crafting and extra-role performance

Relational conflict occurs when employees have personality clashes or differences in values and beliefs (Desivilya et al., 2010). Relational conflict does not arise from disagreements surrounding tasks, but rather from personal differences or opinions amongst colleagues (Jehn & Chapman, 2000). This conflict evokes a more emotional and interpersonal situation, which detracts from performance (Jehn & Chapman, 2000). During relational conflict, employees may have to be accommodating in their reaction and choose to focus on nurturing the relationship (Boyd, 2007). Madlock and Booth-Butterfield (2012) found that 88% of employees engage in strategies to adapt their relationships at work in order to manage conflict. Waldman (1994) confirmed this by saying that during times of uncertainty and difficulty (e.g. conflict), employees take up extra roles that are needed for the organisation's survival. Employees need to be able to manage conflict in the workplace in order to perform. The present study proposes that job crafting may be an independent action that an employee can adopt to overcome conflict.

Relational crafting occurs when employees manage their interactions at work by building, reframing or adapting their work relationships, for example, an employee showing an interest in fellow colleagues by getting to know them or finding commonalities in interests. Furthermore, Myers and Johnson (2004) stressed the importance of peer relationships at work, as these increase productivity. Relational crafting serves as a means of changing the social context of employees' work environment (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). Employees who choose to interact with colleagues beyond the scope of their role view their work as a means to contribute to the life of their colleagues (Ghitulescu, 2007). However, less relational crafting is required when individuals perceive a work environment to be a safe psychological space where they can freely express themselves (Ghitulescu, 2007).

Extra-role performance constitutes employees' actions that do not form part of their formal job description (Goodman & Svyantek, 1999) and therefore does not contribute to employees' productivity (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000). Extra-role performance involves acts such as helping employees or assisting new employees (Williams & Andersen, 1991) and is considered a prosocial behaviour (Dunfield, 2014), spurred on by employees' emotions (Bindle & Parker, 2010). These actions play a role in forming the organisational and social context in which employees work (Werner, 2000).

H2: Relational crafting mediates the relationship between relational conflict and extra-role performance.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence can also be viewed as a way in which an individual may approach an emotion-evoking situation that is intrapersonal or interpersonal in nature (Petrides & Furnham, 2003). An individual that displays EQ is self-aware and, through this self-awareness, may better identify his or her own emotions, as well as the emotions that others might feel (Petrides & Furnham, 2003; Schutte et al., 2001). Emotional intelligence can be classified into self- and other-focused EQ. Self-focused EQ refers to dealing with one's own emotions, and other-focused intelligence refers to dealing with the emotions of others (Pekaar, Bakker, Van der Linden, & Born, 2018b). Emotional intelligence is conceptualised according to two broad dimensions: emotional appraisal and emotional regulation (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).

Emotional appraisal involves the identification of the emotion and acknowledgement, and thereafter emotional regulation occurs, where individuals adjust their emotions to suit the situation. When exploring self- and other-focused EQ, different life areas may be impacted (Pekaar et al., 2018b). Self-focused EQ is more likely to impact individuals in their personal capacity, whereas other-focused EQ plays a greater role when people interact. Therefore, in order to yield comprehensive results, EQ was explored from a self- and other-focused perspective in this study.

The role of emotional intelligence in the process of workplace conflict, job crafting and performance

Collaboration amongst employees is conducive to enhance employee performance (Prati, Douglas, Ferris, Ammeter, & Buckley, 2003), should their interactions allow for individual empowerment and flexibility (Erkutlu & Chafra, 2012). Van Rooy and Viswesvaran (2004) defined EQ as:

[T]he set of abilities (verbal and nonverbal) that enable a person to generate, recognise, express, understand and evaluate their own and others, emotions in order to guide thinking and action that successfully cope with environmental demands and pressures. (p. 72)

A study by Caruso and Salovey (2004) found a positive relationship between employee EQ and the ability to work effectively in a team. Employees with higher levels of EQ display adaptability to stressful social encounters such as conflict (Lopes, Grewal, Kadis, Gall, & Salovey, 2006). Research aimed at understanding the consequences of job crafting has shown that this may increase conflict, as employees may be apprehensive about the changes that job crafting brings to the job role and workplace (Tims et al., 2015).

This indicates the need to investigate under which EQ conditions employees use job crafting to navigate conflict situations in constructive ways, in order to perform. Moreover, the act of job crafting has been found to alter the meaning and subsequent purpose of an employees' job role (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001), implying that both in-role and extra-role performance may be impacted by selective and purposeful way in which employees craft their work. Organisational performance has also been shown to increase when employees are given opportunities to engage in roles outside of their formal requirements (Worline, Wrzesniewski, & Rafaeli, 2002). The relationships between conflict, job crafting, EQ and performance are largely unknown.

Self-focused emotional intelligence, task conflict, task crafting and in-role performance

As EQ has been found to be correlated with self-monitoring-type behaviours (Schutte et al., 2001), it can be expected that possessing self-focused EQ may contribute to experiences that require individuals to act independently (e.g. task crafting and in-role performance). Individuals with high self-focused EQ understand what they are feeling and through this understanding they are more readily able to find solutions to their problems (Matthews, Roberts, & Zeidner, 2004). Therefore, in the present study, we expected employees with higher levels of self-focused EQ to focus more on task crafting when faced with task conflict in order to enhance their in-role performance.

The relationship between EQ and job crafting has not yet been explored in the existing literature. As mentioned before, employees who can self-regulate are more task-focused and perform better in their job (Bakker & Bal, 2010). A work environment is conducive to the act of crafting when employees feel the freedom to proffer new ideas and ways of doing things (Gilson & Shalley, 2004). However, when conflict is experienced, employees may not feel the autonomy they need to craft; this may then encourage the inclusion of EQ as a means of re-establishing an engaging environment. Tsai, Chen and Liu (2007) indicated that positive moods, through motivational and interpersonal processes, predict task performance. This alludes to the notion that stabilised emotions may positively affect employees' ability to adapt their behaviour (task crafting) in order to perform.

Thus, the following hypothesis is formulated (see Figure 1).



H3: Self-focused EQ moderates the relationship between task conflict, task crafting and in-role performance.

Other-focused emotional intelligence, relational conflict, relational crafting and extra-role performance

As previously mentioned, the conditions under which employees rely on specific focused EQ are unclear - more specifically, the role of other-focused EQ and how it moderates the relationship between relational conflict, relational crafting and performance could help us to understand relationships at work. A study by Rispens and Demerouti (2016) found that the emotional arousal as a result of conflict is unpredictable. Because of this, EQ may be beneficial as it makes employees capable of understanding and regulating whatever emotions workplace conflict evokes. Emotionally intelligent employees have been found to desire positive outcomes for both themselves and their colleagues (Schutte et al., 2001); this may support the fact that EQ contributes to both in-role and extra-role performance.

Promís (2008) suggested that employees with a low level of EQ may not be able to perform adequately at work as they may lack the flexibility and agility required in times of adversity. It is not always easy to deal with the emotions of others and, as a result, this inability could negatively impact how employees perform. Performance is not only task based but also socially based. Pekaar et al. (2020) pointed out that focusing on appraising and regulating the emotions of others can contribute to performance because it influences social and performance outcomes. Employees can effectively understand the emotions of others (see Pekaar et al. 2020) and tactfully use relational crafting at work to improve social relationships - this in turn could be beneficial in dealing with conflict to optimise extra-role performance. Firstly, we expect higher levels of other-focused EQ to influence an employee's use of relational crafting in order to ameliorate the effects of relational conflict because employees with other-focused EQ better understand their colleagues' emotions; thus, when experiencing conflict, these employees may choose to focus on regulating the relationship as a means of restoring accord. In addition, we looked to associate this predicted relationship with extra-role performance as employees require understanding of one another to perform uniformly (Welbourne, Johnson, & Erez, 1998). Extra-role performance happens when employees assist others in finishing tasks to reach the overall organisational goals:

H4: Other-focused EQ moderates the relationship between relational conflict, relational crafting and extra-role performance.



Procedure and sample

Respondents in this study were sent an online URL link that allowed them access to a Google survey comprising four questionnaires. Prior to completing the questionnaires, respondents were asked to read an informative document that briefly explained the research study and the purpose of collecting the data. This document further stressed the criteria that respondents had to meet in order to be eligible for participation, which was a voluntary process, and the ethical considerations of this study. Lastly, the researcher's details were provided, should the respondents have any further questions regarding the study. Once the respondents had given their informed consent to participate, the online survey was made available to them for completion. The online survey was password-protected, thereby ensuring that all the recorded data were secure. All the data responses were downloaded from the secure online platform and safely stored. The following criteria were considered to be suitable for the study: one should have at least 1 year's work experience, a grade-12 qualification (to show their proficiency in English), age 18 years or older, and lastly one should be currently working in an organisation. A non-probability convenience sampling strategy was implemented, which yielded an initial sample of 295 respondents from the South African workforce. From the online questionnaires, the data from a final sample of n = 293 could be processed and analysed.

The sample consisted of 79 men (23%) and 214 women (73%). Respondents were predominantly aged 1939 years (61.7%), and the majority of the respondents were white people (87.4%). Of the respondents, almost two-thirds (64%) indicated English as their home language and 24% stipulated Afrikaans. A total of 79.9% had a bachelor's degree or higher qualification. Although the majority were white, female and English, the respondents showed to be from various job positions: junior mangers (16.4%), middle managers (20.8%), senior managers (15%) and non-managers (23.2%).


A biographical questionnaire was used to evaluate the sample with regard to their demographic composition. Respondents were required to indicate their age, gender, ethnicity and home language.

The intragroup conflict scale (ICS) was adapted to measure conflict (Jehn, 1995). This scale consists of nine items, measured on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (none) to 5 (a great deal). Conflict was measured using two subscales: relational conflict, comprising five items (e.g. 'there were tendencies of anger and aggression between some persons in the group') and task conflict, comprising four items (e.g. 'during conflict, the group was concerned about solving problems by using a sensible and rational procedure'). Jehn and Mannix (2001) reported a Cronbach's alpha of 0.94 for both relational conflict and task conflict. This study found reliabilities of 0.82 for task conflict and 0.84 for relational conflict α = 0.84.

