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Understanding emotions in higher education change management

Marie Dasborough (School of Business, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA)
Peter Lamb (La Trobe Business School, La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga, Australia)
Yuliani Suseno (School of Business, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 13 July 2015



The authors explore employees’ emotions during a structural change (merging departments) in the higher education sector. The purposes of this paper are to identify how employees’ perceptions shape their emotional responses toward organizational change; and the variation of collective employee emotions pre-merger and post-merger.


This interpretative study uses phenomenography to better understand the phenomena of change.


Employees perceived their experiences as being promising (an opportunity to look forward to), threatening (a threat to be carefully managed) or inevitable (unavoidable). Emotional responses are collective, with male/older/more senior respondents experiencing different emotions as compared to others.

Research limitations/implications

This study is exploratory and is limited by small sample size, location and temporal specificity.

Practical implications

Managers should recognize that employees’ experiences of change are perceived quite differently and therefore should not simply be lumped together as one homogenous group. This knowledge can be used to facilitate the change process by better managing employees’ emotions to achieve positive outcomes.


Investigating emotions through an interpretive lens highlights new areas for improvement in the change management process. The authors are able to better understand why people are feeling positively or negatively toward organizational change and how and why their emotions shift over time.



The authors would like to thank those individuals who assisted with early stages of the research, and the professor who introduced us to the wonderful world of phenomenography many years ago.


Dasborough, M., Lamb, P. and Suseno, Y. (2015), "Understanding emotions in higher education change management", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 579-590.



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