Original Research

The systems psychodynamic experiences of professionals appointed in acting capacities

Martina Shongwe, Frans Cilliers
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 46 | a1785 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v46i0.1785 | © 2020 Martina Shongwe, Frans Cilliers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 February 2020 | Published: 25 August 2020

About the author(s)

Martina Shongwe, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Frans Cilliers, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

Orientation: During times of organisational change and restructuring, employees are often placed in acting capacities. The unconscious experiences and systemic impact thereof have not been researched in South Africa or globally.

Research purpose: The research aim was to report on the systems psychodynamic lived experiences of professional employees functioning in acting capacities for an extended period of time.

Motivation for the study: Consciously, the appointment of acting staff serves the restructuring agenda by testing change endeavours. Unconsciously, they may become representatives of change and containers of systemic anxiety.

Research design, approach and method: A qualitative and descriptive research approach was undertaken using five participants as collective case study. Data were gathered through interviews and hermeneutically analysed.

Main findings: The manifesting themes were conflict, anxiety, task, role, boundary, authorisation and identity. Further interrogation of the data revealed the interrelated aspects of becoming containers of systemic toxicity, employment and psychological contracts being violated, being placed on hold, seduced, bullied and traumatised.

Practical/managerial implications: A dysfunctional organisation experiencing anxiety about restructuring, manifesting as incompetence, emotion turmoil and systemic toxicity, (unconsciously) projected its anxiety into professionals in acting capacities, who became the containers of the toxicity. The symptoms (anxiety) as well as the cause (restructuring) need to be studied and addressed.

Contribution/value add: This research illustrated how professionals in acting capacities were unconsciously used to perform the emotional labour related to change and became the unconscious containers of larger systemic dynamics, specifically about the anxiety of change and restructuring.


Keywords

acting; unconscious behaviour; professionals; anxiety; defences; organisational toxicity; bullying.

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