The job crafting questionnaire (JCQ) was used to measure the extent to which individuals engage in job-crafting activities (Slemp et al., 2013). Two types of job crafting were identified: task crafting and relational crafting. The JCQ comprises 15 items that are rated on a six-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (hardly ever) to 6 (very often). Examples of the items for the two job-crafting activities are as follows: (task crafting) 'change the scope or type of tasks that you complete at work' and (relational crafting) 'make friends with people at work who have similar skills or interests'. The JCQ has been validated by Slemp, Kern and Vella-Brodrick (2015) and was found to have an acceptable Cronbach's alpha (overall: α = 0.91; task crafting: five items, α = 0.86; relational crafting: five items, α = 0.84). Task crafting reported a Cronbach's alpha of 0.76 and relational crafting reported a Cronbach's alpha of 0.76.

The Rotterdam Emotional Intelligence Scale (REIS) (Pekaar et al., 2018a) was used to measure EQ in the present study. The scale further distinguishes four factors, namely, self- and other-focused emotional regulation and self- and other-focused emotional appraisal. It comprises 28 items, which respondents are required to answer using a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree). Examples of the items that were divided into the four-factor structure are the following: (self-focused emotional appraisal) 'I can distinguish my own emotions well', (other-focused emotional appraisal) 'I understand why others feel the way they feel', (self-focused emotional regulation) 'I am in control of my own emotions' and (other-focused emotional regulation) 'I have great influence over how others feel'. In the development and validation of the REIS, Pekaar et al. (2018a) found Cronbach's alpha coefficients in the range of 0.82 to 0.85 for the four subscales and an overall scale coefficient of 0.88. Self-focused EQ had a reliability of α = 0.89 and other-focused EQ had a reliability of α = 0.92.

Performance was measured using items adapted from Goodman and Svyantek's (1999) Performance Scale. Using six items, two roles types were measured: in-role performance (e.g. 'I met all the requirements of my position') and extra-role performance (e.g. 'I helped colleagues who were under high work pressure or who had other problems'). The respondents answered using a seven-point Likert-type scale ranging from 0 (totally disagree) to 6 (totally agree). Jackson (2014) found the scale to have a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of 0.88. The Cronbach's alpha coefficient for extra-role performance was 0.82 and for in-role performance it was 0.87.

Statistical analysis

A statistical analysis was carried out using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) statistical program 25 (SPSS Inc., 2018), utilising Version 3.2 of Hayes PROCESS (Hayes, 2013). In order to calculate the direct and indirect effects of this simple mediation, Model 4 in the PROCESS macro of Hayes (2013) was used. In Model 4, the path labelled c' represents the direct effect of X on Y, c is the total effect of X on Y, and the product of the paths labelled a and b represents the indirect effect of X on Y, which determines how much the c path is changed when M (the mediator) is added to the model (Bollen, 1989; Hayes, 2013). Thus, the mediator will add to the model's variance and explain why the independent and dependent variables may be related. Bootstrapping, utilising 5000 bootstrap samples, was used to calculate the 95% confidence interval (CI), which aids in understanding the effect size (c - c').

First- and second-stage moderated mediation (conditional indirect effect) tests were conducted, whereby the mediating process was moderated, because W alters the relationship between X, M and Y (Preacher, Rucker, & Hayes, 2007). The study aimed to calculate the conditional indirect of conflict on performance through job crafting at different values of EQ. The results consisted of the association between conflict and job crafting (a-path), job crafting and performance (b-path), the direct effect of conflict on performance (c'-path), the interaction effect of conflict and EQ on job crafting, and lastly the interaction effect of job crafting and EQ on performance. This conditional indirect effect was tested using PROCESS Model 7 (Hayes, 2013), which tests the first stage of moderated mediation. Similarly, PROCESS Model 14 (Hayes, 2013) was used to test for second-stage moderated mediation. An index of moderated mediation was calculated by generating bootstrapping confidence intervals, whereby no zero indicates a significant conditional indirect effect (Hayes, 2015). Preceding the analyses of Models 7 and 14, both the X*M and M*V interaction terms were, respectively, mean-centred (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003) using the PROCESS V.3.2 add-on package.

Ethical considerations

The results of this study formed part of a research project undertaken in the fulfilment of a postgraduate degree. Ethical clearance was obtained from the ethics committee at the University of Johannesburg, number IPPM-2018-248 (M). The data were collected between June and August 2018.



Descriptive statistics and correlations

Prior to performing statistical analyses, descriptive statistics were calculated for each of the four scales, together with the reliability of their subscales. Assumptions of normality were met (Pallant, 2011). Pearson's correlation analysis was conducted to determine whether the variables in each of the conceptual models were related. These correlations are presented in Table 1. The variables in Conceptual Model 1 were the following: task conflict, task crafting, self-focused EQ and in-role performance, which demonstrated statistically significant positive correlations (p < 0.001). The results showed weak relationships between self-focused EQ and task conflict (r = 0.16), between self-focused EQ and task crafting (r = 0.14) and between in-role performance and task conflict (r = 0.18). Medium effect sizes and correlations were found between task crafting and task conflict (r = 0.25), between in-role performance and task crafting (r = 0.27) and between in-role performance and self-focused EQ (r = 0.27).



Variables in Conceptual Model 2 (Figure 2) (X = relational conflict, M = relational crafting, Y = extra-role performance) showed mixed results. Other-focused EQ and extra-role performance were not significantly related to relational conflict (p < 0.05). Relational conflict and relational crafting showed a weak but statistically significant negative correlation (r = -0.12; p < 0.05). Statistically significant relationships existed between the second-stage moderation variables (p < 0.001), with weak to medium effect sizes. More specifically, extra-role performance and relational crafting had a positive but medium relationship (r = 0.36), extra-role performance and other-focused EQ showed a positive but medium relationship (r = 0.32) and other-focused EQ and relational crafting demonstrated a medium positive relationship (r = 0.31).



Simple mediation analysis

Hypothesis 1 indicated that job crafting mediates the relationship between conflict (X) and job performance (Y). Table 2 shows the results of the mediation analysis of Conceptual Model 1 (X = task conflict, M = task crafting and Y = in-role performance).



This model indicated that path a of task conflict to task crafting was significant (β = 0.3352; p = 0.000). Path b in the model indicated the relationship between task crafting and in-role performance (β = 0.137; p = 0.000). The direct effect of task conflict on in-role performance (path c') was significant and therefore full mediation did not occur (β = 0.0943; p = 0.0427). The indirect effect results showed that partial mediation occurred (95% CI = [0.017/0.083]).

Hypothesis 2 stated that relational crafting mediates the relationship between relational conflict and extra-role performance. Table 2 shows that paths a and b were found to be significant (p < 0.05). Path a revealed a negative coefficient (β = -0.1213), indicating that the more employees experience relational conflict at work, the less they craft relationally. Path b showed a positive relationship (β = 0.2123); thus, higher in-role performance is reported when employees engage in relational crafting. However, the direct, total and indirect effects were all found to be non-significant (p > 0.05). This implies that relational crafting does not mediate the relationship between relational conflict and extra-role performance.

Moderated mediation analysis

Moderated mediation analysis was used to calculate the conditional indirect effect of Conceptual Models 1 and 2 singly (see Kraemer, Kiernan, Essex, & Kupfer, 2008). The indirect effect indicates the effect of conflict (X) on performance (Y) through job crafting (M). The conditional factor constitutes how this specified indirect effect differs at different levels of EQ (W/V). In each conceptual model, first-stage (Model 7) and second stage (Model 14) moderated mediation was tested. In addition, 5000 bootstrap samples were used and 95% CIs were computed by determining the indirect effects at -1, 0 and +1 standard deviation (SD).

Hypothesis 3 indicated that the process of task conflict, task crafting and in-role performance was moderated by self-focused EQ. Conceptual Model 1 was defined as follows: X = task conflict, M = task crafting, W/V = Self-focused EQ and Y = in-role performance. Table 3 shows that in the first stage, the direct c' path remained significant (β = 0.0943; p = 0.0427). However, the bootstrapped estimates showed a non-significant moderated mediation effect, as zero was present within the confidence interval, thus implying that zero was a probable value: β = 0.006; standard error (SE) = 0.0017; 95% CI (-0.0034; 0.0034). Thus, in the first stage of the model, self-focused EQ did not alter the extent to which task crafting accounted for the link between task conflict and in-role performance.

Moderated mediation was then tested in the second stage for Conceptual Model 1. The overall model was significant (F[4.287] = 12.69; p < 0.0001; R2= 0.1503); however, the direct c' path was found to be non-significant (p = 0.0875). There was a significant conditional indirect effect of task crafting on in-role performance through self-focused EQ (β = -0.0092; p = 0.0096). The test of moderated mediation was significant: β = -0.0031; SE = 0.0015; 95% CI (-0.0063; -0.0004) and zero did not span the CI. This implies that the direct and indirect effects, as well as the conditional indirect effects, were different from one another with the addition of the moderator EQ (Hayes, 2013). Furthermore, the second-stage moderated mediation model accounted for 15.03% of the variance in in-role performance when task crafting was utilised. Hypothesis 3 is thus accepted in the second stage (see Table 3). Self-focused EQ was found to moderate the relationship between task conflict and in-role performance (through task crafting) in the second stage. The conditional indirect effects are visually presented in Figure 3. Significant conditional indirect effects were found for low (-1 SD) and average (0 SD) values of self-focused EQ. This suggests that individuals who exhibit low to moderate levels of self-focused EQ will have a stronger positive relationship when using task crafting in order to perform their job duties when experiencing task conflict, compared with individuals with high self-focused EQ. Figures 4 and 5 depict the overall direct and indirect effects of the moderated mediation conducted on Conceptual Model 1.







For Conceptual Model 2, a first- and second-stage moderated mediation was conducted using Hayes PROCESS Models 7 and 14, respectively. Hypothesis 4 indicated that other-focused EQ moderated the process of relational conflict, relational crafting and extra-role performance. Conceptual Model 2 variables were defined as follows: X = relational conflict, M = relational crafting, W/V = other-focused EQ and Y = extra-role performance. Identical bootstrap samples and CI were used. In both the first and second stage of the moderated mediation, the direct effect and interaction terms were non-significant (p > 0.05). Although it is suggested that relationships should not be disregarded based on p-values (Bangdiwala, 2016), it can still be concluded that moderated mediation did not occur, as zero spanned the CIs of the index of moderated mediation (first stage 95% CI [-0.0047; 0.0015] and second stage 95% CI [-0.0006; 0.0011]). Hypothesis 4 is therefore rejected.



