Original Research

The work role identity in flux of professional staff in a VUCA environment

Bernadette Kruger, Nicolene Barkhuizen
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 50 | a2181 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v50i0.2181 | © 2024 Bernadette Kruger, Nicolene Barkhuizen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 15 January 2024 | Published: 29 June 2024

About the author(s)

Bernadette Kruger, Department of Mangement, School of Administration and Management, STADIO Higher Education, Johannesburg, South Africa
Nicolene Barkhuizen, Business School, University of Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


Orientation: Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) represents the environment in which business organisations operate, illuminated by the post-coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the recent advent of artificial intelligence (AI). The VUCA environment epitomises pervasive unpredictability, shaping the challenges faced by businesses.

Research purpose: This article focuses on the dynamics of individuals within private higher education institutions (PHEIs), driven by a bottom line; they compete to attract students, face greater scrutiny from outside constituencies and subjected to higher accountability. It explores the hierarchical structure of management levels and how the interrelatedness of the business environments can facilitate the navigation of the work role identity in flux in the face of constant change.

Motivation for the study: The fast-paced and ever-changing nature of today’s business landscape significantly affects employees’ core identities, as the constant need to adapt and perform at their best creates feelings of insecurity and uncertainty. Consequently, it influences institutional and individual outcomes.

Research approach/design and method: This qualitative study collected data from qualified staff in senior-level positions within academia, with titles such as CEO or head of campus (HOC) (N = 15) at selected PHEIs. The data were analysed using ATLAS.ti.

Main findings: The findings show an extended framework highlighting elements vital to the increased institutional brand image and improved professional identity.

Practical/managerial implications: How individuals in the workplace experience and respond to constant unprecedented change affects the institutional brand and the role of management causes a significant influence.

Contribution/value-add: Leaders can drive organisations to adapt, change and evolve to the conditions of their organisational environment.


work role identity; private higher education institutions (PHEIs); VUCA environment; unprecedented change; individual outcome

JEL Codes

B31: Individuals; D80: General; I23: Higher Education • Research Institutions

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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