Original Research

The systems psychodynamic experiences of organisational transformation amongst support staff

Martin Steyn, Frans Cilliers
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 42, No 1 | a1367 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v42i1.1367 | © 2016 Martin Steyn, Frans Cilliers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 April 2016 | Published: 25 October 2016

About the author(s)

Martin Steyn, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, South Africa
Frans Cilliers, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, South Africa

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Orientation: The unconscious impact of organisational transformation is often neglected and even denied. This research revealed the manifestation and impact of high levels and different forms of anxiety experienced by employees during transformation.

Research objective: The objective was to study and describe the manifesting systems psychodynamic behaviour amongst support staff during organisational transformation.

Motivation for the study: Organisational transformation is mostly researched from a leadership viewpoint. Little research data are available on the experiences of support staff on the receiving end of decisions about and implementation of transformation.

Research design, approach and method: A qualitative approach within the phenomenological hermeneutic interpretive stance was used. The research was set in a government organisation. A semi-structured interview with four conveniently and purposefully chosen support staff members was thematically analysed using systems psychodynamics as theoretical paradigm.

Main findings: Four themes manifested, namely de-authorisation and detachment, being bullied and seduced by leadership, the organisation in the mind as incompetent, and a dangerous and persecutory system. In the discussion, the basic assumptions and relevant constructs are interpreted.

Practical implications: Understanding the transformation experiences of support staff could assist the industrial psychologist to facilitate appropriate support in coaching more junior staff towards increasing wellness and work performance.

Contribution: Organisational transformation is highlighted as an anxiety provoking experience especially on the lower levels of the organisation. Its potentially deep and complex psychological impact could possibly derail parts of the system if not managed in a psychologically contained manner.


Anxiety, defensive structures, basic assumptions, role, task, boundaries, authorisation, containment, identity.


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