In this study, two conceptual models were proposed to explore the relationships between four variables. The main aim of Conceptual Model 1 was to explore the relationships between task conflict, task crafting, self-focused EQ and in-role performance. Conceptual Model 2 explored the relationships between relational conflict, relational crafting, other-focused EQ and extra-role performance. This study explored these relationships with no demographical restrictions, but rather looked to understand the general employee experience. More specifically, this study was aimed at uncovering relationships that may exist between variables by calculating the direct, indirect and conditional effects. These effects were calculated by conducting mediation, and moderation and moderated mediation analyses of both Conceptual Models 1 and 2.

Task conflict, task crafting and in-role performance (indirect effect)

The results showed that task conflict had a direct and positive effect on in-role performance. The results therefore suggest that employees are more effective when their job duties are challenging, or likewise, when they encounter resistance when looking for a solution to a problem. Task conflict involves all task-related challenges or disagreements encountered at work (Desivilya et al., 2010). In-role performance, also referred to as task performance, encompasses the job duties that the employee is required to perform in order for an effective role and organisational functioning (Devonish & Greenidge, 2010). The findings of Hansen (2015), Lukasik (2009), Pelled, Eisenhardt and Xin (1999) and Wit, Greer and Jehn (2012) supported this study's finding that task conflict increases task performance. Therefore, employees facing task conflict have been shown to make better task-related decisions at work.

In addition, task conflict was found to positively affect task crafting, indicating that individuals are likely to craft their tasks when experiencing task conflict. This finding is supported by research as employees were found to craft their tasks more when they faced challenges in their job tasks (Petrou, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2015) and when their workload increased (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). These findings further support the notion that task crafting has a positive affect on an employees' performance of their job tasks. Therefore, Hypothesis 1, stating that task crafting mediates the relationship between task conflict and in-role performance, was accepted. Employees who confront task conflict through task crafting perform better in their specific task roles. This result could be partly explained by the finding that employees who are proactive in dealing with the challenges at work perform better at their tasks (Demerouti, 2014; Tornau & Frese, 2013). Likewise, Slemp and Vella-Brodrick (2013) found that, when employees craft their tasks, they are better able to satisfy their intrinsic needs (such as the need for autonomy and competence in their work tasks). Contrary to Hypothesis 1, employees who craft as a means to decrease their challenging job demands (e.g. task conflict) may try to reduce their work responsibilities to the detriment of their overall task performance (Tims, Bakker, & Derks, 2013).

Task conflict, task crafting, self-focused emotional intelligence and in-role performance (conditional indirect effect)

The results showed that all four variables showed significant positive correlations with one another. The moderated mediation analysis of Conceptual Model 1 yielded a significant result. Self-focused EQ was found to be a significant moderator of the indirect effect of task conflict on in-role performance through task crafting in the second stage (H3a). Specifically, low and average levels of self-focused EQ were stronger moderators of the path between task crafting and in-role performance in the presence of task conflict in the overall model. Therefore, when task conflict is experienced, employees who choose to craft their tasks will perform better when they possess a low to average level of self-focused EQ. Interestingly, these results imply that not being able to regulate one's own emotions (i.e. low levels of self-focused EQ) during times of increased task conflict still results in increased in-role performance when task crafting is performed. Therefore, we can assume that crafting plays a very important role in regulating the effects of conflict on in-role performance, especially if employees are less able to regulate their self-focused EQ. We may also assume that emotions do not affect work behaviours to a great extent. It may also be that the employees in this sample did not place importance on emotions when performing job tasks.

In exploring the result for average levels of self-focused EQ, the ability to both acknowledge and control their emotions, even in a slight way, will enhance employees' ability to craft successfully. A possible reason for this is the enrichment that self-focused EQ offers to employees' overall attitude towards and satisfaction with their job (Brunetto, Teo, Shacklock, & Farr-Wharton, 2012). This suggests that employees who are able to craft their tasks whilst not overly focused on their emotions will perform better. This may be because the employees are able to prioritise the task. Secondary support was found for Fredrickson's (2001) finding that individuals who constructively handle their emotions will adapt their ways (e.g. task crafting), even when they are faced with adverse conditions (e.g. task conflict).

The results of this study serve as further confirmation of the benefits that both task crafting and self-focused EQ could bring to employees' ability to overcome their task difficulties, in order to perform. Furthermore, certain levels of self-focused EQ strengthen these relationships. For example, the results showed that high levels of self-focused EQ do not affect the indirect relationship. Employees with high levels of self-focused EQ possibly already manage their relationships; thus, we can say that task conflict does not affect their performance through task crafting. We may then assume that these employees are better able to put their personal feelings aside when experiencing conflict, for the sake of achieving the task.

Relational conflict, relational crafting and extra-role performance

It is important to observe that respondents experienced relational conflict to a certain degree and indicated that they frequently engaged in extra-role activities. Relational conflict is the interpersonal problems that exist amongst co-workers (De Dreu & Weingart, 2003) and therefore is considered to encompass negative emotions. Extra-role performance involves showing care and concern for the well-being of colleagues, of one's own accord (Goodman & Svyantek, 1999). The relationship between relational conflict and extra-role performance was non-significant and the two variables had close to zero relationship with one another in the correlation and regression analyses. This suggests that when employees are faced with relational conflict, their extra-role performance is not directly affected. This may be because of employees choosing to distance the two experiences, so as not to cause further discord in their workplace relationships (Trougakos, Beal, Green, & Weiss, 2008). In addition, Schreurs, Van Emmerik, Günter and Germeys (2012) found that extra-role performance was likely to be intrinsically initiated by employees and not contextually reliant. Based on extant literature (De Wit, Greer, & Jehn, 2012), it was expected that these two variables would have a negative direct relationship.

Despite the fact that the variables did not relate as expected, the model still yielded some significant results. Relational conflict had a direct negative affect on relational crafting, meaning that the more relational conflict is experienced at work, the less employees will craft relationally. Relational job crafting involves employees changing their behaviour, in a positive way, towards their colleagues (Nielsen & Abildgaard, 2012), for example, making an effort to get to know people at work. In addition, the finding may be attributable to relational crafting requiring a positive interpersonal work dynamic (Gilson & Shalley, 2004), where employees feel psychologically safe (Caldwell & O'Reilly, 2003), neither of which is facilitated by relational conflict. Relational crafting was found to have a positive and direct effect on extra-role performance. This corroborated with findings of Niessen, Weseler and Kostova (2016) and Rudolph, Katz, Lavigne and Zacher (2017), who found that employees who consistently go out of their way to connect with others (extra-role performance) craft their work from a social perspective (relational crafting).

Overall, relational crafting did not mediate the relationship between relational conflict and extra-role performance. This was contradictory to the finding of Gardner, Pickett and Brewer (2000) that there is a natural effort made by employees to socially belong and, to do so, they spend time forming connections with their colleagues. Therefore, it was thought that when employees experience relational conflict, they may want to neutralise hostility (through relational crafting) in order to connect once more with their colleagues (extra-role performance). However, this proved not to be true in the present study. A possible reason for this could be, if people are experiencing relational conflict, they may be less likely to socialise with their colleagues. Slemp and Vella-Broderick (2013) further pointed out that relational crafting measures the extent to which employees will go out of their way to relate to and socialise with others.

Relational conflict, relational crafting, other-focused emotional intelligence and extra-role performance

The present study found that the indirect effect of relational conflict on extra-role performance, through relational crafting, was not moderated by other-focused EQ in either the first or the second stage (H4). In conceptualising the hypothesised relationship between the given variables, the indirect relationship between relational conflict and extra-role performance, through relational crafting, was understood as a change that an employee is required to navigate by making decisions that will benefit others. Hypothesis 4 was not accepted, as there was little empirical evidence to suggest that moderated mediation would occur (as other-focused EQ failed to moderate the relationship between relational conflict and extra-role performance and relational crafting did not mediate the relationship between relational conflict and extra-role performance). This was contrary to previous research that advocated that prosocial behaviours (such as relational crafting and extra-role performance) depend on prosocial traits (such as other-focused EQ) (Finkelstein, 2011; Schutte et al., 2001). It was also found that the ability to regulate the emotions of others eased dealings with workplace dilemmas (e.g. relational conflict) (Côté et al., 2011). Furthermore, a meta-analytical study found that this relationship was stronger in job roles that required interpersonal contact (Joseph & Newman, 2010).

A potential explanation for the lack of moderated mediation is that relational conflict did not correlate with other-focused EQ and extra-role performance in the first place, thereby suggesting that no relationship exists amongst those variables. This may be explained by Eslami and Arshadi's (2016) finding that competition in the workplace causes employees to withdraw from prosocial behaviours (e.g. extra-role performance), as helping fellow colleagues did not ensure an increase in their own growth and performance. Moreover, jobs require both self- and other-focused EQ (Elfenbein, 2016). Liu, Prati, Perrewe and Ferris (2008) proposed that even when the situation requires one to focus on others in their approach (relational conflict, relational crafting and extra-role performance), a certain level of self-focus may enhance employees' efforts and motivation. This may be explored in future studies.

Limitations and recommendations

Although this study yielded some significant results, limitations were evident. Firstly, EQ was measured using a self-report instrument, which may have caused some respondents to give socially desirable responses (Brackett, Rivers, Shiffman, Lerner, & Salovey, 2006). Future research may look to include ratings from supervisors and/or colleagues, especially in research relating to performance, where people may rate their performance higher than what it is (Tims, Bakker, & Derks, 2012). Furthermore, because of the use of a convenience sampling technique, the sample consisted of predominantly white female respondents and, therefore, the results are not generalisable to the larger population. Future research should focus on including more people from diverse backgrounds. The study followed a cross-sectional design, and future research should focus on obtaining scores on conflict, job crafting and performance over time. Lastly, the sample consisted of employees from a wide array of professions and industries; therefore, the identified relationships may not be applicable to a specific work context.

