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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM23-PP14: Covert impact of organisational transformation on employees within the financial services sector: Resurfacing spirituality in organisations

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Parallel Papers Session 3

Saturday 1 July 10.00am-11.15 SAST - VENUE 4
Paper Code: PP14
Covert impact of organisational transformation on employees within the financial services sector: Resurfacing spirituality in organisations

Presenters: Sarah Nkwana (main presenter) & Prof. Michelle S. May


The study conducted indicated that little is known about the impact of unconscious impact of organisational transformation (OT) on employees. Findings of the study highlighted that a system (organisation) comes with inherent anxiety furthermore, employees within the system experienced anxiety and basic assumptions as a result of OT. The paper wil also focus on how spirituality can be resurfaced and explored in dealing with anxieties that comes with OT.


Bountiful research has averred that dynamic forces, such as globalisation, changing customer needs, and advancing technology (digitisation, artificial intelligence, the fourth industrial revolution) are driving uncompromising transformation in organisation topography (Bostan et al., 2020; Carbó-Valverde, 2017; Ledimo, 2012); particularly in the financial services sector. New bank entrants in the South African banking industry have also increased competitive advantage (Probart, 2013), compelling organisations to transform at precipitous rate (Carbó-Valverde, 2017). The Corona Virus pandemic known as COVID-19 is the most recent force that has accelerated the process of transformation, thus impacting on the economic system at macro (health policy changes), meso (organisational changes) and micro level (impact on employees).

The body of research dealing with OT has focused on quantitative methodologies in dealing with OT (Boje, 2015; Hughes, 2015) with fewer studies exploring OT, consequently very little is known about the unconscious impact of OT. The aim of this study was to explore and describe the unconscious impact of the organisational transformation (OT) on employees in the financial services sectors using the systems psychodynamics perspective. This qualitative study was conducted using the hermeneutic phenomenology paradigm with systems psychodynamics as the lens, employing purposive sampling technique to select participants who experienced OT. To collect data, in-depth interviews were utilised and hermeneutic analysis was used to analyse the data.

The main findings indicated that employees experienced the organisation as persecutory, volatile and an uncertain system resulting from the voluntary and involuntary nature of OT. The impact of OT on employees manifested itself as dehumanising and showed the uncaring nature of OT, gearing employees towards awareness and learning as a means of surviving and coping with the stresses of OT. The research hypothesis suggested that both the containers (leadership and management) and contained (employees) experienced persecutory and survival anxiety (Cytrynbaum & Noumair, 2004; Krantz, 2018). Employees also tended to use basic assumptions behaviour (Steyn & Cilliers, 2016), as defences against the pain of different kinds of workplace anxiety. Of importance appear to be employing the basic assumption one-ness (Steyn & Cilliers, 2016) as employees renounced their individuality and depended on omnipresent forces. Employees also seemed to idealise the need to be agile and relying on transcendental forces (Coetzee et al., 2016; Koltko-Rivera, 2006) to cope with the fast-paced and impersonal OT demands.

To effectively manage these unconscious dynamics, recommendations are made based on studies which increasingly indicate that one of the most critical leadership attributes in the 21st century is empathy (Holt & Marques, 2012). Resurfacing circularity (leadership) spirituality in organisation may be the alternative OT model. Organisations and leadership should consider spirituality to contribute to a more effective leadership model for dealing with anxiety and basic assumption behavior (Flotman, 2018). Burke (2006) conceives that a new leadership paradigm can emerge through leaders' emotional and spiritual intelligence. Resurfacing (leadership) spirituality could lead to asking the ontological question what it means to be human as leaders and employees are impacted by OT and other organizational processes (Burke, 2006). Therefore, we will unpack spirituality and further delve into how (leadership) spirituality can be resurfaced and harnessed during OT.

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  1. Recognise and enhance their understanding of the covert impact of organizational transformation on employees.
  2. identify and explore spirituality in the workplace
  3. identify and enhance their understanding of the application of spiritual values in dealing with workplace anxieties.

Biographical Summary

Sarah Nkwana is a purpose driven, servant leader that is passionate about leaving a legacy for future generations. She is a registered industrial psychologist in independent practice specializing in organizational development. She has over 15 years’ experience in leadership, strategy and organizational development within corporate and is an entrepreneur at heart. She ran her own consulting company for over 8 years before joining the corporate world. She completed her Masters degree cum laude and is one of the first top CEM student club candidates launched in 2023. Sarah wears many leadership hats and is a coach and mentor to many young emerging leaders in IOP. Sarah’s passion is in understanding under the surface dynamics using Systems Psychodynamics.