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What is organisational change?

What is organisational change?

In the broadest sense, organisational change is about the reshaping of business structures, for instance through restructuring, relocation and 'downsizing'. These typically involve redundancy, job reapplication and outsourcing inevitably prompting a growing perception of greater job insecurity.

We need to consider organisational change within the context of globalisation and, closer to home, in terms of what it means to us as UK workers and trade unionists: its impact on our jobs, our dignity, our health and our cohesion.


The global market has created a culture of intense competition, with organisations restructuring themselves and their practices in an effort to keep up.

Deregulation has enabled a rapid increase in mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, often involving foreign corporations with their own brand of industrial relations.

In both the private and public sectors, organisations have flattened, reducing their hierarchies by replacing supervisory roles with information technology.

Indeed, new technologies have been a crucial part of the changing world of work, enabling a new so-called 'flexibility'. Caution is required because whilst flexible working can be used as a means of enabling employees to manage their own well-being, flexible working and a flexible ethos need to be differentiated: one refers to practices agreed and implemented, whereas the other refers to flexibility when circumstances demand. The rise in use of 'zero-hours contracts' exemplifies this. 

UK landscape

In the UK, new work arrangements and employment practices include:

  • non-standard forms of contract, such as temporary, short-term and on-call contracts;
  • employers demanding greater 'flexibility' in working practices, such as remote or home-based work made possible by information and communication technologies (ICT), and in working patterns, particularly irregular hours such as part-time and shift work;
  • employers creating ways of extracting more effort and higher performance. The growth in performance-related pay and bonus initiatives are examples. So too are some of the team-based forms of work organisation, such as self-managed teams, where control and decision-making are devolved. This has not been matched by training and development. The skills shortage remains high on the political agenda;
  • a growth in alternative forms of employee engagement, exploiting the new communication techniques and individual bargaining arrangements for pay and conditions.

Examples of change

Restructuring, such as changes to:

  • key personnel
  • roles and responsibilities
  • the structure of teams or departments.

It may also include matrix management, where individuals or teams receive instructions from several 'managers'.

Downsizing, ie staff cuts

This may be accompanied by:

  • outsourcing (greater use of contactors)
  • multi-skilling or flexible working (learning and applying new skills)
  • de-layering (reducing a hierarchy),which may itself be accompanied by initiatives such as the introduction of 'self-managed teams' where control and decision-making is devolved
  • increased automation.

Changing administrative arrangements, such as:

  • working hours
  • methods of training
  • relocation.

It is the impact of these changes that typically concerns us. Click here for the impacts