Self- and other-focused EQ have received little research attention in the South African context. Therefore, the present research may enable researchers to further explore EQ in the South African workforce, together with the role it plays in other relationships and outcomes, for example, exploring whether a combination of self- and other-focused EQ is more likely to positively impact South African employees' ability to navigate workplace conflict in order to perform. Overall, not much is known about self-focused and other-focused EQ (Pekaar et al., 2018a) in the South African context, and thus researchers and companies should focus on these concepts to gain a better understanding.

This study provides situational context to how the constructs under investigation relate to the workplace. For example, it was hypothesised that employees experiencing relational conflict will take up relational crafting in order to increase their extra-role performance and, furthermore, that this relationship would be moderated by other-focused EQ. Although this relationship proved to be non-significant, future research could target industries that require more relational and people-focused work, such as social work or nursing. Brotheridge and Grandey (2002) found that professionals in these occupations are required to adapt their emotions more regularly than non-human-service professionals. Other-focused EQ may then prove to be of greater influence in professions that involve more relational-type work.



The findings of this study contribute to the body of knowledge in terms of identifying the significant relationship between task conflict, task crafting and self-focused EQ and the effects these yield in terms of in-role performance. In addition, this study produced non-significant results regarding the relational aspects of conflict and crafting, their interaction with other-focused EQ and whether these relationships affect extra-role performance.

Conflict within organisations is inevitable and employees are expected to manage their own behaviour in order to perform optimally. Through this study, organisations may be enlightened regarding the influence of EQ, and therefore be aware of the benefits it could bring, such as increased employee ability to navigate conflict. This study may guide organisations to understand the self-driven behaviours employees embark on, such as task and relational crafting, in order to perform, regardless of the conflict they experience at work. By analysing these relationships, organisations may better equip their employees with the internal resources needed to perform.

This study identified a statistically significant conceptual model that indicates the relationships between task conflict, task crafting, self-focused EQ and in-role performance within the South African context. The study has shown that South African employees frequently experience both task and relational conflict at work. As managers require employees to overcome conflict swiftly and perform their job duties, it would be useful to identify the benefits of task crafting and self-focused EQ to serve such means. More importantly, this study confirms that low and average levels of self-focused EQ aid the strengthening of the positive consequences of task crafting in order to perform. Recruiters and line managers may benefit from this knowledge, as it suggests that EQ may be an important factor to consider when hiring or retaining talent, but that not all levels of EQ are beneficial.



This article arises from a published thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master's in Industrial Psychology in the College of Business and Economics at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, entitled 'The moderating role of emotional intelligence on the process of workplace conflict, job crafting and job performance', under the supervision of Dr Madelyn Geldenhuys, January 2018. Refer:

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

M.S. and M.G. contributed equally to the writing of the article.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

There are no restrictions on the availability of the data and it can be obtained from the corresponding author, M.G., upon request.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Madelyn Geldenhuys

Received: 21 Jan. 2021
Accepted: 05 Mar. 2021
Published: 14 June 2021



1. The term mediation is used in this article in the general sense that explains a model where the values of Y indirectly affects X through M.

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COVID-19 and the future of work and organisational psychology



Amalia Pérez-NebraI; Chrysavgi SklavenitiII; Gazi IslamIII, IV; Ivana PetrovićV; Jennifer PickettVI; Makfire AlijaVII; P. Matthijs BalVIII; Milena TekesteIX; Milica VukelićV; Sandiso BazanaIII, X; Zoe SandersonXI

IDepartment of Administration, University of Brasília, Brasilia, Brazil
IIInstitute of Organizational Psychology, School of Management, University of St. Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland
IIIDepartment of People, Organizations and Society, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Grenoble, France
IVInstitute for Research in Management and Economics (IREGE), Savoie Mont Blanc University, Geneva, Switzerland
VDepartment of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia
VIDepartment of Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
VIIBruegel Think Tank, Brussels, Belgium
VIIILincoln International Business School, Brayford Wharf, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, United Kingdom
IXSchool of Business and Management, Faculty of Organisation Studies, Royal Holloway University of London, London, United Kingdom
XDepartment of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa
XISchool of Management, Social Sciences and Law, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom





ORIENTATION: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused a 'coronafication' of research and academia, including the instrumentalisation of academic research towards the demands of society and governments. Whilst an enormous number of special issues and articles are devoted on the topic, there are few fundamental reflections on how the current pandemic will affect science and work and organisational psychology in the long run
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The current overview, written by a group of members of the Future of Work and Organisational Psychology (FOWOP) Movement, focuses on the central issues relating to work and organisational psychology that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 crisis
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: The study discusses the inability of dominant theories in work and organisational psychology to understand contemporary problems and the need to advance the theoretical realm of work psychology. We also discuss the need for pluralism in methodologies to understand the post-COVID-19 workplace, the urgency of attending to neglected voices and populations during the COVID-19 crisis and teaching during COVID-19.
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: This article uses conceptual argumentation.
MAIN FINDINGS: The COVID-19 crisis forces work psychology to address at least its theorising, methods, unheard voices and teaching in the COVID-19 crisis
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: On the basis of this article, researchers and practitioners may be better aware of the neglected perspectives in the current pandemic.
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: This article adds to the understanding of the future directions for a sustainable Work and Organisational Psychology as an applied scientific discipline during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Keywords: COVID-19; corona; work and organisational psychology; theory; neglected perspectives




Academic research is currently undergoing what could be called a 'coronafication'. The focus of research has dramatically shifted to study the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on people globally. Hundreds of articles are currently published in which every existing theory or concept is related to COVID-19. Numerous explanations are given about how the current pandemic is affecting people, workplaces, humanity and the planet (Bapuji, Patel, Ertug, & Allen, 2020; Delanty, 2020). This article, whilst part of this trend, distinguishes itself from the tide of research on COVID-19 by focusing on the implications of our current crisis on future perspectives in work and organisational psychology (henceforth work psychology). The article sets out to engage with what is not yet there in understanding how COVID-19 currently unfolds in global society and in particular the emerging world of work.

Whilst pandemics are nothing new and have occurred throughout history, we can observe similarities with previous epidemics, such as those narrated by authors like Daniel Defoe (in his narrative of the plague of 1665 in England) and Albert Camus (in his fictional narrative of a plague in an Algerian city, written in the 1940s). Yet, it can be stated that global society (and especially Western countries) had unlearnt (i.e. forgotten to learn from history and previous epidemics) how to cope with pandemics, as global health pandemics such as the Spanish Flu occurred over a 100 years ago. The world has not faced similar global health crisis since then (e.g. the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome [HIV/AIDS] pandemic was not as contagious as COVID-19 is).

A global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic also reminds us of other (non-epidemic) crises, such as the global economic crisis of 2008-2009, the cultural collapse of the United States of America after 9/11 and others across the world. These crises tend to be intertwined with each other and often provoke each other. This is also currently the case with COVID-19 leading to a global economic crisis, which then leads to a deeper health crisis. Such crises, whether economic or health crises, call for a radical transformation of society and its practices and crisis theorists have often argued how crises may provide spaces for radical change (Van de Ven & Poole, 1995).

In the workplace, and especially in formal work, we have seen such radical measures taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, whilst many countries and organisations have been reluctant to allow people to work from home, during the present crisis, they have rapidly adjusted to the necessity of homeworking. People needed to stay at home and balance their ongoing work obligations with taking care of family members and other duties. Consequently, homeworking has suddenly become a norm in some organisations and some jobs and people have to rapidly adjust to this new situation. However, Defoe (1722/2001) already wrote about the poor people, maids and servants who were most vulnerable and exposed to the plague in 1665, as they did not have the choice to stay at home and wait until the plague was over. Instead, they were forced, because of economic reasons, to expose themselves to the possibility of contracting the plague. Seemingly, not much has changed in these 400 years (e.g. Bargain & Aminjonov, 2020).

Discussions about homeworking, prevalent in recent work psychology literature (e.g. Chong, Huang, & Chang, 2020), indicate the elitist nature of academic thinking around people at work. Such elitist and exclusive perspectives are deeply engrained in the work psychology literature. Many responses to COVID-19 published in the field have aligned with such elitist work perspectives, including the focus on working from home, virtual teamwork and virtual leadership and management. Such work takes for granted the elitist assumption that for many across the world, homeworking and virtual working are impossible and only pertain to a privileged minority.

Moreover, the literature has also focused mainly on formal work in the formal employment sector. In this way, lessons from the informal sector are ignored, which is the part of the economy that is neither taxed nor monitored by the government (e.g. Kim, 2019; Sudarshan & Sinha, 2011). Therefore, it is important to raise more broad-ranging issues pertaining to the impact of the crisis and how the future of work psychology can be shaped in a more sustainable way. This includes taking into account the needs of all workers globally, and not just those few in the Global North who have the privilege of having a job and space at home, which allows them to continue their work activities.

In this article, we will discuss the implications of the COVID-19 crisis for work psychology, with special interest in what has been excluded from previous discussions on the impact of the crisis. We will do so by discussing three main areas within the field that need to be better understood in the COVID-19 workplace context. We discuss implications for (1) theorising in work psychology, (2) methodology, (3) the role of unheard voices and (4) teaching in work psychology. The article will finish with a discussion of the implications for the future of work psychology, which is heavily based on the manifesto for the Future of Work and Organisational Psychology (FOWOP) (Bal et al., 2019).


Theorising in times of COVID-19

Researchers across the world have tried to understand the impact of the current crisis on people and workplaces. They have largely done so through applying existing concepts and theories to the COVID-19 crisis. However, if the current crisis teaches humanity one lesson, it is that existing concepts cease to be able to explain our current predicament against the backdrop of a globalised world of increasing inequalities, dominated by neoliberal capitalism, and disintegrating democracies (Delanty, 2020; Žižek, 2020). It is no longer sufficient to rely on existing theory and concepts about work and its place in society as much of this theorising is woefully outdated and irrelevant when it comes to COVID-19. Triggered by the COVID-19 crisis, three critiques of contemporary theorising in work psychology are offered: work-life balance, the meaning of work and life and the dominance of the individual as a unit of analysis. More context and time-relevant responses by work psychology are suggested in each case.

