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Change experience and employee reactions: developing capabilities for change

Inger G. Stensaker (Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Bergen, Norway)
Christine B. Meyer (Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Bergen, Norway)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 January 2012




The purpose of this paper is to explore how experience with organizational change influences employees' reactions to change. While exposure to an increasingly frequent organizational change can lead to change fatigue and cynicism, it can also generate more positive reactions to change. The authors identify experience‐based change capabilities and explore conditions for developing such capabilities.


The paper draws on qualitative interview data from two studies of reactions to planned change. The authors probe employees' accounts of their reactions to change and show how they vary depending on employees' level and type of experience.


The findings suggest that experience provides opportunities for employees to develop their change capabilities, which leads to milder and more constructive reactions to subsequent change initiatives. However, negative experiences can lead to loyal behavior that is based on cynical attitudes.

Research limitations/implications

The findings contribute by identifying experience‐based capabilities among change recipients. The limitations of the study include the threat of self‐selection as employees who remain in the organization may be more prone to loyal behavior.

Practical implications

When employees have extensive change experience, managers must adjust their way of thinking about change. Managers need to be alert to the prominence of more loyal behavior. They should also recognize their own role in generating positive process experience, which is a precondition for developing change capabilities at the employee level.


The study adds to the increasing focus on change recipient perspectives during change and shows how change capabilities can be developed among employees.



Stensaker, I.G. and Meyer, C.B. (2012), "Change experience and employee reactions: developing capabilities for change", Personnel Review, Vol. 41 No. 1, pp. 106-124.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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