Waiting for the inevitable: Social processes preceding a merger in the New Zealand tertiary sector
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Commerce
This study investigates the social dynamics of a pre-merger process between two tertiary education organisations in Christchurch, New Zealand. An emic/ insider research approach was used as the author was an employee of one of the merging organisations. Primary data was collected through personal observations and unstructured and semi-structured interviews with thirty merger participants consisting of, general and academic staff, management, and one student. Secondary data sources included existing merger literature, organisational communication and change policies, and press articles. The study focused on four aspects of social dynamics: i) use of language, ii) expression of emotions, iii) meaning making, and iv) exit behaviour. The use of language depicted the merger as a battle that felt like a war-zone, while humour was used as a prop and revealed sub-text of negative emotions. Expression of emotions portrayed the intensity of feeling, acted as a lens to process meaning, and heightened the organisational atmosphere. Recipients of the merger such as, staff attributed different meanings to the change than those in charge of the merger did such as, management, which impacted relationships, self-confidence, career direction, and provoked self-assessment. Overall, staff felt excluded from the merger process and as a result exercised a range of exit behaviours including escapism, withholding of effort, disengagement, and defiance. This study suggests that minimising dysfunctional exit behaviour can be achieved through inclusive communication processes, transparent decision-making, and acknowledgement and management of emotions. An inclusive merger structure should provide mechanisms for staff to express emotions as well as integrate roles that enable what is important to staff to be built into the process. Additionally, as mergers are likely to be contested processes, management skill is required to defuse stress and tension, and to resolve conflicts.