Critique 1: Work-life balance

One of the principal features of theory in our field is that it encourages empirical attempts to support theories. Hence, the focus is on theoretical validation rather than Popperian falsification. This focus puts us in a situation not to see. We thus ignore what is not captured by theories and concepts in our field. For instance, work-life balance theory postulates that people maintain certain boundaries between the world of work and their other life domains, such as private and family life. However, in our current pandemic, theory fails to capture the possibility of no boundary at all. Consequently, the entire disappearance of work-life balance may go unnoticed, in cases where the two are indefinitely intertwined.

Still, the principal research direction of our field in times of the pandemic has been the study of work-life balance as it has been disrupted by the crisis. This direction, although significant for the insight it offers about those concerned, is only one voice of the workplace during the pandemic. Whilst it appears as the dominant one, on the one hand, this view of work does not represent a large proportion of the global work population. On the other hand, it is not the only valid voice. Many voices are not heard or considered as relevant.

For some individuals, home has always been the place where work is conducted. The impossibility for them of separating personal life from work is evident. For them, a concept such as work-life balance is absent or irrelevant. For instance, this applies to those who are unable to work from home (which involves many people in the informal sector; Sudarshan & Sinha, 2011), and those who engage in work that has to take place onsite or in direct contact with other people. For them, it no longer suffices to keep one's private life separate from work, as the two become inherently integrated through the disclosure of personal health information (e.g. an employer may request a negative COVID-19 test in order to work). Moreover, one may need to restrict one's movements in or outside one's job to protect oneself and one's colleagues or family against exposure to the virus. Is the fact that scholars presume that a boundary should exist between the work domain and one's private life (which is a historically recent invention anyway) not indicative of the destructive effects of work in contemporary capitalism on well-being and non-work life?

The fact that people need to (mentally and physically) disengage from work to enter their private lives, indicated by the concept of work-life balance, may also be pointing towards the psychological violence of organisational life that is exercised on the modern individual in contemporary capitalism. Adding to such a problematisation, the focus on the primary discourse of work-life balance and the assumption that a boundary should exist between the work domain and one's private life gives a negative undertone to the notion of work in contemporary capitalism, operating at the expense of well-being and non-work life.

All of these are connected to long-held work stereotypes that have been challenged during the pandemic, for instance, the compliance to one ideal work model (the traditional full-time mode), one ideal career type, typically involving the gradual advancement in the hierarchical ladder. The field of work psychology is primarily focused on the matter of work-life balance as a major concern for those workers performing work from home (as opposed to the traditional setting of the organisation). In contrast, the possibility of flexible home office had been almost always denied to those workers whose job may be carried out remotely and whose life needs would benefit from it. Notwithstanding the strain that is involved in managing work and parenthood, the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic urges us, work psychologists, to change the tune in working parenthood and move towards a holistic understanding of the diversity of roles and expectations in modern families.

Work-life balance as an issue focuses academic attention on those people who can work from home. However, for those who are unable to work from home, balancing work with one's life seems to be an increasing absurdity in the light of one's need to survive the crisis. In fact, the crisis may expose people to much more fundamental questions regarding the meaning of life (Blustein & Guarino, 2020) than the rather 'mundane' theorising around work-life balance is able to address. It is not surprising to observe a rise of interest in existentialist philosophers and writers, such as Camus, Arendt and Frankl (Blustein & Guarino, 2020). In essence, these authors dealt with the question of the meaning of life in uncertain and volatile times.

Questions such as 'what to do with my life' do not merely imply a philosophical depth as to the questions people ask themselves these days. They also have important psychological implications, which are still largely overlooked in the literature. Hence, instead of a focus on how people can maintain their work-life balance, it is time for work psychologists to focus more deeply and ask more relevant questions with respect to the meaning of work in life.

Moreover, this also includes a rethinking of the meaning of the term 'work' itself. The concept of work-life balance assumes a separation of paid work and life outside paid work, as if unpaid and household work is unimportant to the work psychologist. Feminist scholars (e.g. Sanchez & Kane, 1996; Sperling, Ferree, & Risman, 2001) have pointed to this artificial gendered distinction for a long time. Work psychologists will have to engage sooner rather than later in this critique, pointing to a blind spot in our current thinking.

From the above discussion it can be concluded that work-life balance theory fails to explain contemporary dynamics between what can be considered the work domain and the private domain. For more than 50% of the global population, COVID-19 may be less of an immediate concern than the everyday occupation of surviving and having enough money to pay for food, bills and accommodation. Such concerns may be exacerbated by the economic impacts of the crisis, independently of the direct effects of disease or illness.

South Africa has a poverty rate of 24% (OECD, 2020). This raises the question of how relevant the dominant, elitist theorising on work-life balance is. In Brazil, which is globally the sixth largest country in terms of population, close to 55 million people earn less than 80 a month and thus live below the poverty line (IBGE, 2018). The coronavirus disease 2019 is likely to extend this number and cause many people worldwide to struggle even more with surviving and getting enough to eat. Discussions about work-life balance in times of COVID-19 may border on the absurd, especially taking into account the unequal distribution of suffering as a result of the crisis across the world. The projection of another rise in extreme poverty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is most disturbing (World Bank, 2020).

In summary, whilst there already existed a need to revise the existing theory in work psychology to include discussions of global capitalism and its effects on work psychology (see, e.g., Bal & Dóci, 2018), the current crisis has re-emphasised the urgency to do so. Moreover, most of the ruling theories in work psychology are by nature exclusively Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic (WEIRD) orientated, focusing exclusively on concerns of the Global North. They have a high likelihood of failing to explain human behaviour in the workplace in a globalised world (Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010; Muthukrishna et al., 2020).

The current crisis offers work psychologists the opportunity to radically rethink our theorising, use and definition of concepts. One criterion for the future of the field could involve considering the global reach of concepts when considering their theoretical validity. For instance, if a work psychologist is interested in the balance employees experience between office life and non-office life, the scope of such an interest could be made explicit. This would lead to an appropriate assessment of the validity of the claims within a given scope. It may be of great interest to study work-life balance during the current COVID-19 crisis in more detail. In addition, it is also crucial to think about what the most pressing issues are that work psychologists should study and what our responsibilities as human beings and work psychologists actually are (e.g. Bal et al., 2019).

Critique 2: The meaning of work and life

In response to the concerns discussed above, one could raise the question of how individuals (worldwide) experience the role of work in their lives. For instance, building on existentialist philosophy, work psychologists can explore the meanings people worldwide draw from work. An increasing part of the working population is merely trying to survive the crisis, in terms that do not acknowledge their existential condition as is done in mainstream work psychology.

Similarly, it is widely known that distancing from each other is the best way to prevent the spreading of the virus. However, the right to such safety conditions remains elusive for many workers worldwide. They are forced to conduct their work in small spaces or on the streets where distancing is not possible. In this way, they are exposing themselves to a greater risk of COVID-19. A need to radically change how we theorise in work psychology is eminent in these times of the COVID-19 crisis. Confronted with the predicament of a global pandemic, the potential for the global capitalist system to be disrupted is unprecedented. Where climate change activists have met great resistance in their efforts to call for a sharp reduction in carbon emissions, the pandemic has put an immediate hold on global travel, leading to temporary drops in pollution levels that give a glimmer of hope for a sustainable transformation. In such spirit, work psychology also needs to more radically change how it theorises in order to prioritise humanistic and planetary priorities, rather than the needs of capital in maintaining a global hegemonic order (Bal et al., 2019).

Consequently, we would acknowledge that work psychology should focus on the profound changes people are experiencing in the meaning of work as a result of the current crisis. It has been argued that the crisis has spurred an existentialist experience and questions of loss and fear (Blustein & Guarino, 2020). People are confronted with questions that may have been new to them before the crisis, such as how to survive the coming year, how one's children will survive if one dies and how to remain healthy and not infected whilst being at work. For others across the world, the crisis may be 'just another crisis', such as Serbians who have experienced a long-lasting socio-economic crisis since the 1990s, including the war in former Yugoslavia (e.g. Petrović, Vukelić, & Čizmić, 2017). All of these facts have been largely overlooked so far in work psychology's responses to where the world is at present.

The crisis also raises even more fundamental questions about the meaning of life and how people can live their lives in a meaningful way. The crisis has spurred a rethinking of what is 'truly' important in life. For instance, regarding the concept of 'bullshit jobs' (Graeber, 2018), many people may ask themselves in these times of crisis whether their jobs have 'real' meaning. However, for others, the meaning is in having a job at all in order to support oneself and one's family.

Critique 3: The dominance of the individual as unit of analysis

It has not been surprising that global protest movements, such as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement, have found new energy in the crisis. The crisis has triggered and opened up societal fault lines, such as social injustices, against the backdrop of questioning what is truly important in life. To fight injustices is central to the BLM Movement. However, social justice remains a concept that is undervalued in work psychology, which tends to emphasise more individualistic notions of justice and well-being, rather than collective forms of solidarity.

The current situation is therefore an opportunity for work psychology to revise its main theories, making them less individualistic and more focused on meaning and relationships. 'Traditional' work psychology tends to study individuals (or in extension, individuals in teams through a process of theoretical and/or methodological aggregation), whereby individual interest is prioritised in line with the notion of individualism as cornerstone of contemporary society (e.g. Greene, 2008; Markus & Schwartz, 2010). Newly emerging forms of theorising in work psychology could more explicitly focus on both individual and collective levels as units of theorising and analysis. At the same time, researchers may take into account the socially embedded dimensions through which individual and collective behaviour can be properly understood. For instance, dominant perspectives on well-being, originating from North America and Western Europe, tend to emphasise the individualistic bases of well-being (Cederström & Spicer, 2015), built on a variety of personal dimensions (e.g. personal health, optimal working conditions and resilience). However, we do not know enough about how well-being relates to social harmony or collective solidarity. Along similar lines, one cannot merely assume individualistic, hedonic well-being of the modern citizen or employee without taking into account that which unfolds societally (Markus & Schwartz, 2010; Schwartz & Sortheix, 2018; Sortheix & Schwartz, 2017).

