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What Do I Do Now? Experiencing Middle Manager New Role Ambiguity in a Restructured High Knowledge-Based Organization Open Access

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This study explored how middle managers experienced and responded to role ambiguity after they transitioned from previous roles well understood by the individuals and their role sets to new or redefined middle manager roles in high knowledge-based organizations (HKBO) that had undergone planned organizational changes. The study found that even in HKBOs where knowledge workers are the predominant workforce and change is constant, organizational change had significant negative impacts on middle managers. Their role transitions were found to be difficult and of negative valence when their preferred work role identities were challenged when in-role expectations were changed or by their new role requirements, which were often unclear, conflicting, or overlapping with other roles, leading to role ambiguity. Actions taken to resolve the sources of ambiguity such as the exercise of autonomy and working closely with their bosses to clarify expectations were ineffective without the support of the greater organization. Individuals found these impacts to be unsettling and to require significant identity work to redefine their work role identities. The key finding was that while externally they presented a work role identity that was accepted by their role set as consistent with the new role, internally they rejected that identity and maintained their preferred work role identity. This dual condition was seen to be persistent, indicating that these alternative identities can co-exist through construction of a coherent identity narrative that reconciles the differences and justifies the maintenance of the preferred work role identity while exercising a different role. Future longitudinal studies could explore how HKBO knowledge workers and middle managers are able to maintain this duality of work role identity and for how long. Also, for those who have successfully transitioned to new preferred work role identities, studies could assess how new learning was involved and how identity narrative was employed.

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