Well-being has different referents, including a private (hedonic or eudaimonic) and a public (family, group, hometown, etc.) one. Accordingly, individual well-being cannot be seen separately from social well-being in times of COVID-19, where individual, privileged well-being may occur at the expense of the well-being of others. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are intrinsically linked to others in aspects as basic as the air we breathe and that conceptions of the autonomous individual are deeply flawed.

In the face of the pandemic the concept of individual responsibility is intrinsically linked to the concept of social solidarity. The guidelines to wear masks, keep physical distance and regularly disinfect our hands are based on the assumptions that we take care not to infect the ones we get in contact with. In such a way, the notion of the individual develops together with others. Togetherness, however, has been surprisingly (maybe not) silenced in work psychology theories. It is now time to consider more relational and collective approaches to theorising and conceptualising human behaviour in the workplace.

A systems approach (such as Bronfenbrenner, 1979; see also Islam, 2020), might offer the possibility to theorise individual behaviour by embedding it in the relational and structural contexts, which shape its meaning and form. To acknowledge the social embeddedness of human behaviour whilst also retaining the lived experience of agents in their everyday concerns, systems approaches could also be integrated with existentialist approaches, with their focus on work and life meanings. These theoretical possibilities may help explain and understand some of the psychologically relevant aspects of the pandemic, including the sharp rise in mental health issues, such as mourning, loss, suicide, isolation, vulnerability, job loss, job insecurity, hunger and fear of infection.


Methodology in times of COVID-19

Our preceding discussion about the struggles prevailing theorising faces to capture the depth and dynamics of the current COVID-19 crisis naturally leads to problematising methodological approaches apt to include the diversity of discourses around the pandemic. Research in work psychology remains dominated by the positivistic research paradigms, focusing on quantitative research that seeks relationships between variables measured using survey instruments. In critique of the dominance of positivistic research paradigms, we turn to inductive and abductive methodological orientations for exploring experiences and dynamics of the current crisis in inclusive ways that focus on multiplicity rather than dominance of certain discourses, like positivism (both theoretically and empirically observed).

Inductive and abductive research might offer alternative approaches, whereby experiences and dynamics of the current crisis do not have to be fitted in the strict demarcations of existing theories. For instance, whereas job insecurity may result from a wide range of different circumstances, the current pandemic displays a greater volatility, which can be compared with the potential effects of climate change on our lives in the future. The global lockdown and the continued need to reinforce lockdowns worldwide in response to second and third waves of the COVID-19 virus show that perceptions of job insecurity prior to the pandemic do not equate to the insecurity caused by the current crisis. It touches upon a much more fundamental 'ontological insecurity' (Mitzen, 2006) or a loss of feeling or sense of oneself as a whole. Hence, whilst survey questions about job insecurity may have their utility, they do not capture the existential depth of the current crisis.

Abductive research may also be helpful here. We are faced with a global situation where existing research fails to provide possible answers to how we want and need to design future workplaces. What we know is that the COVID-19 crisis affects people in unequal ways, for instance, as demarcated by racial inequalities in society (McClure, Vasudevan, Bailey, Patel, & Robinson, 2020). To postulate a workplace that contributes to fairness, dignity and social justice, academics could engage more explicitly in abductive research. They could find ways through which (new) theory can work jointly with grounded reality. This may empower academics to engage in research that actively focuses on the creation of workplaces and policies that aim towards such goals as greater dignity and social justice in society.

One practical way through which this can be achieved is using dialogical, applicable social psychology (Mayo & La France, 1980), complemented with action research. Both tend to be rather underdeveloped types of research in work psychology. Work psychologists tend to assume that knowledge is created through survey research. They appear to ignore that knowledge is also generated by elders, indigenous people and through fictional narratives (e.g. Heron & Reason, 2008).

Bottom-up dialogical research strategies will allow researchers in work psychology to engage with people in the workplace from the moment of designing one's research. It is imperative in these times that the actual benefactors of our research - people in the workplace - are integrated in the ways we do our research from the moment we formulate our research questions. Bottom-up dialogues with our stakeholders about the types of questions that are relevant to investigate and the ways we conduct our research not only benefit just the quality and relevance of our research but also useful to empower individuals in the workplace to contribute to goals such as social justice in the workplace.

Such dialogues can be combined with action research. In this way, academics do not just 'observe' what is going on in the workplace, but also develop, test and evaluate interventions with the participants with the shared goal of creating positive change in a given context. Co-creating action-focused research with other stakeholders in this way could contribute towards building greater social and environmental justice and dignity and fairness in workplaces.

Nonetheless, we also observe the general dislike amongst editors and reviewers in work psychology of qualitative research (e.g. Symon & Cassell, 2006). Firmly entrenched as a gateway to have research accepted in top academic journals is the antecedent-moderator-outcome research paradigm. Journal practices and cultures will have to change to allow a broader methodological set to be normalised in the field. With such a broader set of methodological tools, researchers may obtain a richer perspective of the impact of the current crisis and the ways workplaces can be developed in the future. Qualitative methods will allow for such research, which brings the lived experiences of workers to the fore, potentially developing more grounded theoretisation.

Pluralism in research will also contribute to a greater focus on Popperian ideals of falsification rather than verification. One such approach could be engaging in more case-study research (Eisenhardt, 1989). Eisenhardt suggested that case studies could be investigated through an iterative approach including continual iteration backward and forward. Each step in this research process involves cooperation amongst multiple stakeholders. Case study research includes multiple data collection methods and cross-case analysis. This could include (re)definition of the research question after each step and gathering some further evidence if needed. This would also promote more Popperian thinking - focusing on falsifying existing theory rather than merely searching for verification.


Unheard voices in times of COVID-19

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, work psychologists have turned to a growing body of research on teleworking, home-working and work-life balance (e.g. Bick, Blandin, & Mertens, 2020). Governments throughout the world called workers and organisations to work from home. However, this has often been done without taking into account the impossibility for many people worldwide to actually do this. Such exclusion is also still present in work psychology debates when it focuses on working from home.


Have's and have-not's voices

The unheard voices in work psychology are rife. The criticism has often been voiced against the WEIRD nature of psychology (Schulz, Bahrami-Rad, Beauchamp, & Henrich, 2018). But even within wealthy countries, working from home remains a luxury that is only accessible to those who have office jobs and solid Internet connections at home. This excludes many casual workers, self-employed workers and others (Spreitzer, Cameron, & Garrett, 2017). Their voices remain largely unheard in work psychology. Similarly, the voices of people worldwide who have been dramatically affected by the current crisis remain invisible in our field. Amongst the unheard voices are not only women, older workers but also younger workers, people of mixed race, people with disabilities and other minority groups.


Women and minority voices

The coronavirus, like most disasters, has unearthed societal vulnerabilities and inequalities regarding access to resources, capabilities and opportunities (Boin, Stern, & Sundelius, 2016) and further systematically disadvantaged certain groups, particularly women and minorities (Neumayer & Plümper, 2007). For instance, in academia, there is already a gender gap (Meyers et al., 2020; Pérez, 2019). The coronavirus disease 2019 has not affected all scientists equally. Women in academia publish less and are cited less than their male counterparts and since the coronavirus, overall publications by women have decreased by 16%, with a drop of 23% as first author and 16% as last author in the medical field (Gabster, Van Daalen, Dhatt, & Barry, 2020). Furthermore, women scientists with young dependents are the most disproportionately affected (Meyers et al., 2020). This also calls explicitly for an intersectional approach towards the unheard voices in our field.

Outside of academia, women are often employed in the informal sector. The informal sector has become an important job-creating sector (Fourie, 2018), outside of public and private organisations. However, there is little documented in work psychology about the dynamics of work in that space. The informal sector has often provided work to unskilled populations. Perhaps, the pandemic could also be seen as offering an opportunity to hear and learn from the experiences of that sector.

We therefore call for more space, understanding and research, for voices to be heard from a wide range of populations worldwide who are still neglected in work psychology. Those who do not fit the prototypical subject of psychological research - the white, university-educated, Western, heterosexual man - may be under-represented in terms of psychological explanation (Pérez, 2019). For instance, gender remains an important dimension in research. The current crisis has only amplified its importance, with women typically disadvantaged more by the crisis because of the disproportionate transfer of typical domestic responsibilities to them, such as household work, caring and child responsibilities. Moreover, issues of domestic violence have become particularly important in times of COVID-19, especially for those (generally) women and children for whom 'home' is not a safe place (Bradbury-Jones & Isham, 2020). In such cases, the notion of 'working from home' has to be problematised from many angles. Hence, we emphasise the importance to attend to unheard voices. Sometimes to leave the house and work outside of one's home, even when exposing oneself to the risk of the virus, remains a safer option for individuals and their children.


The denotation of vulnerability

This leads to the question of 'vulnerability', which is a central term in the current crisis. It seems as if even the denotation of someone being vulnerable is not decided by oneself exclusively but may be determined top-down. When governments or employers influence whether or not someone is fit enough to work because of lack of governmental support and whether one needs to be present at work during the pandemic, they will also determine vulnerability. We have witnessed many employers being generous and caring towards their employees. However, as the crisis continues, employees may be put under pressure to be present at work, even when they consider themselves vulnerable (to the virus, or more generally because of poor health or well-being). This raises the question about who gets to determine who is vulnerable and whether individuals have enough agency to take care of themselves and to protect themselves if needed or to engage in exposing themselves to risks in order to survive and make money or to protect others. Work psychologists need to be vigilant of such issues.


Teaching in times of COVID-19

Finally, all the points made previously have implications for theory and methodology and also the teaching of work psychology. We recognise the pressures that academic teaching staff members are experiencing because of the pandemic. Some scholars lost their jobs, had their salary cut, doubled the number of students per class and had their employment contracts made more flexible and precarious. We or they must help prepare future generations of academics and work psychologists to think critically about the meaning of work that has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students globally have suffered from the COVID-19 crisis. Many students are in the formative phases of their lives, developing themselves intellectually, emotionally and socially. The current crisis has diminished such opportunities for many students across the world. As work psychologists, we can also connect to our students and make their study a meaningful experience that they will take on for the rest of their lives. For instance, directly discussing with students how they are affected and how this has changed their perspectives on work may be an important endeavour.

Moreover, the above discussions about workers also apply to many students. Amongst students, there are those privileged with Internet access, stable connections and possibilities to study online. However, there are also less fortunate students who do not have such access. It is the responsibility of teachers and work psychologists to care for all students, and especially those with fewer privileges. Universities and psychologists can offer students additional mentoring and tutoring possibilities to cope with the current crisis.

Societal fault lines that have been manifested are amplified in the COVID-19 crisis. This is also present amongst our students. Thus, it is of great importance that universities put additional energy into maintaining the well-being of students. Especially, the students who lack the proper space, facilities, Internet connections, emotional support, moved out to study, live alone or in a violent neighbourhood, take care of others (children or the elderly), have certain health conditions or disabilities, and so on, may need additional care in the current crisis.


A future of work and organisational psychology response to the COVID-19 crisis

This article has been written by authors affiliated with the FOWOP Movement for a more sustainable future for the field (see also and Bal et al., 2019). This piece has evolved from a series of collective discussions by this group taking place since the start of the pandemic, in which we have reflected on how the pandemic has affected us as individuals, work psychology researchers and practitioners and members of different communities around the world. The FOWOP movement of academics in the work psychology field (and beyond) is formed out of frustration with contemporary practices and the lack of relevance and critical thought in the field. It aims to create better working conditions in academia, promote more relevant and critical research and address inequalities in the workplace and in academia. It published a manifesto in 2019 in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, which describes 10 responsibilities for academics in the field (Bal et al., 2019). The first, and perhaps the most fundamental responsibility, concerns the duty towards individuals in the workplace. Currently, the dominant practice in work psychology still remains embedded within the instrumental logic, favouring organisational profitability and survival over the well-being and dignity of individuals. The view of FOWOP is that individual well-being and dignity cannot be made instrumental towards organisational outcomes and profit. In the current crisis, this issue remains a fundamental issue in our practices as work psychologists.

In these days, global society debates the relationship between public health and economic survival, positioning a mutual exclusivity of protecting the health of (vulnerable) individuals versus protecting the economy. In this way, the health of individuals who might not suffer from the virus themselves, but from the effects of the lockdown, is overlooked. However, this debate can be perceived as an impossible paradox, whereby a genuine concern of governments for public health can be critiqued as an attack on the economy when a country is forced into a lockdown.

However, it is vital to understand the contemporary predicament as an aspect of globalised capitalism itself: the rapid spread of the virus across the world has been made possible because of the globalised economic system. Therefore, a narrow focus on the resurgence of the economic system itself, without postulating the necessity of changing the economic parameters (such as globalised supply chains, profitability and economic growth as ultimate priorities of an economy), is insufficient. Therefore, it is our responsibility to contribute to understanding and practical knowledge about more sustainable economic models and practices.

Hence, the question becomes how to change the economic system from within, from the level of the workplace, whereby balancing the needs for protection of vulnerable individuals, ensuring enough income or a basic income for citizens, protection of the environment and restoration of the planet and the transformation towards an entirely circular economy are all central. For work psychologists, this means to focus on the responsibilities we have as academics and practitioners. Drawing on these responsibilities as outlined in the manifesto (Bal et al., 2019), we suggest in this article dialogical routes, both theoretical and methodological, towards better understanding the workplace in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and towards dealing with the inequalities and suffering it brings upon workers.

We can translate such societal issues to the workplace by engaging in more research using non-traditional ontologies and methodologies, with systems approaches to understand behavioural responses to the crisis, thus empowering the unheard voice and those who are disproportionately affected, namely, women and minorities. Inductive and abductive research will also help to elucidate the dynamics underpinning contemporary workplaces and issues, and to articulate ways through which workplaces can become more inclusive and contribute to social and environmental justice, wealth distribution and dignity.

To do so, we as work psychologists also need to act more collectively, as issues in the workplace, both within and beyond academia, are too structural and interconnected to be solved by individuals or through individual research projects. For instance, precarious workers in academia need permanent staff to support them in their striving for their rights to remain employed during crises such as the current one. Affirmative action needs to be applied to give chances and correct bias. Moreover, colleagues of mixed race need white colleagues to address racism in the workplace, just as women colleagues need their men colleagues to do the same on their behalf. Thus, these issues and solutions are interconnected and dependent on collective action. Such collective initiatives also provide opportunities for mutual support and ways to connect with each other so that we can formulate actions together. In this way, we call for a 'relational' turn in work psychology, whereby the relationship between people becomes central in how we approach our research, our work and how we collaborate within academia. Collaboration instead of competition provides a healthier and more sustainable way forward to contribute to a fairer society and workplace.



Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships which may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

All authors contributed equally towards the conceptualisation, writing and editing of the article. The manuscript was a collective effort of the Coronavirus Response Group of the FOWOP Movement (

Ethical considerations

This article followed all ethical standards for research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

The authors confirm that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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P. Matthijs Bal

Received: 12 Nov. 2020
Accepted: 09 Mar. 2021
Published: 14 May 2021

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Counselling preparedness and responsiveness of industrial psychologists in the face of COVID-19



Marieta du Plessis; Emma C. Thomas

Department of Industrial Psychology, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa





ORIENTATION: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has brought to the forefront the need for industrial-organisational psychologists (IOPs) and organisations to place an emphasis on employees' mental and physical health at all times
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The purpose of the research was to determine how prepared IOPs are to counsel employees during the pandemic and how responsive they are to provide counselling
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: It is not clear to what extent such counselling is being practised by IOPs in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: A qualitative approach was used to gain an understanding of registered South African IOPs' experiences of workplace counselling, particularly during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic
MAIN FINDINGS: Regarding preparedness, we found that IOPs are ill-prepared to counsel in the workplace. Preparedness was influenced by participants' counselling education, skills and knowledge; experience; convictions about counselling; and psychological and organisational preparedness. Whilst some IOPs did engage in more counselling during the COVID-19 pandemic, most reverted to mitigating actions such as referrals, wellness management, equipping managers and change initiatives
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The results of this study indicate that, under pandemic conditions, there is an increased need for counselling practices within the workplace and that IOPs should explore the ways in which they could play a more active role in such counselling
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: Although we found that IOPs generally responded to employees' mental health needs in a positive manner, there was a lack of counselling preparedness and responsiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic

Keywords: COVID-19; mental health; counselling; industrial psychology; preparedness; responsiveness.




The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a pandemic in March 2020. For much of the following year, the COVID-19 pandemic had a bewildering and unprecedented effect on all aspects of society across the globe (Gautam & Sharma, 2020). For instance, in March 2020 the South African government implemented drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus, breaking existing social and economic forms of contact (Arndt et al., 2020). It quickly became evident that the direct and indirect psychological and social effects of the pandemic were pervasive and could affect mental health long after the pandemic itself is over (Holmes et al., 2020). As a result of prolonged lockdown and business closures, people experienced social isolation, lifestyle disruptions and loss of personal income, whilst society lost its productivity in a crippled economy (Tan et al., 2020). This pandemic has exacerbated stressors in a healthcare system in which burnout, a response to workplace stress, is already endemic (Restauri & Sheridan, 2020).

Given this global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is much speculation about the effects it will have on the future of work and on people working in organisations (Rudolph et al., 2020). Indeed, the influence of the pandemic has provoked a career shock in many people (Akkermans, Richardson, & Kraimer, 2020; Hite & McDonald, 2020). There have been tangible effects on work-related processes, including job losses and large-scale implementation of new remote labour policies (Adalja, Toner, & Inglesby, 2020).

These changes have imposed numerous psychological stressors upon individuals (Van Bavel et al., 2020). For example, people are experiencing increased work and family demands, especially as they navigate the need to re-balance multiple work-related roles with their personal lives. Frontline employees such as healthcare workers needed increased levels of resilience, as they continued to attempt to save lives whilst battling snowballing numbers of infected people (Hite & McDonald, 2020). External demands (e.g. increased uncertainty about job security, financial difficulties) are likewise accumulating. Sibley et al. (2020) reported that the nationwide lockdown in New Zealand resulted in higher rates of mental distress. Zacher and Rudolph (2020) reported decreases in life satisfaction and positive affect in a German sample (N = 979). In India, a 20% increase in patients with mental illness has been reported since the COVID-19 outbreak (Loiwal, 2020).

This emerging evidence of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health echoes WHO concerns about its long-term psychosocial consequences (WHO, 2020a). Specifically, there are concerns about increased experiences of loneliness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, harmful substance use, self-harm and suicidal behaviour (WHO, 2020b). Kumar and Nayar (2020) suggest that one of the major challenges in mitigating mental health consequences of the pandemic is the lack of mental health professionals, practitioners and counsellors.

Industrial-organisational psychologists (IOPs) are professionals who specialise in the psychology of work and human behaviour in organisations (Van Vuuren, 2010). The Health Professions Act (2006) (Health Professions Council of South Africa [HPCSA], 2011) postulates that the main tasks of IOPs are to:

[P]lan, develop and apply paradigms, theories, models, constructs and principles of psychology to issues related to the world of work in order to understand, modify and enhance individual, group and organisational behaviour, well-being and effectiveness. (p. 9)

Hence, IOPs should support well-balanced employees towards a process of development and optimisation. Although a key focus for IOPs is to ensure workplace readiness and compliance with occupational health and safety measures (Rudolph et al., 2020), it is clear that COVID-19 workplace interventions should address not only the physiological but also the psychological needs of employees (e.g. via counselling procedures) (Zhou et al., 2020). The purpose of this study was to determine the preparedness and crisis responsiveness of IOPs as related to workplace counselling.


Research purpose and objectives

Traditional views of counselling suggest that this process should aim to help people overcome problems they are facing. When translated into the workplace sphere, counselling aims to help employees remain productive whilst coping with their problems. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, early counselling intervention could prevent the establishment of maladaptive cognitive or behavioural patterns amongst employees (Tan et al., 2020). Furthermore, counselling could help an individual increase their job resources, work engagement and psychological strengths (McLeod & Henderson, 2003).

It is not clear to what extent such counselling is practised by IOPs in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also not clear whether IOPs have sufficient or adequate training in and exposure to the particular set of skills (e.g. the ability to adapt to the needs of their clients, especially as those needs are affected by the external environment) that will allow them to enhance positive states through counselling.

Therefore, framed within the commonly used model of emergency management (Kapucu, 2008), the purpose of the research was to determine how prepared IOPs are to counsel employees during the pandemic (i.e. whether they have the capabilities necessary to react to a series of disruptive future events), and how responsive they are to the needs of their clients (i.e. whether they are able to react quickly and positively). Preparedness may be enhanced by education, practice, self-awareness and other opportunities offered through postgraduate studies, internship and work experience as an IOP. Responsiveness relates to well-being promotion, prevention and appropriate reaction to the legitimate expectations of employees, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In summary, this study had these specific objectives:

  • To determine the preparedness of workplace IOPs to react to current mental health needs of employees, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • To explore the responsiveness of workplace IOPs as it relates to counselling during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Literature review

A central component of workplace counselling is discussing with an employee those problems that have an emotional content. The aim is to help the individual cope within the situation; improvement in their coping skills often means improved efficiency of the organisation (Rothmann & Cilliers, 2007). Workplace counselling also often entails the application of brief, relationship-focussed psychological interventions. This application is consistent with HPCSA (2019)-mandated requirements for IOPs, which state that they should focus on 'short-term counselling and helping skills, rather than longer-term interventions' (p. 7). Barkhuizen, Jorgensen and Brink (2014) report that IOPs are well positioned to take on the role of facilitator in counselling situations, providing guidance, offering help and overseeing the intervention process. The focus is therefore to assist the employee in regaining control and responsibility over their life. Such interventions have been proved to be effective systemically and individually (McLeod, 2020).

Typical workplace counselling situations that IOPs face include career advising, developmental coaching, employee assistance (e.g. helping employees deal with ill-health diagnoses, workplace violence or substance abuse), guidance of progress towards resolution of personal, marital or relationship problems and facilitation of employees' understanding of psychometric test results. Harassment, emotional abuse and victimisation in the workplace may also be addressed (Aquino & Thau, 2009). Form 218-INDS (HPCSA, 2019) further indicates that IOPs should be exposed to the diagnosis of work-related stress, burnout, depression and psychological trauma (see also Preece, Cayley, Scheucl, & Lam, 2005).

The literature suggests, however, that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, IOPs did not feel adequately prepared for their role as workplace counsellors (Barnard & Fourie, 2007; Jorgensen-Graupner & Van Zyl, 2019). This feeling could be ascribed, at least partly, to the lack of structured guidelines, models, frameworks or meta-theories to inform workplace counselling (Barkhuizen et al., 2014). Alternatively, it seems that many IOPs feel uncomfortable with their level of competence in counselling and may prefer not to counsel employees, because of the perception that such a role falls outside their scope of practice (Jorgensen-Graupner & Van Zyl, 2019). However, one of the contemporary roles of the IOP is that of wellness facilitator (Van Zyl, Nel, Stander, & Rothmann, 2016). This role includes enhancing the overall level of personal well-being of employees, to prevent workplace problems (Barkhuizen, Jorgensen, & Brink, 2015). It seems natural, therefore, that part of this role could include the provision of counselling to address the personal and/or professional developmental needs of the individual employee (Van Zyl et al., 2016).

As a psychologist in the workplace, the IOP often serves as the 'first responder' to help employees manage job-related distress and trauma (Barkhuizen et al., 2015). The responsiveness of the IOP in these cases may range from engaging directly with the employee to provide crisis counselling, to facilitating interventions on individual, environmental, organisational and group levels (Georganta & Montgomery, 2019; Jonker, Graupner, & Rossouw, 2020). Terblanche and Van Wyk (2014) posited that organisations should implement effective psychological trauma management programmes and interventions, to ensure that employees are able to maintain their levels of work performance and well-being. Large-scale disasters, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are associated with significant increases in mental health disorders (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], depression and substance abuse disorders) in both the immediate aftermath of the trauma and subsequently (Galea, Merchant, & Lurie, 2020). Similarly, burnout is associated with higher rates of substance abuse, depression and suicide (Dyrbye et al., 2014). Hence, it is clear that the IOP's responsiveness in situations of trauma and burnout is paramount to employee and organisational well-being. Industrial-organisational psychologists can help employees manage stress before it results in burnout, trauma debriefing can lessen the chances of anxiety or mood disorders developing and building on the employee's personal resources can help buffer potentially excessive job-related demands (Jorgensen-Graupner & Van Zyl, 2019).

Research design and method

We used a qualitative, interpretive phenomenological approach to achieve our aim of gaining an in-depth understanding of registered South African IOPs' experiences of workplace counselling, particularly during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. This approach helps the researcher understand and interpret the meanings that participants attach to everyday life as they experience it, and as such it was appropriate to the aims of the study (De Vos, Strydom, Fouche, & Delport, 2005; Gray, 2004).

We applied the phenomenological method by engaging with the participants in a naturalistic manner (i.e. by having a discussion with each individually). By using this strategy, we could explore the experiences of a number of participants working in different organisations. As a result of social distancing measures associated with the COVID-19 lockdown regulations, face-to-face interviews and focus groups were discouraged. Thus, online individual interviews were the best option to learn about the participants' experiences.

Research strategy

Participants were HPCSA-registered IOPs from across South Africa and recruited by using convenience and snowball sampling. A criterion for inclusion was that the participant had to be registered with the HPCSA in the category 'Psychologist: Industrial'.

Research setting

Participants were interviewed via video conference, with the interviewer and interviewee at their homes or offices. The interviews were conducted in August 2020, a month during which South Africa was in alert level 3 of the COVID-19 lockdown. This alert level mandated restrictions on many activities, including social and work-related activities, for example, persons who are able to work from home should do so (Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, 2020).

Entreé and establishing researcher roles

Individuals who conducted the study were two principal researchers (i.e. they conceptualised the study, analysed the transcripts and wrote the research report) and 22 master's students who acted as fieldworkers (i.e. they conducted the interviews). The students were registered for and actively pursuing their master's degree in industrial psychology.

The principal researchers are both registered IOPs and are involved in teaching a master's-level module on workplace counselling. In considering the impact of those roles on study outcomes, we acknowledge that: (1) our experiences as practising IOPs may influence data interpretation and (2) we may carry a positive bias towards counselling preparedness and responsiveness of IOPs in the workplace. Another important consideration in this regard is whether participants were aware of the fact that fieldworkers were aspiring IOPs as this might have influenced their answers (and especially their willingness to openly talk about their experiences).

Researchers and fieldworkers gained access to participants by contacting individuals in their professional networks and by searching for registered IOPs on various Internet platforms (e.g. LinkedIn, Google). Participation invitations were sent via e-mail or online messages. Individuals who responded positively were asked to indicate a willingness to consent to take part in an interview. For those who did so, the interviewer arranged a date, time and suitable virtual platform for the online interview.

Prior to beginning the interview, participants were informed about the amount of time and level of participation required. A formal consent letter described the nature of the information that would be gathered, its intended use and role players who would have access to the data. It also assured participants that they could withdraw from the study at any time without fearing repercussions. No form of coercion or dishonesty was used to ensure participation or to elicit responses.


Table 1 presents basic demographic characteristics for the 23 participants (17 women and six men). Eight were self-employed and 15 were employed full-time in industries including financial services, public sector, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), medical services and human resource (HR)- and IOP-related consulting firms. All participants were employed in IOP- or HR-related work, with job titles such as HR Business Partner, Chief HR Officer, Organisational Development (OD) and People Development, HR Advisor, HR Manager and Assessment Manager. Participants had been registered as an IOP for between 3 months and 36 years (average = 10 years). However, many participants had substantial work experience in an HR role before they furthered their studies and registered as an IOP.



Data collection methods

We used semi-structured one-on-one interviews to collect data. The purpose of the interviews was to elicit thorough information relating to the experience and perception of participants about their preparedness for workplace counselling and counselling responsiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic. The interview guide contained questions such as:

'How did the expectations of your work as an IOP change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?'

'Have you been doing more counselling during the pandemic than before?'

'If a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits, what would you like to have in place that you did not before?'

The interview guide also contained demographic questions and asked for information about the participant's type of employment, size of the employing organisation and years of registration as an IOP.

Data recording

Interviews were recorded digitally by using the recording function of the online meeting platform. The interviews were then saved in electronic format, with back-up copies in a cloud-based drive. The data were transcribed in Microsoft Word documents and then compared with the voice recordings to ensure no omissions.

Data analysis

We used the interpretive phenomenological analysis steps described by Smith and Osborn (2008) to analyse the data. As such, all transcripts were subjected to a systematic search for themes. Codes were generated from the data to annotate insights into participants' experiences. Emerging patterns across cases were sought and classified as themes. Themes were then grouped under superordinate (broad) themes.

Reporting style

We used a narrative reporting style to describe and explain the identified themes. The themes are described in detail, supported with extracts from the transcripts (Smith & Osborn, 2008). To assist the reader, minor modifications were made to transcripts, as long as it did not impact on the meaning of what was said; for example, we omitted interjections and duplicated words from the transcripts (De Vos et al., 2005).

Ethical considerations

Participant identity was anonymised throughout, as names were not used during data collection. No private information was elicited, and the right of confidentiality was respected for all participants. Ethical clearance was obtained from the Human and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee of the University of the Western Cape, with clearance number HS20/7/1.



Participants were asked to reflect on how they experienced their beliefs, feelings and responses with regard to workplace counselling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their accounts were organised in two superordinate themes to reflect preparedness (i.e. experiences, perceptions and knowledge evident at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic) and responsiveness during the pandemic. To contextualise the findings, we begin with a report of how IOPs experienced the need of employees and organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employee and organisational needs experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic

Participants' accounts of the workplace experience during the COVID-19 pandemic indicate that employees experienced uncertainty and anxiety (P3, P6, P22). Some of these were as a result of job insecurity (P3), partners and/or family members losing their jobs or falling ill (P8), perceptions of the deadliness of the virus (P3) and lack of certainty in a time when none existed (P8). The trauma of losing a family member also had a dire impact on some employees' well-being (P10), especially if the loved one passed away in isolation and there was no opportunity to say goodbye (P13). Participant 6 indicated that the needs of employees changed with the different levels of lockdown: