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SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

versão On-line ISSN 2071-0763
versão impressa ISSN 0258-5200

SA j. ind. Psychol. vol.45 no.1 Johannesburg  2019 



Authentic leadership and work engagement: The indirect effects of psychological safety and trust in supervisors



Natasha Maximo; Marius W. Stander; Lynelle Coxen

Optentia Research Focus Area, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa





ORIENTATION: The orientation of this study was towards authentic leadership and its influence on psychological safety, trust in supervisors and work engagement.
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of authentic leadership on trust in supervisors, psychological safety and work engagement. Another aim was to determine whether trust in supervisors and psychological safety had an indirect effect on the relationship between authentic leadership and work engagement. An additional objective was to determine if authentic leadership indirectly influenced psychological safety through trust in supervisors.
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Globally, businesses are faced with many challenges which may be resolved if leaders are encouraged to be more authentic and employees more engaged. In this study, investigating the role of trust in supervisors and psychological safety on the relationship between authentic leadership and work engagement is emphasised.
RESEARCH DESIGN, APPROACH AND METHOD: This study was quantitative in nature and used a cross-sectional survey design. A sample of 244 employees within the South African mining industry completed the Authentic Leadership Inventory, Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, Workplace Trust Survey and Psychological Safety Questionnaire.
MAIN FINDINGS: The results indicated that authentic leadership is a significant predictor of both trust in supervisors and psychological safety. This study further found that authentic leadership had a statistically significant indirect effect on work engagement through trust in supervisors.
PRACTICAL OR MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The main findings suggest that having more authentic leaders in the mining sector could enhance trust in these leaders. Authentic leadership thus plays an important role in creating a positive work environment. This work environment of authenticity and trust could lead to a more engaged workforce.
CONTRIBUTION OR VALUE-ADD: Limited empirical evidence exists with regard to the relationship between authentic leadership, work engagement, psychological safety and trust in supervisors. This is particularly true in the mining sector. This study aimed to contribute to the limited number of studies conducted.

Keywords: Authentic leadership; trust in supervisor; work engagement; psychological safety; mining industry.




Because of continuous changes in the global business environment, organisations are facing numerous challenges. These challenges may result in many organisations experiencing economic and ethical meltdowns (Deloitte, 2014; George, Sims, McLean, & Mayer, 2007). In particular, South African mining companies are experiencing cost pressures and constraints which place tremendous strain on the mining industry. The daily operations of mines are further adversely affected by the continual shortage of frontline and professional skills within South Africa (Deloitte, 2014). As experienced personnel retire or leave the supply of experienced skills in frontline positions, such as supervisors, the workforce is placed under tremendous pressure. This has a direct effect on production output, quality and safety while further increasing overhead costs (Deloitte, 2014).

Changing the type of leadership and the way that mining employees perceive their leaders could assist in addressing the challenges experienced in the mining industry (Breytenbach, 2017). Leaders should display integrity, strong values and purpose as well as the ability to develop durable organisations through the motivation of subordinates (Breytenbach, 2017). Integrity and authenticity are widely regarded as highly important societal values and are important components of effective leadership (George et al., 2007). Leaders should be open and transparent as well as cognisant of the effects that their actions might have on others. They should further be aware of the internal and external influences and processes of an organisation (Clapp-Smith, Vogelgesang, & Avey, 2009). If they possess these behaviours, subordinates will be able to identify with the organisation's goals and challenges (Clapp-Smith et al., 2009). When subordinates perceive their supervisors to possess the necessary skills and abilities to facilitate growth and productivity within the organisation, it leads to an increased assurance among subordinates of a better and more profitable future in the organisation (Hassan & Ahmed, 2011). This may result in an increase in work engagement as subordinates gain a sense of trust and feelings of safety in the capabilities and competence of their supervisors (Hassan & Ahmed, 2011).

For the purposes of this study, authentic leadership as a form of positive leadership will be focused on (Stander & Coxen, 2017) as it has been found to have a positive effect on many organisational and employee behaviours (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Coxen, Van der Vaart, & Stander, 2016). These behaviours may include psychological safety, trust in supervisors and work engagement.

The topic of authentic leadership has become more prominent in recent years in both practical and academic fields (Agote, Aramburu, & Lines, 2015; Coxen et al., 2016; Du Plessis & Boshoff, 2018; Shamir & Eilam-Shamir, 2018; etc.). Previous studies have indicated that authentic leadership may have a positive effect on psychological safety (Eggers, 2011), trust in supervisors (Caldwell & Dixon, 2010; Coxen et al., 2016) and work engagement (Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, & Peterson, 2008; Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010). Although studies have been conducted to link authentic leadership with certain behavioural outcomes, the indirect effects of some of these outcomes have not been empirically tested in the South African mining context. The indirect effects of psychological safety have been tested (Lyu, 2016), but not as a mechanism through which authentic leaders influence subordinate behaviour. According to Hsieh and Wang (2015), trust fully mediates the relationship between authentic leadership and employee engagement. It would be interesting to determine if these findings can also be replicated in a South African context, with particular reference to the mining industry. The specific model (including the constructs) indicated in this study has not yet been empirically tested in a South African mining organisation. Work engagement is often regarded as an important employee outcome in ensuring optimal performance (Breevaart, Bakker, Demerouti, & Derks, 2015).

The purpose of this study was, therefore, to: (1) examine the effects of authentic leadership on trust in supervisors, psychological safety and work engagement; (2) investigate whether psychological safety and trust in the supervisor indirectly affect the relationship between authentic leadership and work engagement; and (3) determine whether trust in the supervisor indirectly affects the relationship between authentic leadership and psychological safety.


Literature review

Authentic leadership

According to Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May and Walumbwa (2005), authentic leadership can be described as the process whereby leaders are aware of their thoughts and behaviours within the context in which they operate. Authentic leaders are often aware of their own leader and subordinate values, moral perspectives, strengths and knowledge (Avolio & Luthans, 2006). They are regarded as mindful of both their own personal authenticity and the manner in which they allow subordinates to achieve common goals and objectives (Clapp-Smith et al., 2009).

Recent studies suggested that authentic leadership is a 'higher-order, multidimensional construct, comprised of self-awareness, balanced processing, the internalisation of moral and ethical perspectives and relational transparency' (Walumbwa et al., 2008, p. 89). Self-awareness refers to leaders' knowledge of themselves, their mental state and the perceived image they have of themselves (Gardner et al., 2005; Neider & Schriesheim, 2011), whereas balanced processing refers to a leader's ability to consider and analyse all relevant facts objectively before making a decision (Gardner et al., 2005; Neider & Schriesheim, 2011). Possessing a moral perspective is when leaders rely on their own morals, values and standards to drive their actions, irrespective of external pressures (Gardner et al., 2005; Neider & Schriesheim, 2011). Finally, relational transparency refers to these leaders' ability to express their true thoughts and motives, facilitating their ability to openly share information (Gardner et al., 2005; Neider & Schriesheim, 2011).

Authentic leadership is focused on a leader's relationship with his or her subordinates (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Wong & Cummings, 2009). A fair number of leadership theories emphasise a leader's behaviours and characteristics; however, very few leadership theories focus on the relationship between leaders and subordinates (Wong & Cummings, 2009). Even though authentic leadership has a significant focus on the relational transparency and self-awareness of leaders, it also focuses on personal and social identification (Wong & Cummings, 2009). Authentic leadership views personal and social identification as processes through which the behaviour of a leader results in self-awareness among the leaders and subordinates (Wong & Cummings, 2009).

A positive moral perspective and balanced processing are important components of authentic leadership (Neider & Schriesheim, 2011). Leaders need to objectively consider all of the facts to engage in ethical and transparent decision-making; therefore, authentic leaders utilise their own moral capacity and resilience to confront and deal with ethical dilemmas and make moral decisions. Making decisions in a fair and moral manner is crucial given the nature of change in social, political and business environments (Sarros & Cooper, 2006). The nature of these environments makes it important to rely on leaders who are genuine and possess moral attributes.

Because of the high moral standards, integrity and honesty displayed by authentic leaders, subordinates may develop positive expectations as well as increased levels of trust and a stronger willingness to cooperate with leaders to the benefit of the organisation (Avolio, Gardner, Walumbwa, Luthans, & May, 2004; Wang & Hsieh, 2013). This is confirmed by Caldwell and Dixon (2010), who found that authentic leaders influence individuals at various levels in an organisation. Authentic leaders thus have a significant impact on both their subordinates and the organisations that they lead.

Trust in supervisors

Although building stronger trust in leaders is required to address the many challenges faced by organisations, trust continues to be low in organisations (Gallup, 2012). To foster trust in supervisors, leadership that impacts the entire organisation in a positive manner is required. To achieve such leadership, loyalty, commitment and the willingness to take risks should be the important characteristics of organisational members. The above-mentioned characteristics can only be achieved if leaders instil extensive trust within their subordinates.

According to Agote et al. (2015), trust in a leader will have an effect on subordinates' work attitudes and behaviours. Trust can be defined as the disposition of an individual to be vulnerable to the actions of another while believing that the other will conduct a specific action (with good intentions) - this action should be important to the trustor (Clapp-Smith et al., 2009; Roussin, 2008). Trust is also the willing exchange of actions between individuals. This exchange only takes place if the trustor believes that exploitation is unlikely and as a result is willing to display trust behaviours and to risk vulnerability (Eggers, 2011; Ferres, 2003).

The intentions and actions of an individual must be confidently perceived, while the expectation of ethical treatment should also be present for trust to exist (Eggers, 2011; Ferres, 2003). In order for trust to exist within a leader-follower relationship, it is necessary for a subordinate to observe the following characteristics within a leader: open communication, cooperation, willingness to sacrifice, confidence, predictability and fair treatment (Clapp-Smith et al, 2009; Ferres, 2003). As a result, unbiased processing as well as moral and ethical perspectives can be expected to nurture trust within a leader-follower relationship (Miniotaite, 2012).

Leaders can develop collaborative relationships, build credibility and gain the respect of subordinates when they act authentically, thereby building trusting relationships with subordinates (Avolio et al., 2004). A subordinate's trust stems from judgements of authenticity which are based on consistent leader actions (Coxen et al., 2016). Dirks and Ferrin (2002) suggest that when a subordinate is treated fairly and respectfully, he or she is more likely to display positive attitudes and commitment to a leader.

Studies have suggested that trust plays an important role in the relationship between leadership constructs (e.g. authentic leadership) and follower outcomes (e.g. employee behaviours) (Clapp-Smith et al., 2009; Coxen et al., 2016).

Psychological safety

Both psychological safety and trust involve vulnerability or the perception of risk through choices which seek to minimise negative consequences (Edmondson, Kramer, & Cook, 2004). Psychological safety is conceptualised as an individual's view of the risks and consequences associated with his or her work environment, stemming from a subconscious conviction of how others will respond when an individual finds him/herself in a particular situation (Edmondson et al., 2004; Roussin, 2008). The presence of psychological safety creates confidence in an individual that others will accept and not reprimand his or her actions (Edmondson, 1999).

The difference between psychological safety and trust stems from choice. The trustor's conscious decisions to trust an individual cannot be a choice to feel psychologically safe, but can be a choice to place his or her trust in someone (Edmondson et al., 2004). Psychological safety is thus defined as an individual's perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk in his or her job environment, without the fear of negative consequences to his or her image, status or career (Edmondson & Lei, 2014).

The relationship between a supervisor and subordinate has a direct influence on the feeling of psychological safety that the subordinate experiences within the work environment (Edmondson, 1999; Newman, Donohue, & Eva, 2017). When a supervisor supports rather than controls the subordinate, the subordinate will experience a sense of psychological safety. Such supervisors show a sense of concern for their subordinates' feelings and needs, providing them with positive feedback which not only enables them to develop new skills, but also encourages them to share their opinions without any fear of negative consequences (Edmondson, 1999; Roussin & Webber, 2011).

Employees might be less willing to take risks or express themselves if they perceive these risks to result in negative consequences or even if these risks may lead to embarrassment (Detert & Burris, 2007). Examples of such interpersonal workplace risk include (1) harm resulting from opportunism; (2) identity damage as a result of social interactions and (3) neglect of an individual's interest by others (Williams, 2007). Trust in supervisors can serve to mitigate these interpersonal risks in the workplace, which could result in increased psychological safety (Ning Li & Hoon Tan, 2012).

An increased experience of psychological safety may result in work engagement (Lyu, 2016), as psychological safety reflects upon the belief that an individual can be engaged without any fear of negative consequences (Edmondson, 1999; Eggers, 2011; Roussin & Webber, 2011). Where a work environment displays ambiguity, unpredictability and is threatening, the opposite would be true as subordinates would perceive the environment as being psychologically unsafe. Subordinates working in a perceived psychologically unsafe work environment may disengage from their work and may be reluctant to attempt new things (May, Gilson, & Harter, 2004).

Authentic leaders utilise their own self-awareness as well as the self-awareness of their subordinates to lead (Avolio & Gardner, 2005). Displaying an awareness of their own strengths and shortcomings as well as those of their subordinates helps them to lead more transparently. They motivate their subordinates by inspiring them and displaying charisma (Eggers, 2011). Authentic leaders further motivate subordinates by being intellectually stimulating and considerate of subordinates' individuality (Eggers, 2011). Through this, leaders assist their subordinates in developing leadership skills by helping them become more aware of their own feelings, behaviours and thoughts. Leaders and subordinates must be aware of one another's expectations, needs and wants. This leads to positive change in an organisation through developing psychological safety. Psychological safety and trust will lead to transparency, positive self-awareness, a positive moral perspective and a willingness to continually learn (Eggers, 2011).

Work engagement

Work engagement is defined as the 'harnessing of organisational members' selves to their work roles: In engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, emotionally and mentally during role performances' (Kahn, 1990, p. 694). Bakker, Schaufeli, Leiter and Taris (2008) describe work engagement as 'a positive, fulfilling and effective motivational state of work-related well-being that is characterised by vigour, dedication and absorption' (p. 187). Vigour refers to increased levels of energy and mental resilience at work, whereas dedication refers to an individual's involvement and fulfilment in his or her work (Bakker et al., 2008). Finally, absorption refers to an individual's happiness and concentration at work which allows time to pass quickly (Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzales-Roma, & Bakker, 2002).

Engaged employees are energetic and experience a feeling of enthusiasm for their work, and as a result, are completely absorbed by their work to the extent that time flies while working (Bakker et al., 2008; Hassan & Ahmed, 2011). The improvement of work engagement levels in the workforce has become critical for organisational success (Harter, Schmidt, & Hayes, 2002; Du Plessis & Boshoff, 2018). This is because work engagement has a positive impact on business, financial and in-role performance, as well as employee productivity (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008; Du Plessis & Boshoff, 2018).

Various studies suggest that leadership is an important factor that positively contributes to work engagement, either directly or indirectly through other constructs (Coxen et al., 2016; Ebrahim, 2017; Harter et al., 2002; Heyns & Rothmann, 2018). Authentic leaders lead by example - they lead through their values and strive for truthful relationships (Gardner et al., 2005; Kernis, 2003). Leading by example illustrates one's commitment to work and provides guidance to subordinates (Bandura, 1977), allowing subordinates to remain emotionally and physically connected as well as cognitively vigilant in their work roles.

Authentic leadership, trust in supervisors and work engagement

A key element of leadership effectiveness is having trust in supervisors (Coxen et al., 2016). According to Hsieh and Wang (2015), trust in supervisors is linked to favourable organisational outcomes, such as job satisfaction, employee commitment and organisational citizenship behaviour. Studies indicate that trust in supervisors has an indirect effect between the leader's actions and employee behaviours (Coxen et al., 2016; Hsieh & Wang, 2015). When subordinates perceive their supervisors as being trustworthy, it will positively affect their psychological well-being (Lee, 2017). As a result, these subordinates will experience higher levels of work engagement (Wang & Hsieh, 2013). Furthermore, a subordinate's desire to voluntarily return authenticity is increased when the subordinate perceives his or her supervisor to have authenticity. This, in turn, creates an environment of trust and dependency which enables subordinates to be engaged and fully immersed in their work (Wang & Hsieh, 2013). Therefore, trust and employees' attitudes are inextricably linked with leadership being an antecedent.

Authentic leadership, psychological safety and work engagement

Authentic leaders' behaviour stems from their own values and such leaders are driven to display truthfulness and openness in relationships (Gardner et al., 2005; Kernis, 2003). These leaders can be said to lead by example through the demonstration of transparent decision-making (Avolio & Gardner, 2005). Supervisors' commitment to their work is displayed when leading by example. This provides subordinates with guidance to become cognitively vigilant as well as emotionally and physically connected with their work performance (Bandura, 1977). According to the research of Kahn (1990), leaders have an influence on the levels of work engagement displayed by subordinates. In a psychologically safe environment, an individual feels accepted and supported as well as able to provide input without any fear of negative consequences or social embarrassment (Kahn, 1990).

Based on the above discussion, the hypotheses of this study were formulated as follows:

H1: Authentic leadership is a significant predictor of trust in supervisors.

H2: Authentic leadership is a significant predictor of psychological safety.

H3: Authentic leadership has an indirect effect on psychological safety through trust in supervisors.

H4: Authentic leadership is a significant predictor of work engagement.

H5: Authentic leadership has an indirect effect on work engagement through trust in supervisors.

H6: Authentic leadership has an indirect effect on work engagement through psychological safety.

The hypothesised model is illustrated in Figure 1.



Research design

Research approach

This study was quantitative in nature. A cross-sectional survey design was used as the data were collected at one single point in time.

Research method

Research participants

The sample consisted of 244 employees from a South African coal mining company. An availability sampling technique was used because of its convenience and accessibility. Participation in the project was voluntary, anonymous and participants had the right to refuse to participate without consequence. The majority of the sample consisted of males (86.9%) and 54.5% of the sample was African. The most representative home language was Afrikaans (35.7%), followed by Sesotho (29.1%). Thirty-two per cent of the sample fell in the 26-35 years' age group, with 29.9% falling within the 36-45 years' age group. In addition, 50.4% had a grade 12-certificate as highest qualification, while 16.8% received education up until grade 11. Of the participants, 48.8% were employed in the engineering department and a further 23.8% were employed in the operations department. A total of 73.8% of the participants were employed at the C1-C4 level and 14.8% at the B1-B5 level. Years of experience ranged from 1-5 years (28.7%) to 6-10 years (27.9%).

Measuring instruments

Participants completed a biographical questionnaire as well as four measuring instruments to measure authentic leadership, trust in supervisors, psychological safety and work engagement.

Authentic Leadership Inventory (ALI; Neider & Schriesheim, 2011): The ALI consists of 16 items and uses a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (disagree strongly) to 5 (agree strongly). The scale measures the four dimensions of authentic leadership behaviours, namely, self-awareness (four items), balanced processing (four items), moral perspective (four items) and relational transparency (four items). Examples of items include 'My leader describes accurately the way that others view his/her abilities' (self-awareness), 'My leader asks for ideas that challenge his/her beliefs' (balanced processing), 'My leader uses his/her core beliefs to make decisions' (moral perspective) and 'My leader admits mistakes when they occur' (relational transparency). In this study, the ALI showed a composite reliability coefficient of 0.94, indicating acceptable reliability.

Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004): The UWES comprises nine items and uses a six-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never) to 6 (always). It measures the three dimensions of work engagement, namely, vigour (three items), dedication (three items) and absorption (three items). Examples of items include 'At my job, I feel strong and vigorous' (vigour), 'I find the work I do full of meaning and purpose' (dedication) and 'When I am working, I forget everything else around me' (absorption). The UWES showed acceptable reliability in this study with a composite reliability coefficient of 0.92.

Workplace Trust Survey (WTS; Ferres, 2003): The WTS consists of 36 items, but for the purpose of this study only trust in the immediate supervisor was utilised (nine items). It uses a seven-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). An example item is 'I feel that my manager listens to what I have to say'. The trust in the immediate supervisor section of the WTS showed a composite reliability coefficient of 0.94, indicating acceptable reliability.

Psychological Safety Questionnaire (PSQ; Edmondson, 1999): The PSQ contains six items and uses a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Examples items are: 'Members of the team were able to discuss problems and tough issues openly' and 'Members of the team accepted each other's differences'. The internal consistency of the measure has been acceptable, with a composite reliability coefficient of 0.78.

Statistical analysis

Mplus 7.4 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998-2016) was utilised to perform the statistical analysis. Descriptive statistics (e.g. means, standard deviations, skewness and kurtosis) and inferential statistics (e.g. correlations) were used for data analysis. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was used to test the factorial validity of the measuring instruments. Raykov's rho coefficients were used to assess the composite reliability of the measuring instruments and a cut-off value of 0.70 was used (Raykov, 2009). Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were used to measure the relationships between the proposed variables. Cohen's effect sizes were used to determine the practical significance of the results, with cut-off values of 0.30 (medium effect) and 0.50 (large effect). A value of 95% (p 0.05) was set for the confidence interval level for statistical significance.

Structural equation modelling (SEM) was used to test the measurement and structural models. The following fit indices were used: chi-square (χ2), comparative fit index (CFI), standardised root-mean-square residual (SRMR) and root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA). Acceptable model fit was indicated by non-significant χ2 values, GFI and CFI (0.90) and RMSEA (0.08) (Byrne, 2012). The Akaike information criterion (AIC) and Bayes information criterion (BIC) were used. The smallest value of the AIC and BIC indicates good model fit (Kline, 2011).

To determine whether common method variance (CMV) influenced the results, Harman's single-factor test, a common method, was used. This technique is a post hoc test conducted to determine whether a single factor is responsible for variance in the data (Tehseen, Ramayah, & Sajilan, 2017). This test thus aims to determine the presence or absence of CMV (Tehseen et al., 2017).

The bootstrapping method was used to test for indirect effects. The method was set at 5000 draws (Hayes, 2012) and the bias-corrected confidence level (BC CI) was set at 95%. When zero is not in the 95% CI, one can conclude that the indirect effect is significantly different from zero at p < 0.05.


Ethical consideration

This article adheres to the ethical guidelines for research. Ethical clearance was obtained from the North-West University.



Testing the measurement model

Confirmatory factor analysis was used to estimate the factor structure of the variables. Using SEM, a four-factor measurement model and three alternative models were tested to assess possible relationships between the latent variables.

Model 1 consisted of four first-order latent variables, namely, authentic leadership (measured by 13 observed variables), work engagement (measured by eight observed variables), trust in supervisors (measured by eight observed variables) and psychological safety (measured by three observed variables). All the latent variables were allowed to correlate.

Model 2 consisted of three first-order latent variables, namely, authentic leadership (measured by 13 observed variables), trust in supervisors (measured by eight observed variables) and psychological safety (measured by three observed variables) as well as a second-order latent variable consisting of vigour combined with dedication (measured by six observed variables) and absorption (measured by two observed variables).

Model 3 consisted of three first-order latent variables, namely, work engagement (measured by eight observed variables), trust in supervisors (measured by eight observed variables) and psychological safety (measured by three observed variables) as well as a second-order latent variable of authentic leadership, consisting of self-awareness (measured by three observed variables), relational transparency (measured by three observed variables), balance processing (measured by four observed variables) and moral perspective (measured by three observed variables).

Model 4 consisted of seven first-order latent variables, namely, self-awareness (measured by three observed variables), relational transparency (measured by three observed variables), balanced processing (measured by four observed variables), moral perspective (measured by three observed variables), work engagement (measured by eight observed variables), trust in supervisors (measured by eight observed variables) and psychological safety (measured by three observed variables).

Table 1 presents the fit statistics for the four competing measurement models described above.



Further analyses were conducted in an exploratory mode to improve the fit of the selected model even more. The item errors were allowed to correlate which could improve model fit. According to Byrne (2012), correlated errors could be representative of the respondent's characteristics that reflect bias and social desirability as well as a high degree of overlap in the item content. The revised model (model 1) indicated that the fit improved once the errors were allowed to correlate. A comparison of the AIC and BIC values indicated that model 1 fitted the data the best with a χ2 of 636.23. The fit indices for CFI and Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) were acceptable (>0.90), as well as the model fit for the RMSEA (<0.05). The SRMR for model 1 was 0.05; values lower than 0.08 indicate an acceptable fit.

Structural model including descriptive statistics, reliabilities and correlations

Table 2 contains the descriptive statistics which include the descriptive statistics (e.g. means and standard deviations), Raykov's rho reliability coefficients and a correlation matrix.



As per the results in Table 2, it is evident that the Raykov's rho coefficients of all the measuring instruments were considered acceptable, ranging from 0.70 to 0.94. Raykov's rho coefficients have the same acceptable cut-off points as Cronbach's alpha coefficients, recognising values of 0.70 as acceptable (Wang & Wang, 2012).

Table 2 further provides the correlation coefficients of the variables which were all statistically significant at either 0.01 or 0.05. Authentic leadership was practically and significantly related to work engagement (r = 0.49) (medium effect); psychological safety (r = 0.45) (medium effect) and trust in supervisors (r = 0.74) (large effect). Work engagement was practically and significantly related to psychological safety (r = 0.37) (medium effect) and trust in supervisors (r = 0.52) (large effect). Trust in supervisors was practically and significantly related to psychological safety (r = 0.39) (medium effect).

The measurement model formed the basis of the structural model. The hypothesised relationships shown in the model were tested. An acceptable fit of the model to the data was found: χ2 = 636.23, df = 455, CFI = 0.95, TLI = 0.95, SRMR = 0.05 and RMSEA = 0.04. Table 3 shows the fit statistics and path coefficients of the three models.



In the above calculations, the maximum likelihood estimation with robust standard errors (MLR) estimator was utilised, taking into account the skewness and kurtosis of frequencies. The χ2 values for MLR cannot be directly compared (Satorra & Bentler, 1999). Chi-square difference testing had to be done to determine how the χ2 would change between the different models. Table 4 shows the difference testing for competing structural models. The results in Table 4 indicate that both models 1 and 2 had a significant p -value, which suggests a significantly worse fit than model 3. Therefore, model 3 was the best-fitting model.



Figure 2 shows the path coefficients estimated by Mplus 7.4 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998-2016) for model 3.



From Figure 2, it is evident that authentic leadership is a significant predictor of both trust in supervisors (β = 0.74; p < 0.01) and psychological safety (β = 0.36; p < 0.01). Hypotheses 1 and 2 were therefore accepted. Authentic leadership thus explains 54% of the variance in trust in supervisors and 21% of the variance in psychological safety. Hypothesis 4 was rejected as authentic leadership was not a significant predictor of work engagement (β = 0.16). This is apparent in Table 3.

Based on the results from Harman's single-factor test, the fit statistics of loading the model onto one factor were as follows: χ2 = 1756.65, df = 464, CFI = 0.66, TLI = 0.63, SRMR = 0.11 and RMSEA = 0.11. The fit statistics show that the model did not fit, which indicates that CMV was not a problem (Tehseen et al., 2017). If there was model fit to the one factor, CMV could have posed a problem to the study.

Testing indirect effects

To determine whether indirect effects were present in this study, the procedure, as explained by Hayes (2012), was used. Bootstrapping was used to construct two-sided bias-corrected 95% CIs to evaluate indirect effects.

Table 5 shows that the indirect effect of authentic leadership on work engagement through trust in supervisors was significant (p < 0.01) and did not include zero. This suggests that authentic leadership did have an indirect effect on work engagement via trust in supervisors. Based on these results, hypothesis 5 was accepted. Trust in supervisors did not have a statistically significant indirect effect on psychological safety; therefore, hypothesis 3 was rejected. Psychological safety did not have a statistically significant indirect effect on work engagement. Therefore, hypothesis 6 was also rejected. All the hypotheses were thus accepted, except for hypotheses 3, 4 and 6.




The objectives of this study were to determine the direct and indirect effects between authentic leadership, trust in supervisors, psychological safety and work engagement. The study was to provide an understanding of how authentic leadership can result in fostering feelings of supervisor trust and psychological safety among employees, resulting in employees being more engaged in their work.

The results indicated that authentic leadership positively influences trust in supervisors. When subordinates perceive authenticity in their leaders, the subordinates will be more inclined to trust those leaders. The results are consistent with previous research which also established that authentic leadership is a positive predictor of supervisor trust (Agote et al., 2015; Coxen et al., 2016; Hassan & Ahmed, 2011). Authentic leaders are regarded by subordinates as transparent, authentic and willing to listen to their ideas (Neider & Schriesheim, 2011). These leaders are also guided by their moral values and are inclined to allow subordinates to take part in decision-making (Walumbwa et al., 2008). Subordinates thus perceive authentic leaders as honest, truthful, reliable and genuine (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Ilies, Morgeson, & Nahrgang, 2005), which contributes to their experience of trust in their supervisor. Leaders who display authentic behaviours in the form of openness and truthfulness thus result in subordinates more readily trusting their intentions (Ilies et al., 2005). These findings are in line with the Leader-Member Exchange Theory (LMX) (Cho & Park, 2011) which regards leadership as a two-way relationship between leaders and followers. In this regard, if leaders display authenticity and transparency, subordinates will reciprocate by trusting the leaders more. A study done in the mining industry in South Africa found the implementation of authentic leadership to be a challenge faced by mines in South Africa (Bezuidenhout & Schultz, 2013). It was found that an environment of trust and openness among employees in this environment was missing because of the lack of effective authentic leadership (Bezuidenhout & Schultz, 2013). It is therefore imperative that mining companies develop authentic leadership within their supervisors to create a climate of trust. This climate of trust will lead to openness and transparency among all employees.

In terms of the impact of authentic leadership on psychological safety, this study found a positive effect between the two constructs. When supervisors engage in authentic leadership behaviours, it leads to a climate of psychological safety among their subordinates. The results are consistent with previous research which also established that authentic leadership is positively related to psychological safety (Edmondson, 1999; Eggers, 2011). The behaviours displayed by a leader are pivotal in promoting psychological safety. Leaders motivate by inspiration, displaying charisma towards their subordinates as well as by being intellectually stimulating and considerate of individuality (Eggers, 2011). Through this, leaders assist their subordinates in developing leadership skills by helping them become more aware of their own feelings, behaviours and thoughts. Leaders and subordinates must be aware of one another's expectations, needs and wants. This leads to positive change within an organisation by developing psychological safety (Eggers, 2011). A platform which allows for continuous communication and participation was identified as a need by employees in the mining industry. These employees felt that they did not have the freedom to express their own ideas and opinions (Bezuidenhout & Schultz, 2013). Authentic leadership would allow mining companies to establish an environment of psychological safety as well as allow employees to freely participate in the organisation.

The results showed that trust in supervisor did not significantly indirectly affect the relationship between authentic leadership and psychological safety. The results of this outcome were unexpected, as a positive indirect effect of authentic leadership on psychological safety via trust in supervisor was expected. According to Eggers (2011), trust between leaders and subordinates is a requirement for the presence of psychological safety. The relationship between the leader and subordinate must be transparent and vulnerable in order for subordinates to experience psychological safety. Leaders who display transparency will create a climate of psychological safety for their subordinates. This, in turn, will promote increased participation by subordinates in the decision-making process as well as foster increased trust in leaders (Eggers, 2011). The unexpected results can perhaps be explained with due consideration to the context of the study. The mining sector is characterised by stringent procedures, rules and regulations - employees thus operate in a structured environment where there is little opportunity for taking risks (Carvalho, 2017). Employees are aware that taking a risk might often result in disciplinary action or, in extreme cases, accidents. The results thus indicate that although employees may trust their supervisors, this does not indirectly affect their feelings of psychological safety.

The results indicated that authentic leadership is not a significant predictor of work engagement. These results also were unexpected, as in theory a positive effect was expected between authentic leadership and work engagement. Authentic leaders display behaviours that are aligned with their own values as well as attempt to achieve truthfulness and openness in their relationships with subordinates (Avolio & Gardner, 2005). They demonstrate transparent decision-making and lead by example, which illustrates their commitment to their work. This serves as a guideline to subordinates to remain physically and emotionally involved in their work and, in so doing, increase the levels of work engagement (Bamford, Wong, & Laschinger, 2013). The impact of authentic leadership and work engagement is also supported by Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) and is consistent with the authentic leadership theory of Avolio et al. (2004). A possible explanation of the results in this study could be that if the organisation's environment limits ownership, then authentic leadership may potentially not prompt work engagement (Mayhew, Ashkanasy, Bramble, & Gardner, 2007). In a former study, the mining industry in South Africa had experienced difficulty with regard to ownership of tasks (Bezuidenhout & Schultz, 2013). The mentioned study found that mining employees were not provided with the opportunity to participate in decision-making or to take responsibility for tasks (Bezuidenhout & Schultz, 2013). Research suggests that employees experience ownership when they are given the opportunity to take control of their job and the work setting (Alok & Israel, 2012). Thus, having an authentic leader does not necessarily mean that employees will be more engaged if they are not afforded the opportunity to take personal ownership of their work tasks (George, 2015). Another study conducted in the South African context among public healthcare employees also found authentic leadership to not be a predictor of work engagement (Ebrahim, 2017).

The findings of this study indicate that authentic leadership had a significant indirect effect on work engagement via trust in supervisor. Authentic leadership has a positive effect on trust in supervisor which, in turn, results in increased work engagement. The results are consistent with a previous South African study which also established that authentic leadership is positively related to work engagement via trust in supervisor (Ebrahim, 2017). In order for a subordinate to perceive a leader as being authentic, a level of trust must be present between the leader and the subordinate (Hassan & Ahmed, 2011). Furthermore, components of authentic leadership such as authentic action and relational transparency are positively related to a subordinate's trust in a leader. Trust between a leader and subordinate also positively predicts employee work engagement (Bamford et al., 2013; Hassan & Ahmed, 2011). When a subordinate has developed a high level of trust in an organisation and its leaders, the subordinate is more likely to become more engaged in his or her work (Bamford et al., 2013; Hassan & Ahmed, 2011). Supervisors who display authentic leadership and lead by example will foster trust within subordinates and encourage subordinates to be more engaged in their work.

In terms of the indirect effect of authentic leadership on work engagement via psychological safety, the results did not confirm the indirect effect. The results of this outcome were unexpected, as a positive indirect effect of authentic leadership on work engagement via psychological safety was expected in theory. According to Kernis (2003), authenticity is related to high levels of work engagement. Kahn (1990) found that work engagement increases in an environment where leaders promote psychological safety, in other words, an environment that allows subordinates to feel supported and accepted as well as able to participate without fear of negative consequences should they fail. Again, if the organisation's environment limits ownership, then authentic leadership may potentially not prompt psychological safety and work engagement (Mayhew et al., 2007). Also, when the environment limits ownership, the subordinates may have perceived this limitation as unsupportive and may have felt constrained - not feeling open to take risks without a fear of the consequences. Therefore, even though psychological safety was present, it may not have had the anticipated effect on work engagement. Supervisors within the mining industry are among the most disempowered of all levels of management as they are caught up in the demands to deliver production (Bloch, 2012). This disempowerment of supervisors would result in a lack of ownership and leave them feeling constrained in their role, thus not inspiring subordinates to remain engaged in their work.

Limitations and recommendations for future studies

This study had several limitations. The first limitation of the study was the use of a cross-sectional design, which restricts the determination of causal relationships among the study variables. The second limitation of the study was the use of the convenience sampling approach which could influence the generalisability of the results obtained. Thirdly, the research was conducted during a time of uncertainty in the mining industry of South Africa, which may be perceived as a limitation. Finally, the research was conducted on a single operation in the mining industry; as a result, generalisation of the findings to other contexts may not be possible.

The following recommendations can be made for future research. Firstly, future research should use longitudinal research designs or diary studies to determine the causal relationships among the study variables. Secondly, future research should expand the study to other organisations and industries as well as other provinces because of the fact that each of these factors may pose its own unique set of challenges and may yield a different result. Thirdly, future research may improve on this study by gathering data from additional sources within organisations, over and above the supervisors and subordinates. Fourthly, future research may improve on this study by utilising a mixed-method approach which includes both quantitative and qualitative data collection. This would allow the researcher to establish the authentic style of the leader as well as the prevailing variables and employee outcomes such as trust and psychological safety. The researcher would then be able to mitigate the close relation between constructs such as trust and psychological safety. Lastly, future research could also include other related leadership constructs into the data collection. This would allow the researcher to determine if the outcomes were exclusively related to authentic leadership, to exclude potential outcomes from other positive leadership constructs such as ethical, transformational, leader-member exchange and empowering leadership.

Implications for management

It is important for employees, leaders and the human resources department to understand the impact of authentic leadership on outcomes such as supervisor trust, psychological safety and work engagement. The lack of ownership, strict rules and regulations, as well as other challenges in the mining sector such as economic uncertainty, may have a likely effect on the leaders' willingness to display authentic behaviours which may have an impact on the feelings of psychological safety, trust and engagement experienced by subordinates. Feeling psychologically safe is important as it decreases 'barriers to engagement' (Wanless, 2016, p. 6). The benefit of having an engaged workforce is enhanced employee performance (Markos & Sridrevi, 2010), which is an important factor in the mining industry.

Trust is an important component of organisational interventions. Therefore, it is vital that employees and the organisation understand that the only way to remain viable is to support one another. When an organisation builds an environment of trust, its employees will reciprocate by becoming more engaged in their work. Both the organisation and employees should participate in a give-and-take relationship. This will help both parties feel confident as well as foster a positive work environment which enhances work performance, psychological safety and work engagement. Authentic leadership plays a key role in creating this positive work environment. Leadership development programmes could be designed in the mining sector to develop authentic leaders who could have a positive impact on the experience of trust, psychological safety and work engagement.



The results of this study emphasise the crucial role of authentic leadership and trust in the supervisor in increasing work engagement. It also highlights the impact that authentic leadership has on psychological safety. Although authentic leadership was not a significant predictor of work engagement, it impacted work engagement indirectly through supervisor trust. These findings indicate that authentic leadership is important for creating trust in supervisors and allowing subordinates to experience psychological safety. It also shows that authentic leadership and trust are important in the development of work engagement.



Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Author's contributions

N.M. acted as first author (as the article is partially based on her mini-dissertation with M.W.S. as supervisor). M.W.S. and L.C. contributed towards the editing of the article.



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Labour market interventions to assist the unemployed in two townships in South Africa



Rachéle PaverI; Sebastiaan RothmannI; Anja van den BroeckI, II; Hans de WitteI, III

IOptentia Research Focus Area, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa
IIWork and Organization Studies, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
IIIDepartment of Research Group Work Organisational and Personnel Psychology, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium





ORIENTATION: Given the absence of organised and accessible information on programmes relating to unemployment in South Africa, it may be difficult for beneficiaries to derive value from existing programmes; and for stakeholders to identify possible gaps in order to direct their initiatives accordingly
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to conduct a review of existing employment initiatives within two low-income communities in South Africa, with the aim of identifying possible gaps in better addressing the needs of the unemployed
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Unemployment in South Africa does not appear to be the result of a lack of initiatives or a lack of stakeholder involvement, but rather the result of haphazard implementation of interventions. In order to intervene more effectively, addressing the identified gaps, organising and better distribution of information for beneficiaries is suggested.
RESEARCH APPROACH, DESIGN AND METHOD: The data were collected via documentary research complemented with structured interviews. Relevant documents (N = 166) and participants (N = 610) were consulted during the data collection phase, using convenience and purposive sampling.
MAIN FINDINGS: A total of 496 unemployment programmes were identified. Most of the interventions were implemented by the government. Vocational training followed by enterprise development and business skills training were the most implemented programmes. Less than 6% of programmes contained psychosocial aspects that are necessary to help the unemployed deal with the psychological consequences of unemployment. Finally, in general, benefactors involved in alleviating unemployment seem unaware of employment initiatives in their communities
PRACTICAL AND MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The compilation of an inventory of employment programmes may be valuable, as it will assist in identifying the most prominent needs of the South African labour market.
CONTRIBUTION OR VALUE-ADD: This study contributes to scientific knowledge regarding the availability of existing unemployment programmes, projects and interventions, and the need for specific interventions.

Keywords: Interventions; unemployment; government; civil society organisations; private sector; township; Gauteng.




Unemployment has a detrimental effect on a nation's success, development and prosperity (Feather, 2018; Klehe & Van Hooft, 2018). In South Africa, several role players have started initiatives to deal with the detrimental effects of unemployment. Solely from a government perspective, 27% (ZAR 1.5 trillion) of the annual gross domestic product (GDP) was spent on but a few of the largest, best-funded employment programmes in 2018 (Ramaphosa, 2018). This amount does not include the cost of any other initiatives implemented by the government or other key stakeholders. Yet, despite the major efforts, expenditure and the considerable impact of these interventions, actions seem inadequate as the issue of unemployment remains unresolved and increasingly concerning.

From a report written by the Independent Evaluation Group, it seems that employment programmes in general are somewhat uncoordinated and functioning in isolation (IEG, 2013). Given the absence of organised and accessible information on programmes relating to employment in South Africa, it may be difficult for stakeholders to identify possible gaps in order to direct their initiatives accordingly (National Treasury, 2011). Likewise, beneficiaries may also be unaware of (and may have limited access to) the available resources (Dieltiens, 2015a). Therefore, the problem with employment initiatives in South Africa does not appear to be a lack of initiatives or a lack of stakeholder involvement but rather the haphazard implementation of interventions. As a result, valuable time and money are invested, without a clear indication of the impact thereof (Cloete & De Coning, 2011).

The aim of this study was to identify existing interventions aimed at helping the unemployed in South Africa. A meaningful way to approach the task at hand is to determine the 'who' and 'what' regarding unemployment initiatives by studying current literature and available documentation. Relevant interventions will be clustered according to the involved role players ('who') and the types of programmes that have been implemented within the selected communities ('what'; based on the aim of the intervention).

To date, some inventories of employment initiatives in South Africa have been published (see Centre for Development and Enterprise [CDE], 2008a; Development Bank of Southern Africa [DBSA], 2011; Economic of Regions Learning Network [ERLN], 2015; Graham et al., 2016; International Labour Organisation [ILO], 2012). However, some limitations should be noted. South Africa has undergone substantial economic and social change in the last couple of years. Therefore, reports older than 5 years may be considered obsolete. Furthermore, these reports mainly focus on large-scale interventions, whereas many employability programmes also operate on a smaller scale (Dieltiens, 2015b). Such smaller-scale programmes often deliver more hands-on services, such as providing information about jobs and looking and applying for jobs.

Another noteworthy observation from the above-mentioned documents is that employability programmes are mostly driven from an economic perspective, neglecting the psychosocial aspects of being unemployed (Patel, Noyoo, & Loffell, 2004; Van den Hof, 2015). People generally take up work not only to be compensated (also referred to as a manifest function of employment; Jahoda, 1982) but also to benefit from other latent functions (time structure, social contact, common goals, status or identity and enforced activity) while being employed (Jahoda, 1982). Consequently, when people are (or become) unemployed, it leads to deprivation of both functions, which has been found to negatively impact one's psychological well-being (Jahoda, 1982). By applying interventions that solely focus on easing financial hardship, the psychological aspects, which may contribute to making unemployment bearable, are deliberately left out of the equation, which may result in the unemployed remaining in a state of joblessness.

In general, research regarding programmes aimed at alleviating unemployment within the low-income communities is limited. Identifying existing employment interventions may not only be valuable in recognising the most prominent needs in the labour market but also to promote more focussed action, and make an important contribution to rethink and redesign strategies in addressing employment encounters in South Africa. Based on the above statement of the research problem, the main aim of this study was to make an inventory of employment interventions in two South African townships. The specific objectives were:

  • to determine the primary stakeholders involved in addressing unemployment in the involved communities

  • to develop a framework to classify active labour market programmes

  • to identify labour market programmes in Orange Farm and Emfuleni, implemented by included stakeholders, according to the framework, as a means of relieving unemployment; and

  • to make recommendations for future research and practice.


Role players

Intervening to promote employment is regarded as a major challenge (IEG, 2013). Consequently, different role players execute initiatives. Organisations such as trade unions, banks, economic development agencies, universities and research entities have been found to be involved in addressing the issue of unemployment. While all the role players make valuable contributions, reports documenting labour market interventions consider the main role players to be the government, civil society organisations (CSOs - including international development organisations) and the private sector (CDE, 2008a; IEG, 2013; Mayer et al., 2011; National Treasury, 2011). Therefore, we elaborate on these role players next.

South African government

Definition: Government is described as the people who have the authority to govern a country (Oxford Dictionary, 2017). Form: The South African government consists of three spheres, namely, national, provincial and municipal (local), as well as state-owned enterprises (SOE; Republic of South Africa, 1996). Regulated by: According to South Africa's latest macro policy, the New Growth Path, it aims to develop effective strategies to reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment, by means of making job creation the focal point of the policy. The government aims to create a million jobs by involving role players such as the private sector and trade unions (National Treasury, 2011). Contribution to unemployment: As a means of achieving the desired goals, the national government has implemented several job creation programmes, such as the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP; Department of Public Works, 2009), the Community Work Programme (CWP) (Department of Cooperative Governance, 2011) and the Jobs Fund (CDE, 2016). Concurrent with the national policies and initiatives, both provincial and municipal governments have implemented numerous programmes and centres providing services such as skills training and entrepreneurship development, job placement services, career guidance and workplace readiness services. During the literature review, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) were also identified as a role player. As both Orange Farm and Boipatong are located close to five relatively large institutions, who are all actively involved in community projects, HEIs seemed important to consider. Higher Education Institutions are classified as a SOE, and were therefore included as government initiatives.

Civil society organisations

Definition: Civil society organisations can be defined as non-government organisations mainly established to help vulnerable interest groups (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] and United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2014). Form: CSOs come in various forms, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs) and faith-based organisations (FBOs). Because of the similar humanitarian nature, International Development Organisations have also been classified under this category. Regulated by: Although somewhat regulated by codes, such as the Non-Profit Organisations Act of 1997 (Non-Profit Organisations Act, 1997), these acts are unrelated to and have no impact on the purpose of CSOs' existence. Therefore, because of the voluntary, humanitarian nature of CSOs and international development organisations, they are under no obligation to perform certain duties. Contribution to unemployment: CSOs invest a great deal in the development of communities, which often include services for the unemployed, such as job training programmes, vocational rehabilitation, vocational counselling and guidance (Chitiga-Mabugu et al., 2013). Similar to CSOs, the purpose of international development organisations is to provide support to developing countries, by means of financial aid, usually aimed at human development, sustainability and alleviating poverty in the long term (Venter, 2015).

Private sector

Definition: The private sector refers to that part of an economy that is not ruled or owned by the government (Merriam-Webster, 2017). Form: The private sector comprises the Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise sector (SMMEs) and larger corporate enterprises. Regulated by: Labour market legislation such as the Employment Equity Act and the rise of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment regulations, although initiated by the government, may impact private sector involvement. Furthermore, organisations may also become involved in community projects for the sake of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reputation. However, according to the South African Companies Act, South African organisations do not have a legal obligation to engage in CSR projects (South African Companies Act, 61 of 1973). Contribution to unemployment: There are various ways in which the private sector can contribute to the plight of unemployment. Firstly, it contributes funds for skills development and workplace training through the Skills Development Levy (Skills Development Act, 1998). Secondly, it employs workers and claims a tax allowance through recognised learnership and apprenticeship programmes (Levinsohn, Rankin, Roberts, & Schöer, 2014). These initiatives are essentially government initiatives; therefore, except for their involvement in these government initiatives and the odd CSR project, the private sector's participation in unemployment initiatives seems minimal and heavily underutilised (ILO, 2012).


Development of labour market intervention framework

There are different ways of categorising employment interventions. One of the objectives of the current study was to create a framework according to which the different types of employment interventions can be categorised.

Much of the available literature on labour market programmes distinguishes between 'active' and 'passive' labour market policies (see Kluve et al., 2016). Passive labour market policies are described by the ILO as generosity policies that replace labour income (ILO, 2010). Unlike other countries that offer unemployment grants, South Africa only has one such policy, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), which provides temporary relief to those who are financially distressed owing to losing their job (Bhorat, Goga, & Tseng, 2013). Whereas active labour market policies are strategies that emphasise labour market (re)integration, these policies focus on reducing unemployment by creating and improving employment opportunities and increasing the employability of the unemployed (National Treasury, 2011).

Furthermore, active labour market policies are often subdivided into labour 'demand' and 'supply' side. Demand-side initiatives are crucial in influencing economic growth, as they are primarily designed to create decent jobs and to incentivise the private sector by means of subsidies to create employment and training opportunities for the unemployed who are also inexperienced. It generally lies within the governments' responsibilities to manage and implement such macroeconomic policies (Altman & Potgieter-Gqubule, 2009; Ernst & Berg, 2009). The South African government has implemented a few programmes (e.g. EPWP, National Treasury's Jobs Fund and the youth wage subsidies) to serve as demand-side policy measures (Altman & Potgieter-Gqubule, 2009). Given the fact that South Africa has only one passive labour market policy, and limited demand-side interventions, covering only a narrow scope of this study, it was omitted from the study. Most government interventions have been directed at the supply side (initiatives promoting and enhancing the employability of the unemployed; Levinsohn et al., 2014). Therefore, the emphasis of the study was mainly on active labour market policies focussing on supply-side interventions.

Quite a number of studies have been conducted as a means of compiling a comprehensive list of supply-side employment interventions (Betcherman, Godfrey, Puerto, Rother, & Stavreska, 2007; Bertrand et al., 2013; Burchell, Coutts, Hall, & Pye, 2015; Cho & Honorati, 2014; Cunningham, Sanchez-Puerta, & Wuermli, 2010; Dar & Tzannatos, 1999; Kluve, 2014; Kluve et al., 2014, 2016). However, within the South African context, these inventories are somewhat more limited (see CDE, 2008a; Development Bank of Southern Africa, 2011; Economic of Regions Learning Network, 2015; ILO, 2012). Based on both national and international literature, broad corresponding themes were identified. In most studies, three broad themes were noted: skills development programmes, business development opportunities and a variety of employment services.

According to the Economic of Regions Learning Network (2015), education and vocational training are crucial requirements to facilitate entry into employment (ERLN, 2015). Because many young people drop out of mainstream education, finding employment may be especially challenging (ERLN, 2015). One approach to enhancing their employability may be programmes that focus on education (Kluve et al., 2014). These programmes can be divided into formal and informal programmes. Generally, formal programme opportunities are offered to gain a formal education (also referred to as 'second-chance programmes'), whereas informal programmes are designed to teach basic skills and/or cognitive abilities, specifically for school dropouts (e.g. literacy and numeracy programme; Betcherman et al., 2007; Dar & Tzannatos, 1999; Development Bank of Southern Africa, 2011; ILO, 2011). Another approach linking with education seems to be vocational training programmes. These programmes are generally aimed at equipping the unemployed with the necessary trade- or job-specific vocational skills and/or practical work (e.g. internships, on-the-job training, and apprenticeships; Kluve et al., 2014). The first broad category was therefore identified as education and expertise development, comprising education and vocational training.

Another much required skill, particularly within the South African context, where job opportunities are limited, is entrepreneurship (CDE, 2008a). Entrepreneurship programmes cover a broad variety of skills aimed at empowering the unemployed to successfully establish and manage their own businesses (Kluve et al., 2014). These skills range from basic training on enterprise development (business plan writing and development) to business skills development (such as basic finance, marketing, sales and management programmes; Puerto, 2007). Programmes focussing on enterprise development may include financial support services (such as start-up loans or information regarding finance opportunities), mentoring and consultation services from experienced entrepreneurs. The second broad category was identified as entrepreneurship and enterprise development and consists of enterprise development, business skills training, financing and mentoring programmes.

Lastly, it seems that certain non-cognitive skills are required to deal with the challenges of the modern labour market. Although these skills are increasingly demanded by employers, it is surprising that some inventories overlook programmes that are not strictly focussed on labour market activities (lessening economic hardship; see CDE, 2008a; Cho & Honorati, 2014; Dar & Tzannatos, 1999; Economic of Regions Learning Network, 2015; Godfrey, 2003; Grimm, 2016; Grimm & Paffhausen, 2014; Holden, 2013; IEG, 2013; ILO, 2012). Fortunately, other inventories regard initiatives aimed at increasing participants' non-cognitive skills, such as soft skills, life skills and behavioural skills, as important aspects for gaining employment (see Bertrand et al., 2013; Cunningham et al., 2010; Economic of Regions Learning Network, 2015; Goldin, Hobson, Glick, Lundberg, & Puerto, 2015; Kluve, Lehmann, & Schmidt, 2008; Kluve et al., 2014, 2016; Mayer et al., 2011; Puerto, 2007). A distinction is often made between services aimed at preparing the unemployed for the workplace, helping them to look for a job and teaching them necessary, non-technical, soft skills (e.g. interpersonal, time management and problem-solving skills). The last category was therefore labelled employment services and consists of workplace readiness, job-search assistance and soft skills development programmes.

Based on the combination of the different classifications of vocational interventions, a meaningful way to classify these employment programmes is summarised below:


Research design

Research approach

A systematic review methodology consisting of documentary research was used to collect the data for this article. Documentary methods in social research involve the systematic collection of data about a particular social phenomenon for the purpose of finding and/or understanding patterns and regularities in it (Nieuwenhuis, 2010). Furthermore, documentary research is described as a technique used to identify, classify, investigate and interpret written documents (Payne & Payne, 2004). Sources of documentary research include academic articles, official reports, governmental records, newspapers and other unpublished documents. In cases where limited information was available, structured interviews were conducted with individuals from the identified government departments, CSOs and private sector organisations, which were used to complement information found in the documentary search.

Research method

Research setting

Behaviour such as lack of motivation, withdrawal from the labour market and discouraged behaviour resulting from high unemployment rates is common in South African, particularly in townships (Van der Vaart, De Witte, Van den Broeck, & Rothmann, 2018). However, two townships in the Gauteng Province are particularly well known for their high unemployment rates and lack of resources. The first township, Orange Farm, falls within the municipal area of the City of Johannesburg. The community has a population of 76 767 people, of which approximately 40% are unemployed (Stats SA, 2012). Because South African metros (such as the City of Johannesburg) dominate economic activities and job creation (CDE, 2008a), the unemployed are gradually moving to these areas. Although it may be true that job creation efforts are easier to implement and have a better chance of success in metropolitan areas, the increase in people relocating there makes addressing unemployment an increasingly daunting task. In contrast, the second township, Emfuleni, has a population of 721 663 people, and is located in a non-metropolitan municipality (Stats SA, 2012). It is one of the three local municipalities constituting the Sedibeng district and has the highest unemployment rate of the three (34.7%; Stats SA, 2016). Although Emfuleni is largely urbanised, is strategically located and has a lot of potential for economic development, non-metropolitan areas are often greatly neglected. Labour market interventions should therefore be aimed at accommodating the needs of these communities and should regard them as equally important.

Data collection method

Based on the preliminary identified role players and framework developed from the literature review, an additional search was conducted to further identify employment programmes that exist in the particular communities. The search was executed by collecting and studying strategic documents (annual reports, development plans, budget reports and policy documents) from government departments, international development organisations and the private sector. Where insufficient information was available from the documents, the involved departments/entities/organisations were contacted (via telephone and email) to make appointments to conduct structured interviews, as a means of gaining more information regarding the programmes. In total, 467 calls were made, the majority to CSOs, followed by the government. In addition, a total of 426 emails were sent, with a general response rate of 27.7%, with the lowest from CSOs (22.6%).

Because of the nature of CSOs, specifically regarding their limited access to the internet, and availability of information on the internet, a somewhat different approach was used to collect data. A list with of all the registered CSOs was requested from the National Department of Social Development in South Africa. Inclusion was based on the CSO's objective; the aim of the CSO had to be focussed on services aimed at assisting the unemployed (e.g. youth services, adult education, employment and training services). Examples of categories that were excluded are: Services to animals, children, the disabled and the elderly, and HIV prevention and education and housing services - these CSOs were removed from the list. The remaining (n = 389) CSOs were contacted to schedule a meeting with the founder of the CSO. Of these, 62.9% were unreachable (called three times, no answer; no contact details; number did not exist; phone was switched off; wrong number). Another 17.7% of the programmes had indicated in documentation that they focussed on activities related to employment, but when asked about the aim of the programme, it appeared to be different than stated. Of those who could be reached, 4.6% indicated that they were not in practice anymore, or had not yet been established, owing to financial constraints. Finally, of the initial 389 CSOs, only 26 (6.7%) CSO founders were interviewed. The interview questions used in structured interviews are available in Appendix 1.

Identified programmes had to adhere to the following inclusion criteria:

  • They must have an eligible outcome variable specifically focussed on the unemployed.

  • They must be implemented by the South African government (national, provincial, municipal or SOEs), CSOs or the private sector.

  • They must be based in one of the identified regions; if not, they should apply to the unemployed in the regions (i.e. national incentive schemes).

Documents dated within the past 10 years that could be relevant to the study were obtained by searching general academic databases, as well as specialised databases. Academic databases included the Academic Search Premier, Business Source Premier, EbscoHost, Emerald Insight, Google Books, Google Scholar, JSTOR, ProQuest, PsycInfo, Sabinet, SACat, SAePublications, Science Direct, Scopus and Web of Science Government website. Specialised databases included Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) Evaluation and Publication Database, African Development Bank, Campbell Collaboration, Chamber of Commerce, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Development Bank of Southern Africa, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), ILO, Local Economic Development, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Development Cooperation Management and Information System (DCMIS), South African Department of Social Development database of non-profit organisations (NPOs), South African Local Government Association (SALGA), South African Regional Poverty Network, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), World Bank Poverty Impact Evaluations and the Youth Employment Inventory (YEI).

Key terms that were used to obtain academic literature and non-academic document searches included employment interventions, unemployment, employability programmes, labour market initiatives, active labour market programmes/policies, passive labour market programmes/policies, youth interventions, employment inventory, directory, government programmes, national government, parastatals, state-owned entities, government departments, Sector Education Training Authority (SETA), provincial government, provincial programmes, provincial departments, provincial-owned entities, municipal government, municipal programmes, municipal departments, municipal-owned entities, NPOs, NGOs, FBOs, CBOs, private sector, international development organisations, skills development programmes, vocational training, life skills, education programmes, adult-learning, entrepreneurship, enterprise development, bursary, financial assistance, community programmes, CSR, economic development strategy, integrated development plan, annual report, budget, growth and development strategy, policy, Emfuleni, Orange Farm, City of Johannesburg and South Africa.

Strategies employed to ensure data quality and integrity

After the role players were identified and the classification framework was developed, a list of people knowledgeable about employment programmes in the two communities and nearby areas were contacted. Informal interviews were held with identified experts. The purpose of the interviews was to get participants' input regarding the identified stakeholders and developed framework. After these interviews were conducted, the role players and the framework were finalised.

Furthermore, to ensure that data are accurately and reliably presented, an additional reviewer was consulted to assist with validating the data. After the framework was developed, the identified programmes had to be categorised according to the framework. In cases of uncertainty regarding the inclusion or categorisation of the selected programmes, deliberations were held and the different viewpoints were considered as a means of deciding. One researcher captured the data to ensure consistency. The collected data were reassessed by the additional reviewer.

Data recording

The development of the role player and categorisation frameworks were documented and continuously changed, until the final versions were decided on. Minutes of informal interviewers held with experts were kept and referred to during the development of the frameworks. All documents pertaining to employment programmes that were accessed throughout the data collection phase were kept and documented in an excel sheet. Additional information gained from structured interviews were added to the excel sheet.

Data analysis

Possible stakeholders were identified using an inductive approach, whereas a deductive approach was used to develop the labour market intervention framework. Themes (demand and supply side) and subthemes (category of intervention) were identified, which were used to conduct a thematic analysis. Thematic analysis was applied as a means of identifying, analysing and reporting on themes within data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Existing programmes implemented by selected stakeholders in the selected regions were categorised according to the relevant category within the developed framework.

Reporting style

The aim of the study is to present a comprehensive picture of the current employment initiatives in Orange Farm and Emfuleni. Findings were reported according to the identified role players and the developed framework. Such a presentation of the findings may enable the researcher to identify possible gaps in literature and in practice.

Research participants and sampling methods

A combination of purposive and convenience sampling was utilised to identify and include interventions. Purposive sampling seemed applicable as documents were selected based on specific previously mentioned inclusion criteria. Furthermore, the researcher also held interviews and included interventions based on the access and availability of documentation and participants (Struwig, Struwig, & Stead, 2001). A total of 610 participants and 166 documents were consulted in this study; characteristics are shown in Table 1.



Most of the participants contacted to obtain data were from the CSOs (66.9%), followed by the government (27.2%). Participants were contacted mainly via email and telephone. In some cases, unsolicited visits (where no prior contact was made with participants) were used to get hold of them. Not all participants' responses led to findings. Where limited information was gained from documents, structured interviews were conducted. Documents from CSOs (31.9%) yielded the most information, followed by the national government (21.1%).


Ethical consideration

Prior to conducting the interviews, permission was obtained from the Basic and Social Science Research Ethics Committee (BaSSREC) at the North-West University.



In total, 496 unemployment programmes were identified. It should be noted that the number of participants contacted and documents viewed does not necessarily reflect the number or distribution of the included employment interventions. In Table 2, the selected employment interventions, as implemented by the various stakeholders, as well as the distribution among the different types of programmes, are presented.



Figure 1 shows that a total of 496 interventions were ultimately included in the study. To gain a better understanding of the results, it is important to take into account that each of the included interventions consists of various components. For that reason, the 'number of interventions' column refers to the number of programmes implemented by each stakeholder, whereas the 'number of components' column refers to the total number of components the included programmes consist of. The percentages provided in the shaded columns indicate the distribution of the components across the different role players and the various intervention categories. Different shades are used to indicate the frequency of the number of components.

Referring to the number of interventions implemented per role player, it is evident that the majority of the programmes were implemented by the national government (36.9%), followed by the municipal government (23.0%). A noteworthy finding may be that 86.3% of the interventions are implemented by the government (national, provincial, municipal and state-owned entities), compared to 11.1% by CSOs and 2.6% by the private sector.

A closer look at the distribution of the components that the interventions consist of reveals that 43.8% of components are directed towards enterprise and entrepreneurship development, followed by 36.9% aimed at education and expertise development, with only 19.3% focussed on employment services. In line with these findings, the subcategories yielded results showing that interventions consist mostly of vocational training (31.7%), followed by (to a lesser extent) enterprise development (17.1%) and business skills training (16.9%) components. However, significantly fewer components (5.0%) concentrate on soft skills development.

A further investigation of the subcategories has shown that within the education and enterprise development category, a major difference exists between the number of components aimed at education (5.2%) and vocational training (31.7%). It also seems that the subcategories enterprise development (17.1%) and business skills training (16.9%) are almost equally represented in the entrepreneurship and enterprise development category. However, quite a large difference is evident when compared to financial support (3.6%) and mentoring services (6.2%). Lastly, no major differences between the employment services subcategories are evident; however, it is again evident that the soft skills component is the least focussed on (5.0%), compared to workplace readiness (7.8%) and job-search assistance (6.5%).

It is apparent from the shaded columns that the focus of all three government spheres - national, provincial and municipal - seems to be on vocational training (11.7%, 5.1% and 3.6%, respectively), followed by enterprise development (4.2%, 3.4% and 2.4%, respectively) and business skills development (3.7%, 3.2% and 1.9%, respectively). In contrast, only 2% of components of government interventions, combined, are directed at soft skills development, and even less (1.3%) on education. State-owned enterprises in general have similar findings to the other government bodies; however, skills development and business skills training are equally focussed on (6.6%), followed by enterprise development (6.0%). It is, however, evident that SOEs, compared to other government spheres, place considerably more emphasis on education (3.2%).

Finally, as the shaded columns give an indication of the overall distribution of the components, it seems that the employment services components of the programmes implemented by CSOs are relatively equally distributed compared to other stakeholders. This finding has led to further exploration, which yielded some interesting findings. When comparing the distribution workplace readiness, job-search assistance and soft skills development components, CSOs focus considerably more on these services (10.5%, 13.2% and 14.0%, respectively) compared to national government (6.1%, 3.1% and 2.0%, respectively) and municipal government (12.3%, 7.4% and 5.7%, respectively). If the same comparison is done with the private sector's focus on vocational training, it is indicated that 40.9% of the components of the private sector's programmes focus on skills development, compared to the national (31.3%) and provincial (30.3%) governments.



Outline of the results

The main aim of this article was to identify labour market programmes in Orange Farm and Emfuleni, implemented by selected role players, according to the developed framework (Table 1). Three broad categories were identified as education and expertise development, entrepreneurship and enterprise development, and employment services. Based on the identified role players and categories of labour market interventions used in the framework, a total of 496 interventions, located in Orange Farm and Emfuleni, were included in the study.

The first noteworthy finding, specifically regarding the role players' involvement in implementing unemployment interventions, is that 86.3% of the interventions were implemented by the government (national, provincial, municipal and SOEs combined). This finding should come as no surprise as the National Development Plan clearly states that employment is a key priority to all government departments (National Planning Commission, 2011). Despite these efforts, South Africa is still burdened with a high level of unemployment. Such an elevated unemployment rate may indicate that although the majority of programmes are initiated and implemented by government, the problem does not necessarily lie in a shortage of good policies and strategies but rather the lack of proper execution (Zagotta & Robinson, 2002). Consequently, owing to the lack of an execution plan from higher levels, uncertainty may be caused for other role players (including lower government spheres) regarding their roles and responsibilities in this undertaking. Not only are role players unaware of endeavours by other role players but they are also uninformed of programmes initiated by their own departments.

Civil society organisations are constantly faced with obstacles such as insufficient funding and the lack of necessary resources and proper systems coordinating funding and ensuring effectiveness. Despite these challenges, the results show that CSOs, in relation to other role players, are considerably more involved in providing employment services to the unemployed in the communities. Therefore, given the nature of CSOs, it is a remarkable finding that they are responsible for executing 11.1% of all the employment programmes. This involvement may be because it seems like a less expensive approach to have some, albeit limited, impact, or because of their first-hand experience in understanding the needs of the unemployed in the community. Regardless of the motive, the reality is that despite CSOs' hands-on approach in the communities, less attention is given to smaller-scale programmes, and the desired impact of their efforts seems limited.

In contrast to the government, only 2.6% of interventions were implemented by the private sector. These results are supported by a study conducted in 2011 by the International Development Organisation, in which it was found that the private sector seems uninvolved in employment initiatives (ILO, 2012). Although it was found that some organisations are involved in community programmes, these programmes were generally aimed at scholars, and limited to larger corporate organisations. It therefore seems that CSR is considered a prerogative of corporate organisations, simply because smaller businesses may not be able to afford such expenses (Perrini, Russo, & Tencati, 2007). In addition, the global economic collapse in 2008 has caused devastating job losses in the private sector. Thus, many organisations are forced to implement cost-cutting initiatives, causing the limited CSR initiatives to either be scaled down, or stopped. Because of the lack of devotion from the private sector, the benefits that may be reaped by the labour market, and ultimately by the unemployed, seem limited (ILO, 2012).

To have a sustainable impact on unemployment, the role players should ideally collaborate. Notwithstanding the efforts of the government in driving current initiatives to address South Africa's unemployment crisis, there seems to be a lack of guidance from higher spheres of government to engage more with the CSOs, private sector and other government departments. Because of a lack of coordination, efforts and investments seem to be scattered, resulting in the failure to achieve the anticipated outcomes.

When exploring the content of programmes, the current study showed that interventions are mainly driven from an economic perspective. The results show that role players focus their time and money mainly on programmes that provide resources and that equip the unemployed with entrepreneurial and business development skills (43.8%), education and expertise development (36.9%), compared to only 19.6% on employment services.

Results indicating that entrepreneurship and enterprise development are accentuated are fortunate. However, in a country such as South Africa, it is quite understandable. Considering the shortage of job opportunities, it is crucial for people to create self-employment opportunities (Cho & Honorati, 2014), hence the strong emphasis on providing the unemployed with these types of resources (DBSA, 2011). Although financial support contributes only to 3.3% of the components, various other resources, such as developing business plans, business management skills training and consultation services, are put in place to help the unemployed develop and maintain stable enterprises. It is, however, unfortunate that the success of these initiatives may once again be put into jeopardy owing to a lack of information or a lack of dissemination of the information.

In a similar vein, this study proposes a prominent focus on the education and expertise development category (36.9%) in the included programmes. More specifically, from the vocational training subcategory, it was found that 31.7% of programmes have a component aimed at providing the unemployed with the required skills and preparing them for the workplace. Similar findings suggesting that approximately one-third of labour market programmes are aimed at skills development, are not uncommon (see CDE, 2008b; ILO, 2012; Kluve et al., 2014). Therefore, on the one hand, these results are expected. On the other hand, perhaps a less anticipated finding is the much-neglected focus on educational attainment for school dropouts (5.2%). Given the youth unemployment problem in South Africa (see Economic of Regions Learning Network, 2015; ILO, 2011), it is alarming how little is done to reintegrate these people into the system. This evidence suggests a lack of awareness and a lack of a sense of urgency of the severity of the unemployment matter (DBSA, 2011).

From the literature, it is evident that employment services are often neglected in labour market interventions (Bertrand et al., 2013; Kluve, 2014). In this study, it was found that 19.6% of elements of programmes comprise either workplace readiness, job-search assistance and/or soft skills development. A hindsight discovery is that many of these programmes (particularly those implemented by the CSOs) mainly consist of providing the unemployed with basic life skills, such as youth recreation, HIV and family reproduction services, with few programmes focussing on employment services. Although it was known from the outset that, compared to expertise and entrepreneurship development, employment services are a neglected component in labour market inventions, finding that even less than 19.6% truly contribute to providing these services is a concern.

In a study conducted by Van der Vaart et al. (2018), it was found that 68% of unemployed people in the sample were classified as either 'desperate' or 'discouraged', indicating that they felt unmotivated and hopeless. Granting the impact of all the previously mentioned programmes, when considering the consequences of being unemployed, programmes focussing on skills such as being resilient, effective coping mechanisms and problem-solving seem crucial in helping the jobless deal with unemployment. In an experimental study conducted by Campos et al. (2017), microenterprise owners (N = 1500) were assigned to either a business or personal initiative training programme or a control group. Participants assigned to the personal initiative training programme managed to increase their firm's profits by 30% over a 2-year span, compared to 11% achieved by their counterparts (Campos et al., 2017). As suggested by the current study, it seems that the absence of psychosocial-driven programmes may be a much-neglected approach to solving unemployment (Patel et al., 2004).

Finally, some informative qualitative findings are worth mentioning to enhance our understanding of the context of the unemployed, particularly in Orange Farm and Emfuleni. The most time-consuming tasks of this study were to find documents containing relevant information, and to get hold of available stakeholders who are knowledgeable about the topic. Firstly, in the process of searching for relevant documents, it was evident that information regarding programmes was not readily accessible. It was challenging to find this information online, in hard copy or in correspondence with stakeholders, as responses to enquiries about information regarding employment programmes and government expenditure on these programmes indicated that not much information was available. Secondly, getting hold of stakeholders was a major barrier in the study. The average response rate, calculating all stakeholders and different approaches used to make contact, was less than 30%, and the majority could not provide any relevant information.

Findings also suggest that, in most cases, stakeholders themselves had limited knowledge of employment programmes, indicating that, even for them, information is not widely distributed. Role players' inability to provide this information is particularly concerning, as the mere purpose of their programmes is to assist those who need this information most. In order to conduct this research, ample resources (phone lines, vehicle, unlimited internet, research funding and a research assistant who was familiar with these communities) were available, and yet it was a daunting task. Considering the severe lack of resources and the circumstances of the unemployed, an obstacle such as the absence of information makes an already challenging undertaking nearly impossible. Although substantial efforts to implement employment programmes cannot be doubted, without proper documentation and dissemination of information to stakeholders and beneficiaries, achieving the desired effects will remain difficult.

Limitations and recommendations for future research

The first limitation, and perhaps the most important, is that although the present study aimed to provide a comprehensive, broad representation of employment programmes in two communities, the list is not exhaustive. Relevant information was often unavailable, which automatically excluded some programmes.

Likewise, another limitation may be that the study was conducted only in two geographical areas in the Gauteng Province. As a result, findings cannot be generalised to other South African communities. The selected role players were limited to the government, CSOs and the private sector. These results may not be applicable to other organisations such as trade unions, banks, economic development agencies, universities and research entities. Given that a meaningful way to solve unemployment is an integrated, multi-sectoral, and multi-stakeholder approach, it is unfortunate that the study did not include other role players. It is therefore suggested that future studies broaden the scope and include a wider variety of role players.

In a similar vein, convenience sampling was used to collect data. Consequently, participants and documents included were based on their availability. Owing to the lack of response from participants and the unavailability of documents, collecting relevant and necessary information was quite a challenging endeavour. Because a response rate of less than 30% was obtained (although supplemented with documentation), an accurate reflection of what was intended to be reviewed may not have been achieved. Findings may, as a result, give a false representation of employment interventions, as well as role player involvement, again impacting on the generalisability of the results.

Information regarding evaluations and cost-effectiveness of programmes was exceptionally difficult to access. Therefore, some interesting avenues that future research could consider may be to explore evaluation approaches of the employment programmes. Information regarding the number of programmes that implement evaluative measures, the financial costs involved in implementing the programme and the impact of the programme may lead to some valuable findings in the effectiveness and success of employment interventions.

In conclusion, the findings provide evidence that the intended objectives of the study have been achieved. Even though some limitations have been identified, the outcomes of this study hold practical implications for role players involved in addressing unemployment, and for future studies.



Although many programmes exist to assist the unemployed, these programmes are uncoordinated. Consequently, neither the involved role players nor beneficiaries are aware of the numerous available programmes. The compilation of an inventory of employment programmes may be valuable as it will assist in identifying the most prominent needs to the South African labour market (for the role players). Once the employment constraints have been recognised, interventions to assist the desired population to overcome those barriers can be identified and implemented (Cunningham et al., 2010). Such a comprehensive document not only promotes concerted action but also encourages and empowers stakeholders and possible policymakers to learn from one another, make informed decisions regarding further initiatives and reform misaligned strategies. As a means of addressing this gap, this article explored existing unemployment programmes, projects and interventions implemented in two Gauteng Province townships: Orange Farm and Emfuleni.

It was clear that there is a lack of programmes focussed on the psycosocial aspects of being unemployed. Finally, the findings suggest a lack of not only cooperation between role players but also communication and structures providing resources and information to the supposed beneficiaries, the unemployed. It seems that efforts need to be directed to creating systems where role players, and the unemployed, can be informed of the existing programmes.



The authors are grateful for the support of the Flemish Interuniversity Council, University Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS), for awarding funding that enabled the research, authorship and publication of this article.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships which may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Author's contributions

R.P. wrote the literature review and interpreted the results. S.R., H.d.W. and A.v.d.B. guided and edited the manuscript.



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Sebastiaan Rothmann

Received: 13 Oct. 2018
Accepted: 27 Feb. 2019
Published: 27 May 2019



Appendix 1

Interview protocol

Name of programme: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Inclusion criteria:



1. What is the goal of the programme?



2. Description of programme (in case of an overlap in question 1).

3. Who are the involved stakeholders?



4. In what year was the programme implemented/registered?

5. Who are the beneficiaries of this programme (age and gender)?

6. How do you recruit these participants?

7. Is this programme aligned with specific government policies? If yes, can you elaborate?

8. Do you by any means measure the effectiveness or any possible impact of the programme? If yes, can you elaborate?

9. Do you by any means measure the costs involved in obtaining employment for participants? (General information on costs of the intervention, specific information on costs to society, specific information on costs to beneficiaries) If yes, can you elaborate?

10. As you most probably know, such a project has various phases, such as planning, development, implementation, and evaluation. Did you experience any problems during the planning phase of the programme? How did you address these problems/how would you suggest solving these problems?

11. What were the positive aspects during the planning phase of the programme?

12. Did you experience any problems during the development phase of the programme? How did you address these problems/how would you suggest solving these problems?

13. What were the positive aspects during the development phase of the programme?

14. Did you experience any problems during the implementation phase of the programme (either with content of the programme, or with the procedure in setting up and guiding unemployed through the process and reaching targets)? How did you address these problems/how would you suggest solving these problems?

15. What were the positive aspects during the implementation phase of the programme?

16. (Determine if applicable). Did you experience any problems during the evaluation phase of the programme? How did you address these problems/how would you suggest solving these problems?

17. What were the positive aspects during the evaluation phase of the programme?

18. Contact number:

19. Email address:

20. Organisation website:

21. Physical address:

22. Are you aware of any other programmes in Emfuleni or Orange Farm that is focussed on assisting the unemployed? If yes, can you elaborate?

^rND^sBraun^nV.^rND^sClarke^nV.^rND^sCampos^nF.^rND^sFrese^nM.^rND^sGoldstein^nM.^rND^sIacovone^nL.^rND^sJohnson^nH. C.^rND^sMcKenzie^nD.^rND^sMensmann^nM.^rND^sCho^nY.^rND^sHonorati^nM.^rND^sFeather^nN.^rND^sKluve^nJ.^rND^sLehmann^nH.^rND^sSchmidt^nC. M.^rND^sNieuwenhuis^nJ.^rND^sPerrini^nF.^rND^sRusso^nA.^rND^sTencati^nA.^rND^sVan Der Vaart^nL.^rND^sDe Witte^nH.^rND^sVan den Broeck^nA.^rND^sRothmann^nS.^rND^sZagotta^nR.^rND^sRobinson^nD.^rND^1A01^nEileen^sKoekemoer^rND^1A01^nAnne^sCrafford^rND^1A01^nEileen^sKoekemoer^rND^1A01^nAnne^sCrafford^rND^1A01^nEileen^sKoekemoer^rND^1A01^nAnne^sCrafford



Exploring subjective career success using the Kaleidoscope Career Model



Eileen Koekemoer; Anne Crafford

Department of Human Resource Management, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Currently, the workplace consists of four different generations of employees, of which the youngest, Generation Y (Gen Y), will become more prevalent in the next few years. Therefore, attracting and retaining employees of this generation are essential for organisations
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The aim of the present study was to investigate how Gen Y IT employees experience career success by using the Kaleidoscope Career Model (KCM) as an interpretive lens
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Generation Y remains an understudied cohort with regard to perceptions of career success. Motivated by the potential value of constructing contexts, which promote career success among Gen Y, the KCM was used as a framework for exploring meanings associated with career success among this cohort.
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive voluntary sample of 24 Gen Y IT employees. Data were analysed in a two-step process by, firstly, identifying elements associated with the central parameters of the KCM and, secondly, collating these to identify various sub-dimensions of each parameter, to identify associated meanings for subjective career success.
MAIN FINDINGS: The findings describe more richly the needs for authenticity (i.e. making a difference or work as an enabler of lifestyle), balance (within time and over time) and challenge (i.e. career success implies growth/turning problems into opportunities or goal attainment as signifier of success) as means to experience career success, specifically expanding the description of balance, where employees try to maintain a work-life balance not only within but also over time (synchronic vs. diachronic balance
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The findings have value for management and human resource practitioners with regard to the implementation of employment practices that will enhance perceptions of career success among Gen Y IT employees and the development of a supportive culture which underpin the latter.
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: This study adds to our knowledge of Gen Y's perceptions of career success with particular emphasis on authenticity, balance and challenge. It furthermore contributes to career success literature by adding a career development lens to the latter.

Keywords: Generation Y; kaleidoscope career model; subjective career success; qualitative approach; work-life balance.





In present-day societies, where organisations are faced with global competition, companies can only remain competitive if they are able to attract and retain talented employees (Eversole, Venneberg, & Crowder, 2012). Currently, many workplaces typically consist of four generations of employees - all with different opinions and expectations of their work environment (Ng, Schweitzer, & Lyons, 2010). Generation Y (Gen Y) is fast becoming the prime-age workforce, with their numbers and roles increasing rapidly (Eversole et al., 2012). The literature suggests that Gen Y employees tend to be attracted to companies with forward-looking approaches to business as well as to those companies that will provide them with job variety (Ng et al., 2010; Terjesen, Vinnicombe, & Freeman, 2007), education and training opportunities to advance their careers (Luscombe, Lewis, & Biggs, 2013) and a substantial salary (Terjesen et al., 2007). Also, Gen Y employees have an interest in developing their overall value in the labour market, instead of relying on a single organisation to provide them with long-term employment (Kultalahti & Viitala, 2015). They are more likely to keep their career options open or to seek alternative employment, which can make it difficult to retain them in organisations (Suleman & Nelson, 2011). According to Ng et al. (2010), Gen Y employees seem to hold 'values, attitudes, and expectations that are significantly different from those of the generations of workers that preceded them' (Ng et al., 2010, p. 281). Not only do they seek rapid advancement, but they seem to have a need for a meaningful and satisfying life outside of work (Ng et al., 2010). As Gen Y employees consider quality of life a major priority, they have high expectations of their employers and of themselves (Suleman & Nelson, 2011) and demand more time for activities outside of work (Kultalahti & Viitala, 2015). In addition, Lyons and Kuron (2013) indicate in their review of generational theory research that employees are increasingly seeking personal fulfilment in their work, and leaders and employers who can satisfy their individualistic growth needs will have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent. This amplifies the urgency of attracting and retaining employees from Gen Y.

While there has been a considerable increase in research on generations (especially Gen Y) over the past few years (see the overview of Lyons & Kuron, 2013), there has been little discussion on Gen Ys' view of career success and their specific needs regarding contemporary careers. Mainstream publications on Gen Y either focus on Gen Y as the foci sample (Luscombe et al., 2013, Ng et al., 2010; Papavasileiou & Lyons, 2015) or investigate the work values, career preferences, work expectations and characteristics of the different generations in comparative generational samples (Meriac, Woehr, & Banister, 2010; Twenge, 2010). According to Hall, Lee, Kossek and Heras (2012), there is a gap in knowledge about how individuals adapt to changing demands to sustain both their careers and their personal lives psychologically and physically. Greenhaus and Kossek (2014) believe that the current career landscape, which is characterised by flatter and leaner organisational structures that provide fewer opportunities for hierarchical advancement, influences the achievement of career success. Consequently, employees have to develop their own idiosyncratic views of what constitutes a successful career. This resonates strongly with the newer conceptualisations of subjective career success, which implies a subjective judgement or evaluation by the individual (Abele & Spurk, 2009; Dries, Pepermans, & De Kerpel, 2008; Ng, Eby, Sorensen, & Feldman, 2005).

Heslin (2005) argues that despite the extensive literature available and focal change in objective towards more subjective facets, career success has been defined too narrowly in the past. He adds that scholars should focus on a broader range of criteria to explore subjective career success. According to the self-determination theory (SDT), the social context in which people live and work should satisfy their basic psychological needs. In such a case, the context should provide the appropriate developmental lattice for improved human achievement and enhanced well-being, and by implication, people's perception of success (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Thus, it can be argued that to achieve subjective career success, people's career-related needs should be met.

One of the more contemporary developmental models used to investigate contemporary careers is the Kaleidoscope Career Model (KCM). This model was developed originally to explain how women shift their career patterns by rotating different aspects of their lives to arrange roles and relationships in non-traditional ways, in response to their unique needs (Mainiero & Sullivan, 2005; Sullivan & Mainiero, 2008). In the process, three central parameters of career decision-making emerged, namely, the need for authenticity, balance and challenge. Authenticity represents individuals' need to be true to themselves and their values; balance refers to individuals' wish to enjoy quality experiences in both work and family domains; challenge refers to an individual's need to participate in intrinsically motivating work (Sullivan & Mainiero, 2008).

According to this model, employees evaluate the choices and options available through the lens of the kaleidoscope to determine the best fit among their multiple relationships, work constraints and opportunities. In light of the discussion above, the KCM's focus on career-related needs provides a valuable theoretical lens to understand how employees construct subjective interpretations of success in response to unfolding career experiences (Heslin, 2005) as well as the extent to which these experiences allow their career needs to be met. As far as the researchers could determine, no previous research has been conducted to date on career success using the framework of the KCM.

Research purpose and objectives and motivation for the study

This study was motivated by a gap in the generational and career literature regarding the conceptualisation of subjective career success for Gen Y employees in contemporary careers. The goal was to investigate how Gen Y employees experience subjective career success using the Kaleidoscope Model as an interpretive lens. More specifically, the study set out to identify what subjective career success means to them, with regard to their needs for authenticity, challenge and balance. This study was based on the following research question: How do Gen Y employees conceptualise subjective career success within the framework of the KCM?

Literature review

Generation Y

While in some quarters there is some scepticism about the concept of generations as a meaningful focus of study, it has a sound basis in both psychology (Laufer & Bengston, 1974; Pilcher, 1994) and sociology (Parry & Urwin, 2011). The value of the concept lies in its ability to capture diversity across time frames. Turner (1998) defined a generation as:

a cohort of person's passing through time who come to share a common habitus and lifestyle.[and] has a strategic temporal location to a set of resources and exclusionary practices of social closure. (Parry & Urwin, 2011, p. 81)

Viewing a generation as a cohort allows one to identify relatively homogenous categories of people, who are likely to have meaningful commonalities based on the dominant societal and work contexts in which they function (Ryder, 1965). Understanding the differences between these cohorts can have significant benefits for managers in adapting organisational practices to best suit a generational cohort.

Subjective career success

The concept of career success has been well defined in the literature over the past few decades. Initially, career success explanations described how an employee progresses in the hierarchy of an organisation; therefore, individuals receiving higher wages are generally regarded as being successful in their careers (Judge, Cable, Boudreau, & Bretz, 1995). However, recent conceptualisations moved towards distinguishing between objective and subjective career success. Objective career success is judged by external people based on visible criteria such as job level, income, status, salary and occupation (Ng et al., 2005). Subjective career success is based on the internal components that involve individual employees' personal inner interpretations, perspectives and evaluations of their career achievements (Arthur, Khapova, & Wilderom, 2005). Thus, subjective career success can be understood as a subjective construct representing individual employees' interpretation of success. According to Gunz and Heslin (2005), it is possible to develop general patterns of understanding by identifying themes that are important to individuals who share social contexts, as may be the case for Gen Y employees. Some recent studies of subjective career success have been conducted in specific contexts or on particular groups. These include managers (Grimland, Vigoda-Gadot, & Baruch, 2011; Visagie & Koekemoer, 2014), academics (Beigi, Shirmohammadi, & Arthur, 2018) and blue-collar workers (Koekemoer, Fourie, & Jorgenson, 2018).

Motivation for the use of the Kaleidoscope Career Model

Although the KCM was originally developed to explain the career development of women, the initial developers of the model, Sullivan and Mainiero (2008), argue the applicability of this model in the contemporary career landscape well. They postulate that the KCM is one of the few contemporary models that is grounded in the literature and can be used in contemporary career research. This is especially given the rapid environmental changes, including increased globalisation, an increasingly diverse workforce, technological advances and the growth in the conceptualisation of non-traditional careers. The KCM offers a means for studying processes within non-traditional careers or non-traditional career concepts such as subjective career success. In previous research on the KCM, the focus was primarily on gender differences; however, Sullivan and Baruch (2009) have noted generational differences in the need for authenticity, balance and challenge. They have shown that members of Generation X have higher needs for authenticity and balance than the so-called baby boomers, but their study did not include employees from Gen Y. Various studies have already suggested that generations might use kaleidoscope thinking when making career decision or when shifting career patterns (Lyons, Schweiszer, Ng, & Kuron, 2012; Sullivan, Forret, Carraher, & Mainiero, 2009), thus making the use of the KCM principles relevant to studies focusing on generations (in this case, the study of Gen Y employees).

Motivation for linking subjective career success with the Kaleidoscope Career Model

When considering the parameters of the KCM and subjective career success, possible associations can be made. For instance, the challenge parameter of the KCM (which is an individual's need for stimulating work and career advancement) is similar to views of subjective career success (Visagie & Koekemoer, 2014). Recently, Mayrhofer et al. (2016) specifically explored the meanings of career success in their 5C Project (Cross-Cultural Collaboration on Contemporary Careers) and divided career success into four overarching themes: material concerns (i.e. financial security and financial achievement), learning (i.e. learning and development), social relations (i.e. work-life balance, positive impact and positive relationships) and pursuing one's own project (i.e. entrepreneurship). When considering these contemporary notions of career success, the social relations theme (i.e. positive impact and work-life balance) resonates strongly with the authenticity and balance parameters of the KCM. Therefore, it stands to reason that career success might be more closely viewed through the lens of the KCM as Ballout (2008, p. 440) points out: 'Individuals view their career success as a function of their own internal standards and perceptions of satisfaction and success in social networks of relationships with others'. Furthermore, the KCM posits that needs for authenticity, balance and challenge over the course of a career will be present, but may vary in intensity over an individual's life span (Mainiero & Gibson, 2017). Thus:

over the course of the life span, as a person searches for the best fit that matches the character and context of his or her life, the kaleidoscope's parameters shift in response. (Sullivan et al., 2009, p. 291)

This is similar to the view that the concept of subjective career success is based on the understanding of a career as the 'evolving sequence of work experience over time' (Arthur, Hall, & Lawrence, 1989). This is also in line with Visagie and Koekemoer (2014), who posit that a subjective career is seen as a journey of progression, where subjective career success is an ongoing process of progress towards achieving goals and a life-long journey.

Given the above-mentioned discussion, the findings of the study are expected to provide a better understanding of subjective career success, which could be useful to individuals, employers, educators and policymakers as they help to situate the views of Gen Y on modern careers within a KCM perspective.


Research design

Research approach and strategy

The research was conducted from an interpretive perspective, which implies an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon in context, in this instance, subjective career success (Crotty, 1998). Using the dimensions of the KCM (authenticity, balance and challenge) as a lens, the aim was to explore the meanings Gen Y IT employees attach to subjective career success (Babbie & Mouton, 2001) by means of a qualitative survey (Fink, 2003; Jansen, 2010).

Research method

Research setting

A purposive voluntary sample of Gen Y employees was drawn from the South African division of a global IT organisation, '1 TechCo'. The interview data and company website both suggest a challenging environment characterised by constant innovation and cutting-edge technological developments and consequently a strong focus on learning and development. TechCo requires local employees to work with people from other countries and cultures as well as across time zones. This implies long working hours, tight deadlines and employees being available after hours, elements that may influence work-life balance. The company is, however, considered family-friendly and employees have the option of working flexible hours, as highlighted in both interview data and company documentation. Because of the nature of the environment and the large number of Gen Y's who comprise the employee-base, TechCo provided an ideal context to explore the basic tenets of the KCM model in relation to the subjective career success of Gen Y's.

Entrée and establishing researcher roles

The data were gathered by a Gen Y fieldworker employed by the company, and analysed by the current authors. The fieldworker was trained in interviewing skills by one of the current authors. Having a familiar fieldworker from the same cohort meant that participants were able to easily relate to her in sharing their experiences. Consent was obtained from the target organisation to collect the data as well as from individual research participants who volunteered to be part of the study. The anonymity and confidentiality of participants were ensured through the allocation of participant numbers to the interviewees (Babbie & Mouton, 2001).

Research participants and sampling methods

Based on the generation categorisation of Parry and Urwin (2011), a purposive voluntary sample of 24 employees, born between 1982 and 2002, was interviewed. The study sample included eight female participants (33%). The majority of participants were born between 1982 and 1987 (with a mean age of 31) and 58% of the participants had eight or more years of work experience. The majority of the sample (96%) had a tertiary qualification. Twelve employees were in possession of higher education diplomas, while five others had postgraduate qualifications. Only one participant had a grade 12 or lower qualification. Regarding the relationship status of participants, 11 were married, eight were engaged or in a relationship, four were single and one was divorced. Five participants had children at the time of the study. Employees were drawn from all areas of the organisation, including software development and testing, business analysis, server support and various management roles, and were on job level 1 or 2.

Data collection methods

A total of 242 face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted that enabled data saturation to be attained (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2007). Guided by the interpretivist approach, which emphasises individual constructions of meaning, a few broad questions were constructed to elicit the meanings Gen Ys attach to the concept of career success. Examples were the following: 'Tell me about your understanding or view of career success'; 'What are the things that are important to you in your career?' and 'What do you need in order to view yourself as being successful in your career?' In addition, the interviewer also used probing questions and other communication techniques such as paraphrasing, reflection, clarifying and summarising to elicit more information from the participants.

Data recording

All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed verbatim. To ensure confidentiality, participants were assigned numbers that form the basis of the reporting here.

Strategies employed to ensure data quality and integrity

Guided by strategies suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994), the following steps were taken to ensure the quality of the data. To ensure dependability, data were generated by one interviewer and the analysis guided by clear analytical constructs, as described in the KCM theory and its operationalisation (Sullivan et al., 2009). To enhance authenticity and credibility, the researchers sought to provide context-rich and meaningful descriptions of the setting and findings (space permitting). In addition to data from interviews, the company website was studied to form a sense of the 'public face' of the company providing more details regarding the organisational context. Transferability of the findings was ensured by providing a detailed description of the setting and sample.

Data analysis

Our first step was to conceptualise the parameters of the KCM, namely, authenticity, balance and challenge, as these have been outlined in the literature so as to recognise similar or related elements in the Gen Y cohort. To do so, we conducted a careful reading of KCM research paying particular attention to the descriptions of the parameters as operationalised in the authenticity, balance and challenge scales, as described by Sullivan et al. (2009). Examples of these include 'If I could follow my dream right now, I would' (authenticity); 'I constantly arrange my work around my family needs' (balance) and 'I continually look for new challenges in everything I do' (challenge). The second step was to analyse the interview data to identify and code elements related to authenticity, balance and challenge (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Extracts of the data relating to each of these parameters were then collated and subjected to second-order coding to identify the sub-themes within each parameter, as they pertain to the Gen Y sample. The final description of each parameter rested on the researchers' interpretations and unique constructions of the data set (Crotty, 1998).

Reporting style

The authors are reporting this study as a confessional tale so as to do justice to the participants and their multiple voices (Sparkes, 2002).


Ethical consideration

This article was part of a master's study for which ethical clearance was obtained from the Department of Human resource management (HRM) at the institution.



In making sense of the findings presented below, the reader is advised to bear in mind the description of the organisational context as described as part of the research setting (Miles & Huberman, 1994).

The results are presented, as they were analysed, within the dimensions of the KCM, namely, authenticity, balance and challenge. In Table 1, we present a summary of the dimensions of the KCM and the sub-themes extracted from the data that form part of each. It also includes s description of the implication of each sub-theme for subjective career success based on the data.



Each of these will now be discussed in more detail.

Sub-themes related to authenticity

Because the Gen Ys in the sample spend long hours at work, they want to enjoy what they are doing and ensure it is meaningful. Participants emphasised that career success should be defined by personal choices rather than others' expectations (Ballout, 2008).

You need to judge yourself and your career success on what you have set for yourself, not based on what your friend is achieving, or what your family or other people expect you to achieve (P3, female, software testing).

Participants linked authenticity to 'making a difference' and 'work as an enabler for lifestyle'. The first sub-theme is similar to the dimensions of authenticity that relate to purpose and having an impact, as described in Sullivan et al. (2009). The second sub-theme describes non-work-related dreams and goals, which provide meaning and a sense of purpose; however, because of financial constraints, these cannot be pursued full time. Working, thus, enables from financial perspective, the fulfilment of goals and dreams, which provide a sense of authenticity. Both sub-themes are discussed subsequently.

Making a difference

The Gen Ys from the sample defined career success primarily in terms of 'making a difference' (P6, P10, P13, P21, P253) or 'adding value' (P2) to the greater good. This meant taking the basic job requirements and making a unique contribution in ways that improved its value:

' anyone that fits the job profile would have come in and done just the bare minimum, I'm looking to go and explore that role, see what value I can bring in personally.' (P24, male, project manager)

At times, making a difference was referred to in task-related terms, for example, developing a piece of new software. However, most often it implied relational impact, envisaged in two inter-related ways. Firstly, the role of mentoring and coaching to help others becomes more proficient, achieve their work-related goals and thus be more successful in their work:

'I would be in a position that I could mentor other people and help them to become more proficient in their job and more successful.' (P11, male, database administrator)

The second role was being a role model to others, enabling them to learn from their own journey and provide opportunities for growth:

'I want to make a difference in a lot of lives of people who work here, grow them, give them job security, give them options get people to learn from my journey, my mistakes.' (P25, male, IT management)

One of the participants suggested that making a difference could be achieved on a day-to-day basis solving immediate problems, but should also be measured in terms of having worked towards a strategic goal - described as:

' taking a chip off a big block.' (P10, male, management)

Several participants also highlighted the perceived importance of organisational rank or level in making a difference:

'I find a lot of self-value if I can see other people grow - and being in executive management you can influence a lot of the bigger organisational wide decisions to see that change comes through at several levels, not just one.' (P23, male, management)

This suggests a link between the need for authenticity and more objective measures of success, such as moving up the organisational hierarchy. This has implications for our views of subjective and objective as distinct measures, and implies a more nuanced view of success in which certain practices or outcomes can provide both objective and subjective consequences for success.

Making a difference meant changing circumstances and improving people lives, but this was dependent on being given the freedom to do so and was enabled or constrained by organisational culture. Referring to this issue, participant 21 commented that where the company culture is dominated by red tape, a Gen Y would be constrained with:

' no freedom to sort of stretch your wings and be an individual and make a difference.' (P21, male, business analyst)

Work as an enabler for lifestyle

This category represents the perspective of a smaller group of Gen Ys within our sample. For these participants, success was defined in financial terms, but not necessarily as mere accumulation of wealth, rather as a means to support their lifestyle and its associated hobbies and activities. Participant 7 was an avid sportsman and viewed work as one element of his life only, and an enabler for other, more exciting aspects:

'I do feel that a job should be an enabler, I don't think it should be central to, to what you do in your life. It's looking back [] Ahh no, I have been a project manager, that is kind of what I have done; no, I don't like that. I would rather tell stories of conquests and adventures.' (P7, male, project management)

When asked about career success, participant 21 immediately answered - money but quickly went on to explain that the reason for this was that it enabled him to do the things he loved. He explained that coming from a background where his parents lived from 'cheque to cheque' meant there was little stability and he longed for financial wealth to enable him to do the things he loved:

'Okay, so I mean obviously if I personally had a choice between what I am doing now, if I had a, if I had unlimited financial resources, I would probably be in another skillset, I would probably be off cooking or sailing or something like that so, um I guess part of my movement and my aim at studying and working is to increase my sort of financial wealth, in such a way so that I can actually do some of the other things that I love.' (P21, male, business analyst)

Sub-themes related to balance

When considering the balance parameter, the Gen Ys in the sample gave various perspectives of ways in which balance contributes to their view of career success. Some participants suggested they should be able to separate work and life, thus achieving a comfortable balance. Others were satisfied with blurred edges in which work and personal life co-existed comfortably, or less comfortably. Overall, the research identified two distinct ways in which participants attempted to achieve balance: 'balance within time' or synchronic balance, and 'balance across time' or diachronic balance. Synchronic, in this regard, entails balancing work and personal commitments within a given shorter time frame. Conversely, diachronic refers to a pattern of balancing work and personal life over an extended period during which varying amounts of time and energy are given to each domain, depending on the need at a given moment.

Given the age range of the Gen Y cohort, most of the sample were in the process of establishing themselves in their line of work and were not yet financially secure. For this reason, many of them were prepared to spend very long hours at work to establish themselves in their careers and develop a basis for financial security. In many instances, this seemed a deliberate choice with the understanding that once they were more established in their careers, they would have earned the right to more personal and family time.

The mentioned balancing act differed among the participants and was influenced by the nature of their specific job and its flexibility as well as their unique personal circumstances. Other factors were their financial situation, spousal and family support, personal drive and ambition, and personal preferences. Several participants pointed out the importance of company culture and its emphasis on flexibility in the quest for balance:

'TechCo has that culture, that flexibility culture we have a flexible environment where you can do other things, other than work but make sure you still have your work, that you get your work done, so personally I can still train, I can still run errands during working hours and make up the time.' (P13, male, software testing)

While several participants mentioned the flexibility, one at least suggested this was dependent on a person's direct line manager and there seemed to be some differentiation here.

Balance within time (synchronic)

Participants referred to various ways in which they could balance their commitments within time. Firstly, several highlighted balancing their work and personal lives in physical terms, and suggested they would feel successful when able to live out a ' work-hard, play-hard philosophy' (P9). Participants stressed the value of having a healthy lifestyle to work more productively and perform at a higher level. Training during lunch hours was mentioned specifically, as the company has gym facilities. Participant 13 summed this up:

' if you are not healthy, I don't think that you will perform well, so if I was not allowed to train during the day, I think I would be a frustrated man if I go and run in lunch time I come back a better person, so I can focus and work around solutions.' (P13, male, software testing)

This solution focus is central to the challenge parameter, and further reinforces the possible relationships among the three parameters. This also provides a more personal view of balance - one in which employees are able to balance their own personal (e.g. training) and work needs. This is a variation on the way balance is conceptualised in Sullivan et al. (2009), who focus clearly on the work-family balance.

The second area contributing to participants' perception of success concerned emotional spillover from home to work, and vice versa, where they indicated how extremely difficult it was to separate these two domains from an emotional perspective:

' I said career success and personal life are two separate things but when you are - I think - happy in your career, your career plays such a huge role in your life, I think it does translate into your personal life.' (P6, female, talent branding)

While this reflects a positive spillover, participants cited several examples of emotional pressure that influenced their mood and ability to cope, thus affecting their functionality in other domains such as their work or family. Examples are the following: anxiety about the safety of a spouse, worrying about relatives who are ill, their job satisfaction, financial pressures and the responsibility to provide for their family.

Thirdly, relationships at home and at work were important to the participants, but made separating their work and personal life particularly challenging:

'But I think personal life, at least the way I do it, is just as much here at work as at home I say, "Ahh guys, I'm going overseas and my car is going to cost me nine grand. I'm devastated" I know we are all professional, but in a way you get a little work family.' (P21, male, business analyst)

Thus, work relationships provide a valuable source of emotional support and function to simulate family relationships. Relationships at home were also considered a means of vital support. In this regard, many participants referred to the value of spousal support both emotionally (being a 'cheerleader') and practically ('pulling their weight' in household responsibilities) as critical to career success.

Finally, the area of the task was assumed to be the easiest level at which work-life balance could be achieved. Nevertheless, given the nature of the work environment, the ideal of separating the two domains was not always possible as suggested by participant 20:

'I have this thing where, six o' clock I walk out the door, I can detach, uhm, I can go home and not think about work, unless it's like something really important that needs to be done, uhm, or someone calls me and says you know what, we have this issue, can you have a look at it?' (P20, male, software testing)

Matters that were attended to at home were found to be emails, doing standby work from home, work-related studies and spending time focusing on solutions for which there were no time at work. Some participants were unable to separate the two domains as they worked on standby:

' okay, so for me work impacts my social life quite badly uhm I work support 24/7 which means I get called any day any time, uhm, I mean a good example is Easter, Easter Friday I didn't do much, I worked from eight on Friday morning and I finished off at six on Saturday morning.' (P10, male, management)

Participants justified these intrusions into their home domain by viewing it as temporary. Thus, they were willing to make a reasonable sacrifice for what they perceived as rewards they could reap at a later stage. The notion of deferred benefits relates to balance over time, which is expounded below.

Balance over time (diachronic)

Balance over time means conceptualising work-life balance as a give-and-take relationship between the employees and their work, over an extended period of time, linked to various life stages. At times the Gen Y employees would be able to 'give' more, and other times they would need to 'take' more:

' like when you are single you know you have more time on your hands to give overtime, but later on, you know when you have kids and you are married and you have a family, uhm, you have less time - you know, some weeks might be less than nine to five.' (P19, male, software testing)

The age parameters associated with Gen Ys imply that they are in the early establishment phase (25-44 years) of their career (Super, 1980). Therefore, they are still developing work experience, building skills and beginning to stabilise their careers. Several young, single participants were comfortable about thinking ahead with the belief that they were establishing themselves and needed the knowledge, skills and experience as investment in their future:

'Right now it's not balanced, it's more of a work life, I work a lot, I work long hours so for me it's over the next three years I want to be in that management position where I can align everything and then obviously look at starting a family.' (P10, male, management)

Thus, this cohort of Gen Ys were content to make the sacrifices and invest in the extended hours as part of their development. They believed that when they had reached a particular level of seniority (broadly referred to as 'management') and maturity, they would have greater flexibility and the capacity to say No. Based on this sub-theme, it seems that balance over the short term was, thus, sacrificed on behalf of the longer term. Nevertheless, we had questions regarding how viable this belief actually was. The reason was that a number of our participants had already attained management positions, but were still struggling to balance their work and personal lives. Evidently, this area warrants further exploration.

Sub-themes related to challenge

Given the context in which the sample of Gen Y functions, 'challenge' was expected and confirmed to be a significant driver in employees' views of career success. Participants mentioned an element of challenge as a central feature for such success:

'I wanna say that it is human nature to be challenged; uhm, people do tend to stagnate [] so that challenge I don't know keeps the mind fresh, keeps the spirit fresh.' (P7, male, project management)

'A lack of challenge was viewed as 'the complete opposite of what we describe as career success.' (P19, male, software testing)

Central to the idea of challenge in this group of Gen Ys was the value of growth and development as contributing to career success. This notion is consistent with the literature on Gen Ys, though not included explicitly in the conceptualisation of 'challenge' by Sullivan et al. (2009).

Success implies growth

Participants posited a close relationship between career success and growth with participant 3, suggesting that success was authentic only if accompanied by growth. The reason was that they did not view success as a final static destination, rather a journey involving successive phases of growth:

'One can never say that there is complete success there is always room for growth or always new things that you can learn.' (P3, female, software testing)

'I could feel proficient in something today and in a year's time, not be proficient anymore because they have added a whole lot of things to it. So that is also what drives me to learn.' (P11, male, database administrator)

Because the context in which they function is constantly evolving, they too are required to develop, staying abreast of the developments in their field. The dynamic, fast-paced technological environment requires of Gen Ys to constantly learn and grow, thus providing a constant source of challenge. The emphasis on growth may attributable to the degree of change experienced in this particular industry but given the nature of the globalised world is likely to apply in other contexts as well.

Turning problems into opportunities

Coupled with the emphasis on growth was the ability to turn work problems into opportunities for development - consistent with findings by Sullivan et al. (2009). Participant 25 shared an experience - which he suggested was common in the company - of Gen Ys being promoted to managerial level at an extremely early age because of their technical competence. Such a promotion has two unintended consequences.

Firstly, the Gen Ys were no longer able to rely on the sense of achievement from being technically strong, which led to ambivalence about their career choices. Secondly, they found themselves in a position of being inexperienced in managerial competence and ill-equipped to hold their own against older and more experienced colleagues:

'You go in and you get totally steamrolled or out-snookered or out debated. I always take it quite personally, but to actually go and say, 'Well hang on a second, what have you learnt on that?' Because you might get beaten thirty times, but you will win that thirty first and the thirty second, so you use that in going forward.' (P25, male, IT management)

The importance of the above-mentioned insight into challenge for Gen Ys is two-fold. Firstly, it demonstrates participants' ability to make sense of these difficult moments, by choosing to focus on potential benefits and demonstrating tenacity in the face of adversity. Secondly, even though participants were initially outperformed by their more senior colleagues, they were able to learn from these situations and develop their own skills, applying what they had learnt to their own advantage.

Goal attainment as signifier of success

Closely related to growth, career success was also viewed as a process of setting and achieving goals:

'Career success, in my understanding is achieving your goals.' (P20, male, software testing)

However, this must not be considered as a once-off event, but rather a continual cycle of goal setting and achievement. Growth is attained by setting these 'realistic milestones' as mentioned by Participant 18, (a female project management), achieving these and then setting new, more challenging goals, allowing one to grow and develop further.

This meant that participants viewed career success not so much as a destination but rather a continual journey of milestones that provided feedback on progress and reassured the participants that they were continually successful:

'I felt like I have already reached my goal, but now I need to set higher goals and just raise that ladder there is always room for growth and there is always ladders to raise and there is always goals to set.' (P26, female, project management)

'I would say there is never an end goal of career success; there is always room to grow to the next level, get better at another area.' (P8, male, software development)

Inherent in the process of goal setting is the aim of career advancement, and part of the means by which this is achieved. The Gen Ys in the sample believed that career success would mean advancing through the hierarchy in the organisation; several mentioned moving to the next level, drawing on the metaphor of the ladder. The emphasis was, however, on advancement as means to grow and develop, and goal setting as the way to achieve this result. Once again, objective and subjective means of career success are interlinked, with subjective means of success, namely, growth and development, dependent on objective means, such advancing through the organisational hierarchy.



Outline of the results

The present study used the KCM as a framework to extract the meanings of subjective career success. The findings showed how fulfilling the needs for authenticity, balance and challenge may lead to feelings of career success. Thus, by providing an in-depth exploration of Gen Y's perceptions of subjective career success, the study contributes to a contextual understanding of this concept within an IT environment.

Firstly, the sample expressed the importance of making a difference, which is similar to a dimension of authenticity in the KCM scale by Sullivan et al. (2009). According to the participants, making a difference has both a task and relational dimension, focusing on being a role model as well as mentoring and coaching those around them. It could be argued that this may be attributed to the strong developmental focus of the company, often required within an IT environment. However, generational literature also highlights the need of Gen Ys for meaningful work through which they can make a difference (Blain, 2008). Thus, making a difference is a notion of authenticity that could be explored further.

Although Sullivan et al. (2009) focus on living a dream, the participants described work as an enabler for other equally important facets of their personal lives such as participation in sport. This is consistent with the literature on Gen Y that highlights this cohort's need and time for meaningful and satisfying activities outside of work (Kultalahti & Viitala, 2015; Ng et al., 2010). The participants clearly related the mentioned needs to their perception of career success.

Secondly, balance, as conceptualised by Sullivan et al. (2009), differed considerably from the way the sample sought ways to juggle both work and personal considerations. In the first instance, balance was conceptualised more broadly to encompass work and personal life. For the sample, the non-work domain did not only include family, but also reflected the various aspects of their personal lives. Several participants had significant personal projects outside of work, which were not family-related (e.g. exercise, sport or hobbies such as blogging and travelling), but which drove them to maintain a balance. This is in line with more contemporary work-family research (Keeney, Boyd, Sinha, Westring, & Ryan, 2013). Although the concept of work-life balance (also known as work-family balance) is a popular concept in work-family literature and known as a prominent facet that employees seek in the new career area (Epstein & Hershatter, 2014; Ng et al., 2010), Wayne, Butts, Casper and Allen (2017) argue the need for scholars to develop a more comprehensive theory of balance and build a cohesive body of research, conceptual elaboration and empirical examination of the existing approaches to work-family balance. In this regard, the current study adds to this conceptual understanding of balance within the KCM framework and the different time frames according to which balance is conceptualised. In the work-family literature, the seminal definition provided by Greenhaus and Allen (2011) defines work-family balance as 'the overall appraisal of the extent to which individuals' effectiveness and satisfaction in work and family roles are consistent with their life values at a given point in time'. In this explanation, work-family balance is viewed or described as a synchronic balance, where individuals attempt to obtain balance in their current situation or time. As mentioned previously, participants in this sample explained that they seek to achieve balance both within a given timeframe and over longer periods of time. This led to an explanation of how balance is viewed in the current time frame, as well as a strong emphasis on the future and how balance should be reflected over time to attain feelings of career success. These elements are new contributions in the work-family and KCM literature.

Thirdly, the sample furthermore described how elements of challenge led to feelings of career success. Given the qualitative nature of the present study, the researchers expanded on descriptions of challenge by Sullivan et al. (2009). Participants in the present study emphasised the need for growth and explained how work problems were turned into opportunities for development, which ultimately led to feelings of career success. According to the participants, success is never 'achieved' in a final form because the opportunity for growth is continuous. Closely related to growth, and a mechanism to achieve it, is goal setting. As was found, the latter is also viewed as cyclical, which reinforces the nature of 'milestones of success' (the researchers' phrasing) rather than a fixed point or destination. This is in line with previous research, which suggests that career success can be viewed as a life-long journey and an ongoing process of progression (Visagie & Koekemoer, 2014).

In light of the discussion above, it was suggested that the KCM provides a suitable lens through which to view the career success of Gen Ys in an IT environment. The initial development of this model to meet the flexibility requirements of women resonates well with the need for fluidity described by the Gen Y sample taken from an IT environment.

Limitations and recommendations

Firstly, the sample included primarily highly educated people working in an IT environment. In this context, certain limitations must be factored in. Firstly, conceptualisation of career success would only be transferable to IT and similar environments, which are characterised by extended working hours, fast-paced and demanding work schedules, a culture of flexibility and a work-family awareness. Although these findings may not represent the views of career success for all Gen Ys, they provide a starting point to explore career success among this generation group by applying the KCM.

Secondly, participants' views were gathered at a single point in time, and apart from the company website, the research relied heavily on interview data, which provided limited opportunity to verify these perspectives (Brown, 2010).

Practical implications

Based on the findings, the parameters of the KCM provide a useful framework that can be applied to attract and retain Gen Y employees. Regarding authenticity, participants emphasised making a difference in either task-related or relational terms. The postulation is that should Gen Ys be given the opportunity to lead through example (e.g. through formal performance agreements), they may experience feelings of career success. Specific opportunities could include mentoring and coaching, hierarchical reporting lines or informal career discussions among peers. However, such opportunities should give employees a genuine chance to 'make a difference', otherwise they will miss the challenge associated with such an opportunity. For instance, opportunities to solve problems, by setting either challenging short-term goals or strategic goals, may make them feel that they add value to the organisation and that this personal contribution is recognised as invaluable. Yet, as suggested by the data, such a management style depends on the organisational culture. Therefore, organisations should become more cognisant of formal policies and procedures that may inhibit Gen Ys' autonomy and initiatives.

The research findings indicate that organisations operating within an IT setting could retain their Gen Ys better if the latter perceive their work environment as supporting their preferred lifestyle and if they experience a measure of work-life balance (Ryan & Deci, 2000). It is suggested that this aspect should be monitored more closely to ensure consistent use across the organisation. Furthermore, from a career development point of view, these findings could assist counsellors when counselling employees from this cohort who may struggle with issues of balance, as the study has provided greater understanding of balance within time frames as well as across time frames. Various types of balance within a time frame are also highlighted that may guide more focussed interventions in this regard. During counselling sessions, these aspects can be explored more. Organisations (by implication managers) should also take note of these findings, as they should be cognisant of the way in which employees attempt to balance their work and family demands. They could support employees by rethinking the demands they make on their employees, as they sometimes are willing to give more to their careers, and at other times their family is prioritised. A further inference from the findings is the importance of setting goals that describe the career, tasks or strategies for Gen Ys. The reason is that goal setting seems to be linked closely to their growth and development as well as their career success. In the whole, the present study adds valuable insights into authenticity, balance and challenge as parameters of the KCM, which can be applied in a strategy to retain Gen Y employees in contemporary IT careers.

It is recommended that similar studies be conducted in Gen Y cohorts in other contexts quite different from the current one to see whether similar perspectives exist, thus providing a comprehensive understanding of this very important cohort.



This research is based on work supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) under the reference number TTK14051567368. Thank you to the National Research Foundation provided funding for this research. The authors also acknowledge that opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication generated by the NRF supported research is that of the authors and that the NRF accepts no liability whatsoever in this regard. They would also like to acknowledge and thank Emari Erxleben for conducting the interviews.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and are not necessarily attributed to the National Research Foundation.

Authors' contributions

E.K. was responsible for the main conceptualisation of the study, writing of the article and analysis of the data. A.C. focussed on analysis of the data and writing of results and methodology section.



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Eileen Koekemoer

Received: 25 Jan. 2019
Accepted: 01 Apr. 2019
Published: 10 June 2019



1 . 'TechCo' is a pseudonym representing Technology Company
2 . A total of 26 interviews were conducted, of which 24 formed the basis of the final analysis.
3 . As indicated a total of 26 interviews were conducted, of which 24 formed the basis of the final analysis.

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Preliminary development of the Higher Education Hindrance Demands Scale amongst academics in the South African context



Nelesh Dhanpat; Roslyn de Braine; Madelyn Geldenhuys

Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Over the past two decades, since the advent of democracy in South Africa, the country has undergone transformation in virtually all sectors of society. Education is no exception, with higher education institutions (HEIs) also experiencing change. The transformation of HEIs has brought about many new challenges, demands and stresses that may hinder the work performance of academics
RESEARCH PURPOSE: This study seeks to determine the 'hindrance demands' unique to the South African context by developing and validating the Higher Education Hindrance Demands Scale (HEHDS). This scale includes a set of demands placed on academics' experiences in this context
RESEARCH APPROACH, DESIGN AND METHOD: Data were collected from 184 academic staff members from HEIs based on a quantitative research design using a cross-sectional survey. Data were analysed through exploratory factor analysis (EFA), while the reliability of the scale was obtained through Cronbach's coefficient alpha.
MAIN FINDINGS: The results produced, as anticipated, a six-factor model consisting of: (1) workload, (2) higher education unrest, (3) change management, (4) decolonisation, (5) online teaching and learning and (6) psychological safety. The findings indicated excellent reliability, ranging between 0.74 and 0.90
PRACTICAL AND MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: Taking into consideration the context in which HEIs operate in South Africa, it is noteworthy that the recommendations in this article will assist in identifying the hindrance demands placed on academic staff. Researchers in the field are therefore called to validate the instrument developed through the use of confirmatory factor analysis.
CONTRIBUTIONS OR VALUE-ADD: This study adds to the limited research on hindrance demands placed on staff in HEIs.

Keywords: Hindrance demands; higher education institutions; academic work; job demands; exploratory factor analysis; test construction.




There is an increase in the demand for higher education and this seems to be a worldwide phenomenon (Altbach, Resiburg, & Rumbley, 2010; Guruz, 2011; Schofer & Meyer, 2005). Since the transition of apartheid to democracy, higher education institutions (HEIs) in South Africa have undergone significant transformation (Herbst & Conradie, 2011) and remain in the process of being reformed and restructured (Badat, 2010; King, Margison, & Naidoo, 2011). Change that occurs in higher education brings about the perception that overall improvement is taking place (Van Niekerk & Geertsema, 2009); however, this places greater levels of stress on HEI staff and, specifically, academics.

South African HEIs were impacted by structural changes, which resulted from the mergers of technikons and universities. This led to an increase in bureaucracy (Debowski, 2007), which has impacted institutions and employees (Arnold, Stofile, & Lillah, 2013; Pienaar & Bester, 2006). These changes have placed various demands on academics in South Africa. Such changes are likely to impact employees' work as they experience specific career dilemmas, namely, increased levels of job dissatisfaction (Phillips & Connell, 2003), intention to leave, breach of psychological contracts, break in employee-employer relationships, decline in commitment and job security, and increased workload (Theron & Dodd, 2011).

In order for HEIs to be effective, the successful functioning and sustainability of any institution is significantly influenced by the careers of academic staff and their retention (Ng'ethe, Amusonge, & Iravo, 2012). Academic work is characterised as being self-managed, intrinsically motivating and highly individualised. Such work requires high levels of personal commitment (Bellamy Morley, & Watty, 2003; Langford, Ref; Lyons & Ingersoll, 2010; Oshagbemi, 2000; Van Theron, Barkhuizen, & Du Plessis, 2014).

Academics have experienced an increase in their workload due to the high volume of students, demands from other academic staff and the pressure to produce increased research output (Barkhuizen, Rothmann, & Van De Vijver, 2014; Kenny & Fluck, 2014), which may prove to be counter-productive for some academics (Munro, O'Meara, & Kenny, 2016). Employees in an academic setting may therefore experience a unique set of challenges and thus be exposed to varying pressures compared to their non-academic counterparts (for instance, employees within the corporate sector).

It is evident that today's academia presents a stressful environment (Kinman & Jones, 2003; Mostert, Rothmann, Mostert, & Nell, 2008; Rothmann & Jordaan, 2006). The unique context of transformation in South Africa places additional stress on academics, which is likely to lead to burnout (Rothmann & Barkhuizen, 2008) and psychological ill health (Jackson, Rothmann, & Van De Vijver, 2006; Mahomed & Naudé, 2006).

In terms of the South African context, various studies exist, which focus on HEIs with regard to job demands and job resources (Barkhuizen, Roodt, & Schutte, 2014), work engagement of academics (Bezuidenhout & Cilliers, 2010; Pienaar & Bester, 2006; Rothmann & Jordaan, 2006), work-related well-being (Jackson et al., 2006) and occupational stress experienced by academics (Barkhuizen & Rothmann, 2008; Coetzee & Rothmann, 2005). However, none of these studies have documented the effects of the hindrance demands on academics, hence the rationale for the current study. With the development of the 'hindrance demands' scale, the study aims to measure more specific demands placed on academics. The value of such a scale will be its ability to provide insights into these challenges and the way in which they are perceived. The study therefore sets out to identify specific hindrance demands specific to the South African academia context, such as workload, higher education unrest, change management, decolonisation, online teaching and learning and psychological safety. Hence, there is the need to develop and validate the hindrance demands scale for higher education.


Study objectives

The objectives of the study can be formulated as follows:

  • to theoretically discuss demands placed on staff in higher education within a South African context.

  • to evaluate the construct validity of the Higher Education Hindrance Demands Scale (HEHDS) through exploratory factor analysis.

Hindrance demands

Hindrance demands are a set of demands that can be framed within the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model. According to Bakker and Demerouti (2007), demands within this model are considered as stressors. The concept of hindrance demands relates to negative demands that are likely to impact personal growth and trigger negative emotions, leading to distress (LePine, Podsakoff, & LePine, 2005).

The JD-R model is a theoretical framework that integrates two independent research traditions: stress and motivation research (Demerouti & Bakker, 2011). It was developed by Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, and Schaufeli (2001). This model postulates that every occupation (or organisation) is likely to have its own work characteristics associated with well-being. The model integrates and elaborates upon previously developed job characteristics models such as the Demand Control Model (Karasek, 1979) and the Effort Reward Imbalance Model (Siegrist, 1996).

A growing interest exists to understand the positive experiences of employees, which include their optimal functioning (Luthans, 2002; Seligman & Csikzenthmihalyi, 2000). However, in the context of this study, it is apparent that there is a need to determine the aspects of work that may hinder optimal functioning of academics in HEIs. Stressors in the workplace can reduce optimal functioning of employees. However, it should be noted that even though stressors exist in an occupation, they may not always present harmful reactions. According to Podsakoff, LePine, and LePine (2007), some stressors may potentially spur personal growth and achievement. These are referred to as challenge stressors and can be differentiated from the stressors that employees consider as constraining their personal development or work accomplishment.

Hindrance stressors influence employee turnover intention, employee loyalty, job attitudes and satisfaction (Boswell, Olson-Buchanan, & Lepine, 2004; Podsakoff et al., 2007) as well as task performance and withdrawal behaviour (Lepine et al., 2005; Podsakoff et al., 2007). Challenge stressors consist of job or role demands, quantitative and subjective workload, time pressures and pressure to complete tasks, job scope and responsibility. Hindrance stressors consist of situational constraints, hassles, organisational politics, resource inadequacies, role ambiguity, role conflict, role overload and concerns about job security (Cavanaugh, Boswell, Roehling, & Boudreau, 2000; Lepine et al., 2005; Podsakoff et al., 2007).

It must be acknowledged that job demands may act as hindrance or challenge demands (Bakker & Sanz-Vergel, 2013). The JD-R model postulates that there are job demands which may hinder employees by draining their energy. According to Tims, Bakker, and Derks (2013), prolonged exposure to work that has high job demands will deplete employees' levels of well-being. Certain demands can cause negative emotions and inhibit employees' work goals and well-being. In such instances, hindrance demands act as a barrier, preventing employees from achieving their goals (Siu, 2013).

Higher Education Hindrance Demand Scale

This study is based on the premise that hindrance demands exist and affect the work performed by academic staff. It goes beyond simply measuring whether academic staff experience work overload and goes on to include the various types of demands that cause stress. This brings to the fore the need for such an instrument to be developed and validated within a South African context.

Ideally, this measure contributes to the most recent occurrences at universities and current events in South African HEIs. The scale consists of 29 items of which 7 items capture workload, 4 items capture higher education unrest and 5 items capture each of the following: change management, decolonisation and online teaching and learning. The last dimension, psychological safety, is captured through three items. All items in the scale were measured on a seven-response format. This response format is in line with methodological recommendations and is regularly used in studies (Weijters, Cabooter, & Schillewaert, 2010). A seven-point scale contains a mid-point, which ensures measurement quality (Nowlis, Kahn, & Dhar, 2002). According to Weijters et al. (2010), a seven-response format is less problematic as it provides more categories and is best used for populations who rank high on cognitive ability.

In terms of scale development, a series of steps were followed:

  • Application of a theoretical base: the parameters (variables) of the study were identified. Furthermore, Conversations, themes and forums that were common within South African institutions were discussed and decided upon to assist in the generation of items. A small group meeting led by international scholars Arnold Bakker and Eva Demerouti initiated discussion on the items of hindrance demands to be included in the scale.

  • Item generation: statements were generated through inductive and deductive approaches. The deductive approach followed the review of literature (Hinkin, 1995). The inductive approach involved reviewing qualitative information on the construct through exploratory research methodologies (Kapuścinski & Masters, 2010).

  • Measurement format and item development: experts were approached to comment on the appropriateness, relevance and suitability of the questions. This allowed suggestions to be made on the structure of the questionnaire (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2009). The aim of pre-testing was to determine the strengths and weaknesses (format, wording and order of questions) of the questionnaire before using it for data collection.

  • Conduct an item analysis to eliminate inadequate items: an expert panel of 10 academics reviewed the scale and were asked to rate the items in terms of adequacy, relevance and structure, to provide feedback on the language with regard to confusing wording or items and to suggest recommendations.

  • Design and conducting developmental study: the retained items were administered to the appropriate sample with the objective of examining how well those items confirmed expectations regarding the psychometric properties (Hinkin, Tracey, & Enz, 1997). The survey was thus administered to academics in HEIs in South Africa.

In this study, the following dimensions can be considered as a hindrance demand and have been delineated as items measured on the HEHDS.

The scales were developed based on the unique nature of HEIs in South Africa and its associated challenges faced at the time of development of the scale. Notably, there are dimensions from existing scales which were adapted from the JD-R scale, namely, workload. Although the JD-R scale exists, the dimensions are not unique to higher education. The intention of developing such a scale was not to create many items or even a lengthy questionnaire. The HEHDS is seen as a brief measure and we acknowledge that brief measures have certain psychometric limitations (Widaman, Liitle, Preacher, & Sawalani, 2011). The nature of the scale is meant to be narrow. We acknowledge that there are a few items in the scale, however, where there is a possibility that higher order factors could exist.

Work overload

In terms of occupational stress, the concept of workload relates to job demands that may result in or contribute to the development of stress or injury. This is characterised as a psychosocial hazard (MacDonald, 2003). It is noted that the job demands of academic staff are ascribed to various factors, one of which is work overload (Barkhuizen & Rothmann, 2008). Working long hours and the intensification of work have become a common factor in the modern-day workplace (Sang, Powell, Finkel, & Richards, 2015). A frequent occurrence amongst academic staff is the blurring of boundaries between work and home (Wright, Williamson, Schauder, & Stockfeld, 2003). Similar patterns of work have been observed internationally (Bagilhole & White, 2013). The work environment of universities has changed over the last decade and the work performed by academics has been altered from secure and autonomous to insecure and invisible (May, Strachan, & Peetz, 2013). This has resulted in significant changes in the working conditions of academia (Rainnie, Goods, Barns, & Burgess, 2013). Hence, it is critical to assume that workload has the likelihood to hinder academic work.

Workload was measured by seven items on a seven-response format, which ranged from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree, and 1 = never to 7 = always. An example of an item in this dimension is 'I work under time pressure'. The items in this dimension were adapted from the workload scale of Rothmann and Jordaan (2006), which scored an acceptable alpha of 0.76, and the workload dimension of Roberts, Lapidus, and Chonko (1997), which scored an acceptable alpha of 0.82.

Higher education unrest

Several manifestations of student protests have occurred over recent years, particularly from 2015 to 2017. These acted as a mechanism for students to have their voices and concerns raised on decisions made by their institutions (Kamsteeg, 2016). South African HEIs were marred by multiple student protests, such as the 'Rhodes Must Fall' campaign and the 'Fees Must Fall' campaign (Dell, 2015; Rantao, 2015). Such unrest caused major damage to institutions, namely, disruption of the academic calendar and revision of exam dates (Pijoos, 2016), damage to buildings and disruption of examinations (Petersen, 2016). Public HEIs across South Africa were subjected to unrest and violence (Hall, 2016), where artwork, statues and buildings were damaged. Hall (2016) further states that this brought about brutal clashes and confrontations between the police and student factions.

In light of the 'Fees must fall' campaign, tuition fee increases had significant implications for higher education access. At the increases of fees, students protested, at times violently, arguing that high fees make education inaccessible to poor students (Wangenge-Ouma, 2012). In light of these incidents, it is likely that university employees, their work and entrance into the institution were impacted. Based on the aforementioned literature, it was deemed necessary to measure unrest in HEIs in South Africa. In terms of the measurement, unrest pertains to any disruption that takes place at HEIs, as we live in a time fuelled with unrest.

Higher education unrest was measured with four items on a seven-response format, which ranged from 1 = never to 7 = always. An example of an item in this dimension is 'Due to student protests, my work was negatively affected'.

Change management

The concept of change affects all facets of society, bringing about uncertainty and creating new possibilities of how to manage changes (Bowin, 2001). Similarly, organisations function in environments that are continuously changing, which presents both risks and opportunities. It could be argued that the introduction of certain changes is essential for the survival of an organisation. However, there are instances in which change, if not managed effectively, will result in the failure of an organisation (Govender & Rampersad, 2016).

South African HEIs were reconfigured in 2001, resulting in institutional restructuring to meet the needs of a developing democracy and paving the way for a new higher education landscape. In this regard, HEI systems were challenged by policy issues (Badat, 2009), mergers of technikons and universities, equity, access and quality (Le Grange, 2011).

According to Vandeyar (2010), HEIs are inherently resistant to change because of global pressures and international competitiveness. In light of the changes that occur within tertiary institutions, changes such as mergers can result in flagging staff morale, job insecurity and redeployment (Seijts & Farrell, 2003). In addition, Seijts and Farrell (2003) suggest that if change is not perceived as a means of creating positive outcomes, employees are likely to resist such initiatives. In terms of higher education literature, the work duties of an academic have been transformed in terms of work tasks and conditions of employment (Enders & Teichler, 1997; Schuster & Finkelstein, 2008).

Higher education institutions are prone to increased levels of uncertainty from societal change because of the production of knowledge (Barnett, 2000). In addition, academics have come to work under a 'managerial paradigm' which affects the way they work and in which they are managed (Barnett, 2012). Gill (2014) notes that essential changes in work at HEIs fail to sufficiently document the experiences of employees. Notably, changes that take place are likely to affect the way in which academics perform their work.

Change management was measured through seven items on a seven-response format, which ranged from 1 = never to 7 = always. An example of an item in this dimension is 'There are continuous changes in processes and procedures which impact my job'.


A series of protest campaigns to 'decolonise' academia commenced around 2015 at universities throughout South Africa (Wamai, 2016). Decolonisation refers to addressing the colonial legacy (knowledge, violence and thought) (Pillay, 2015), which is still entrenched within education in South African HEIs (Heleta, 2016), and is perceived as a response to first- and second-generation colonialism (Le Grange, 2016).

Critical changes to the curricula in HEIs have not taken place for nearly a century, and they remain significantly unchanged despite the monumental shifts in the political landscape (Ramrathan, 2016). Such changes include moving away from colonial influences (Heleta, 2016). In terms of transformation, HEIs should include changes in the curriculum and epistemology as well as teaching and learning (Du Preez, Simmonds, & Verhoef, 2016). According to McKaiser (2016), HEIs in South Africa remain entrenched in a colonial outpost mentality and the few changes that have occurred have been superficial and were initiated through the response of policies, namely, professional bodies, qualification frameworks and curriculum frameworks (Ramrathan, 2016). Moreover, Mbembe (2016) indicates that syllabi are designed in a manner to meet the needs of colonialism; hence, it is important to bring about significant epistemological changes in HEIs. Although universities have developed policies and frameworks on change, transformation, equality and equity, they have still not progressively changed (Heleta, 2016).

The debate around the decolonisation of the curriculum is positioned within the context of universities that are strained from various quarters, notably, lack of government funding, increased running costs and increased student access, which makes time-intensive learning processes all the more expensive and unwelcome from a managerial perspective (Kamanzi, 2016). In order for the scholarship of academia and the curriculum to become decolonised, HEIs need to address matters by finding leaders, academics and administrators who possess knowledge of and passion for African content. Because of the past political landscape, white academics were out of touch with such knowledge (Mkhize, 2015). The recent initiation of decolonisation in HEIs may have an impact on academics and their work. With its continuation and universities prioritising decolonising imperatives, it is essential to see the way in which it is being perceived by academics.

Decolonisation was measured by five items on a seven-response format, which ranged from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. An example of an item on this dimension is 'Decolonisation of higher education will bring about changes in the way in which I approach my work'.

Online teaching and learning

Fundamental changes in higher education have shifted the role of academics as they become increasingly involved in the changing nature of teaching, namely, online education (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004). The reform of teaching and learning has occurred through the use of technology which has highlighted change and transformation (Strobel & Tillberg-Webb, 2008). The proliferation of online technologies in higher education has resulted in transformation for students and teachers (Collis, 1996; Palloff & Pratt, 1999). The vast differences between traditional teaching and online teaching bring about advantages and disadvantages (Oliver & Herrington, 2001).

According to Allen and Seaman (2013), faculty staff members are increasingly prone to resisting online learning. They resist online teaching and learning as they perceive that educational values and culture are being threatened (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004). Concerns that arise from online teaching and learning include an increase in workload, lack of resources and technological skills and training as well as pedagogical concerns (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004; Hunt et al., 2014; Johnson, Wisniewski, Kuhlemeyer, Isaacs, & Krzykowski, 2012; Power & Gould-Morven, 2011). These concerns are also heightened amongst faculty members who have little or no experience with online teaching (Herman, 2012). Such academics cite fear and resist change to online learning. Some senior academics prefer to hold on to traditional face-to-face teaching (Goolnik, 2012). Academics may perceive that they are being challenged and are inadequately skilled to utilise technologically based teaching and learning tools. With online teaching and learning becoming a reality in HEIs, it is essential to establish whether it is considered a hindrance.

Online teaching and learning was measured by five items on a seven-response format, which ranged from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. An example of an item on this dimension is 'The drive towards online teaching and learning in my department is progressing well'.

Psychological safety

Early research by Kahn (1990) refers to psychological safety as one's ability to apply and show the fear of consequences towards one's career, self-image and status. In more recent research, Edmondson and Lei (2014) explain that psychological safety refers to the feeling of safety whereby people are able to perform effectively in a rapidly changing world under the circumstances of growing and learning. Psychological safety assists people in overcoming barriers to change and learning and work environments that are interpersonally challenging (Edmondson, Higgins, Singer, & Weiner, 2016).

Edmondson, Bohmer, and Pisano (2001) assert that psychological safety is particularly important in environments that are characterised by complexity, high stakes and essential human interactions. There is a likelihood that individuals feel safe in environments where they are able to express themselves without fear of reprisal, being victimised or penalised. When conditions are perceived by individuals as unpredictable and ambiguous, a lack of psychological safety may be experienced (Chikoko, Buitendach, & Kanengoni, 2014).

Psychological safety influences the way in which an individual engages with his or her work. Factors that affect psychological safety are behavioural norms, supervisory relations and relationships between co-workers (Kahn, 1990). Edmondson (1999) notes that psychological safety varies amongst organisations and workgroups.

Academic staff in HEIs face challenges in their daily work that may lesson their sense of psychological safety. A climate may exist within the organisation, which may impact the psychological safety of staff members. The concept of psychological safety asserts itself with elements that allow for consistent social systems that are non-threatening and predictable to be created. This allows social situations to prevail and, hence, allows for engagement (Kahn, 1990). Therefore, it is imperative to assess the psychological safety of academics.

Psychological safety was drawn from Kahn (1990) and included three items on a seven-response format, where 7 = strongly agree, and 1 = never and 7 = always. An example of an item on this dimension is 'I am afraid to be myself at work'. Olivier and Rothmann (2007) reported an acceptable Cronbach's alpha coefficient of 0.71.



Research design, setting and respondents

A non-probability sampling method was utilised and through a convenience sample data were collected from academics across universities in South Africa. Questionnaires were completed online; in total, 184 responses were received from academic staff. The size of a sample is deemed essential for factor analysis and varying guidelines exist in this regard (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007; Williams, Onsman, & Brown, 2010). Hair, Anderson, Tatham, and Black (1995) and Comrey (1973) suggest that a sample size of 100 participants is considered sufficient and fair. It is noted that the sample size is small for factor analysis. This, however, does not invalidate the results and, hence, should be interpreted with caution.

The majority of the sample comprised women (56%) and men accounted for 44%. The participants comprised academic staff, with the majority of them employed as lecturers (40.8%), followed by senior lecturers (27.2%), associate professors and professors (19.6%), heads of departments/schools (5.4%), junior lecturers (2.2%), other (3.8%) and researchers (1.1%). The white race group (52.3%) was the most represented in the sample. The majority of the population had a master's degree (31%). A high proportion of employees were permanently employed (90.8%) by their institutions in comparison to staff members who held temporary positions (2.2%). In terms of tenure, staff members had been employed at the HEIs for 0-5 years (28.8%), followed by 6-10 years (24.5%), 11-20 years (21.7%) and greater than 20 years (12.5%). The average age of employees was 43 years (SD = 10.48 years), and ranged between 23 and 67 years. It must be noted that 91.8% of the population was representative of the Faculty of Commerce.

Data analyses

Statistical analysis was carried out using R Studio 3.2.0 (R Development Core Team, 2015). Descriptive statistics were obtained for all factors on the hindrance demands scale and the data were analysed in terms of mean, standard deviation, skewness, kurtosis and Cronbach's alpha coefficient of each item. The current study utilised exploratory factor analysis to examine construct validity of the HEHDS. To determine the suitability of the factor structure, the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy and Bartlett's test of sphericity (Burton & Mazerolle, 2011; Pallant, 2011) were analysed. With this analysis, the bootstrap function was conducted with 1000 iterations. This function allows for the construction of confidence intervals (Kim, Kim, & Schmidt, 2007). It is valuable in estimating biases and variances and constructs confidence intervals in complex data sets (Ichikawa & Konishi, 1995).

In terms of KMO, the index ranged from 0 to 1, and a recommended value of 0.6 and above is considered suitable (Pallant, 2011). Items that are grouped into a set of interpretable factors can efficiently explain the constructs under investigation (Burton & Mazerolle, 2011). Bartlett's test of sphericity provides a chi-square output which should be significant at <0.05 as recommended by Pallant (2011).

The study used unweighted least-squares method (minimum residual - MinRes) as the factor extraction method. To determine model fit, absolute and incremental fit indices were determined. The absolute fit indices for this study were the following: chi-square (χ2), fit statistic, the standardised root mean residual (SRMR) and the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA). The assessment of incremental fit indices included the Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI) (Hair, Black, Babin, Andersen, & Tatham, 2010). The study utilised the rule of thumb whereby an RMSEA 0.05 indicates close approximate fit, values between 0.05 and 0.08 indicate reasonable error of approximation and an RMSEA 0.10 suggests a poor fit (Kline, 2005). In terms of the indices, if the TLI value is greater than roughly 0.90, this may suggest a reasonably good fit of the model, whereas values less than 0.10 are considered favourable. Consequently, the model with the largest TLI as well as the lowest RMSEA and SRMR is considered the best fit. The TLI can substantially improve models with an overall fit of less than 0.90 (Bentler & Bonett, 1980). The comparative fit index, namely, Bayesian information criterion (BIC), is indicative of model parsimony (Kline, 2011).


The initial examination of the HEHDS used Kaiser-Guttman's criterion, while Cartell's scree plot was used to determine the number of factors to be extracted. The KMO measure of sampling adequacy for the hindrance demands scale, which contained 29 items in the first iteration, was 0.8. This exceeded the recommended value of 0.6 (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007). It is notable that normality and homoscedasticity preconditions for the study were fulfilled. The scree plot indicated that the five factors should be retained; however, the parallel analysis suggested six factors and six components. Hence, both models were tested to determine the number of factors to be extracted and to determine model fits. In this analysis, the bootstrap function was conducted with 100 iterations. The bootstrap function allows for the construction of confidence intervals (Kim et al., 2007).

The fits of the five- and six-factor models were then compared (see Table 1). Model 1 represents the five-factor solution with items loading freely on the five factors, while Model 2 is the six-factor solution with items loading freely on the six factors (as hypothesised). The fit indices of both models were satisfactory.



From the examination of the chi-square fit statistics for Model 1 (p < 0.000) and Model 2 (p < 0.000), it was inferred that Model 2 had a better fit. The TLI values were regarded as satisfactory for both the five-factor (0.755) and the six-factor (0.848) models. Reasonable error of approximation was indicated with regard to RMSEA for Model 1 (0.0790) and Model 2 (.062). Based on the squared mean square residual (SMSR), both models provided favourable results (Model 1 = 0.05 and Model 2 = 0.04), which were lower than the suggested cut-off point of < 0.10. The BIC value suggested that the five-factor model (-829.350) has a better fit than the six-factor model (-865.17) and, hence, allowed for differentiation between the competing models. In addition, 90% intervals were reported. Based on the aforementioned results, Model 2 has a suitable fit and factor structure.

The 29 items of the six-factor model of the HEHDS were subjected to a factor analysis using unweighted least square method (minimum residual - MinRes) and a direct oblimin rotation. Upon inspection of the analysis, the factor loadings that remained were undefined and unstructured. Hence, an uncorrelated factor solution was tested and the results indicated that the data best fitted an uncorrelated factor solution

Factor solutions

Based on the statistical fit presented in Table 1, it was suggested that the six-factor analysis should be further inspected to facilitate the interpretation of the models and, hence, the respective factor solutions were examined. Solutions that presented two or more factors could have different factor structures and hence explain the data equally well. Factor loadings that were below the cut-off point of 0.30 were interpreted as non-significant (Diekhoff, 1992) and were not considered during the examination of the factor matrix. The standardised factor loadings for the six-factor solution indicated that the items DECO2, DECO1, OTL1 and OTL4 were to be removed as they did not load against any factors and were considered non-interpretative, which also scored low communalities between 0.14 and 0.23 (see Table 2). In addition, the items CHMAN 1, CHMAN5 and CHMAN4 loaded on more than one factor. These were considered problematic and were hence removed.



The remaining factor loadings for this solution ranged between 0.36 and 0.88, which is indicative of fairly strong to very strong factor loadings. The communalities ranged between 0.20 and 0.80. Evidently, the majority of the values fell above the cut-off point of >0.40. Furthermore, the solution provided six clearly defined sub-clusters, thus providing significant support for the six-factor model.

A second iteration of factor analysis was conducted using the unweighted least-squares method (MinRes). All items loaded accordingly on six factors and the factor loadings ranged from 0.31 to 0.89, with communalities ranging between 0.19 and 0.88. The item CHMAN1 loaded on more than one factor and hence it was decided to remove the factor and conduct the third iteration of the factor analysis.

The third iteration of the factor analysis was conducted (see Table 3) using the unweighted least-squares method (MinRes) and the respective solutions were examined. The factor solutions presented different factor structures and explained the data well. The second iteration data, CHMAN1, were removed. The standardised pattern matrix containing the factor loadings for the revised six-factor solution is indicated in Table 4. All of the factor loadings fell above the suggested cut-off point of 0.30 and ranged from 0.35 to 0.90, which is indicative of fairly strong to very high factor loadings. Communalities for the final structure ranged between 0.19 and 0.88, with the majority of the values falling above the cut-off point of >0.40. The solution indicated six clearly defined sub-clusters, thus providing significant support for the six-factor model. The proportion of variance explained by the six factors was examined. Factor 1 accounted for 10% of the variance, while Factor 2 accounted for 20%. Factors 3 and 4 of the six-factor model explained 33% and 42% of the variance, respectively. Fifty per cent of the variance was explained by Factor 5, while 57% was explained by Factor 6.





All the factors achieved acceptable Cronbach's alpha coefficients, ranging from 0.77 (lowest) to 0.90 (highest). Hence, the scale satisfied the requirements of internal consistency.



The primary aim of this study was to develop the HEHDS within the South African context. The primary focus was to develop a scale to measure hindrance demands. The scale design was based on the hindrance demands apparent within the South African higher education context. The study set out to achieve a six-factor scale, which was achieved through exploratory factor analysis.

The reliability of the HEHDS was assessed using Cronbach's alpha coefficient. The overall reliability derived from the instrument was acceptable, as all alphas were above the cut-off point of 0.70 (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994). This is indicative of good reliability and internal consistency of the instrument. Table 3 depicts the mean, standard deviation, skewness and kurtosis for each of the final 22 items of the HEHDS. According to the descriptive statistics, there were no problematic items present with regard to skewness and kurtosis and hence the scale can be considered as normally distributed, based on the cut-off points for skewness (< 2) and kurtosis (< 4). The mean values for items ranged from 2.891 (PSAF3) to 5.641 (WL5). Normality and homoscedasticity preconditions for the study were fulfilled as the KMO was 0.80 and Bartlett's test of sphericity reached statistical significance. This indicates that the correlation matrix of the HEHDS was acceptable and supported factorability.

Determining the factor structure

Upon inspection of the parallel analysis and scree plot, it was suggested that a five-factor and a six-factor structure should be considered. Consequently, both structures were tested. However, based on the fit statistics, the six-factor structure fitted the data best and was also in line with the overall hypothesis of this study, namely, higher education unrest, workload, psychological safety, decolonisation, online teaching and learning and change management. It is not uncommon for academic work to be affected by numerous job demands, such as work overload, job insecurity, and lack of growth opportunities, which affect people in the workplace (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007), and more specifically, different types of job demands, such as emotional demands and physical demands (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). Previous research further supports an expanded model of job demands and job resources which can affect stress at work (Barkhuizen, 2005; Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Demerouti & Bakker, 2011).

Factor rotation

The solutions of the exploratory factor analysis for a five-factor and a six-factor model were evaluated and compared. The goodness of fit indices and the model parameters were examined. The goodness of fit indices for both the five-factor model (TLI = 0.755; RMSEA = 0.079; report root-mean-square residuals [RMSR] = 0.05) and the six-factor model (TLI = 0.848; RMSR = 0.062; RMSR = 0.04) solutions were satisfactory. However, the five-factor model produced a lower BIC value (-829.35) than the six-factor model (-865.17). Hence, the six-factor model was deemed more suitable.

Following this, the proposed six-factor model containing the 29 items was subjected to a further iteration of exploratory factor analysis with an uncorrelated factor solution.

Item fit

The inspection of the results from the first iteration analysis of the six-factor model suggested that problematic items were present. Such items loaded on more than one factor. CHMAN5 (Changes in the leadership in my work environment make me feel unsettled about the university's future), CHMAN1 (I feel insecure about my job due to changes in my work environment) and CHMAN4 (Changes within my work environment make me feel anxious about my job) loaded on the factors 'change management' and 'psychological safety'. It is likely that the way in which the item of change management was expressed is similar to that of psychological safety or bears resemblance to items measured under psychological safety. The overlapping factors are likely to suggest that the respective items do not provide adequate distinction or clarification for the factor upon which the double loading exists, except for CHMAN1, which loaded adequately on psychological safety. Hence, those items were considered problematic and discarded.

In addition, items DECO2 (Decolonisation of higher education makes me feel unsettled about my work) and DECO1 (Decolonisation of higher education will bring about changes in the way in which I approach my work) did not load on any factor. The concept of decolonisation is fairly new and refers to colonial legacy (knowledge, violence and thought) (Pillay, 2015) within academia in South African HEIs (Heleta, 2016). It is likely that the concept could be defined differently or perceived differently by academics and hence could possibly influence how it is measured.

OTL4 (My involvement in online teaching and learning initiatives has left me feeling anxious about my work) and OTL1 (The drive towards online teaching and learning in my department is progressing well) did not present any factor loadings and hence were discarded. It is possible that online teaching and learning may not have had a presence in the department or institution and may therefore not have been interpreted well.

The remainder of the 22 items, with the removal of items DECO2, CHMAN5, CHMAN4, DECO1, OTL5 and OTL1, attained factor loadings that ranged from 0.36 to 0.88, while communalities ranged between 0.20 and 0.80. This provided an insight that a further iteration of factor analysis was required and, hence, a third iteration was conducted to include 22 items to determine a finalised structure.

The fit statistics of the final 22-item scale indicated good fit and showed improvement from the original 29-item scale, which was done in the first iteration, and is indicative of a suitable structure. Hence, it can be confirmed as the final factor structure of the HEHDS which includes 22 items, still defined under the following six factors: (1) higher education unrest, (2) work load, (3) change management, (4) decolonisation, (5) online teaching and learning and (6) psychological safety.

Limitations and recommendations for future research

It should be noted that scientific research is rarely without limitations. This study has several limitations which need to be addressed. Limitations included that the data were based on a convenience sample and did not utilise probability sampling. The study was conducted on a limited number of HEIs in South Africa because of accessibility and convenience. A number of other universities in South Africa could be considered for future research.

A subsequent limitation of the study was the number of participants. A larger sample size could yield more robust results. We acknowledge that the sample size was small and thus the results of the study should be interpreted with caution. A final limitation regarding the sample was that the majority of participants were from the Faculty of Commerce. It is possible that other disciplines within HEIs could experience hindrances differently. Future research could use the scale and consider validating it through the use of confirmatory factor analysis (CFA).

The items may seem narrow, and it is duly recommended that future studies build upon these items. Future studies can use the scale as a base and as development continues, add to it. It is acknowledged that more items can be added to the scale in the future.

There is a need for further research to be conducted on the challenges that exist within HEIs (Mouton, Louw, & Strijdom, 2012). Such studies could establish which of the demands in the present study could be differentiated as either a challenge or a hindrance demand, and could possibly add to the demands that are experienced by academic staff that are unique to the institution. The study contributed towards literature by investigating the perceived demands that challenge work within a specific occupational group, namely, academics.



The study developed a scale to measure hindrance demands within HEIs in a South African context. The study assessed the relationship between the six dimensions of the HEHDS which was established as reliable and valid for the South African context. In addition, the study contributed to the limited body of knowledge on hindrance demands within a higher education setting.

Furthermore, the study expanded the JD-R theory by integrating it with the hindrance stressor framework (Cavanaugh et al., 2000; LePine et al., 2005). Hindrance demands are likely to place strain on employee work; however, they do not necessarily increase strain and may be considered as a challenge demand. The scale developed in this study will be useful to researchers in higher education, heads of department and executive deans to better understand the demands placed upon academic staff. Although there is literature on the JD-R model, there is only limited information on the hindrance demands of academics within a higher education setting. Exposure to such demands is likely to leave employees feeling unsettled, and it may alter their engagement levels and diminish the meaning they find in their work. It is recommended that human resource practitioners establish strategies to mitigate the feelings caused by hindrance demands and that such demands remain on high alert on the agenda of academics who are within the management echelons of HEIs.

This study makes a unique contribution to the literature by integrating the hindrance stressor framework of academics based on the JD-R model and revealing the different hindrance demands affecting academics within the unique South African landscape. The HEHDS builds upon the notion that it may serve as a good first step in stimulating research on hindrance or even challenge demands of academics in South Africa.



Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationship(s) which may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Author's contributions

N.D., R.D.B. and M.G. co-designed the research study. N.D. conducted the research and was the main writer of the manuscript. R.D.B. and M.G. assisted with data analysis and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.



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Nelesh Dhanpat

Received: 12 Oct. 2018
Accepted: 29 Mar. 2019
Published: 18 June 2019

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Exploring organisational diversity climate with associated antecedents and employee outcomes



Sean McCallaghanI; Leon JacksonII; Marita HeynsIII

IBusiness School, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa
IIWorkWell Research Unit, Business School, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
IIIOptentia Research Focus Area, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Organisations are consistently changing and diversifying; therefore, researchers and practitioners are viewing diversity as an essential part of organisational behaviour literature and practice
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to investigate a simple mediation model, with the diversity climate as the proposed mediator, transformational leadership as the model antecedent and organisational commitment as the outcome
Motivation for the study: The South African diversity climate research is limited, including mediation investigations. Increased organisational diversification requires constant and relevant information with regard to diversity management.
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: A quantitative approach using a cross-sectional design collected 230 responses from a convenience sample. Transformational leadership was considered through six key behaviours associated with transformational leadership. Organisational commitment was considered as per the Psycones questionnaire and the organisational diversity climate was determined using a single-dimension diversity climate instrument. Statistical analysis included descriptive statistics, correlation analysis and a simple mediation model.
MAIN FINDINGS: Correlation results revealed that both transformational leadership and a diversity climate demonstrated practical effects with organisational commitment. Results from a standardised regression coefficient confirmed that transformational leadership predicts the diversity climate significantly. Both transformational leadership and diversity climate predicted commitment. The simple mediation model revealed that the diversity climate can be considered a mediator in the relationship between transformational leadership and employee commitment.
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: Organisations would benefit from leadership assessments for current and future employees, especially organisations that would like to prioritise a constructive diversity climate and employee commitment.
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: Contributions are made towards limited diversity climate investigations by providing empirical evidence of the mediating role of a diversity climate.

Keywords: Transformational leadership; diversity climate; organisational commitment; South Africa; mediation.




Diversity climate is a developing area of research that concentrates on how employees form perceptions regarding policies and practices related to diversity and inclusivity (Ziegert & Hanges, 2005). Our organisational landscapes are consistently changing because of globalisation and diversification. It is therefore not surprising that researchers are viewing diversity as an essential new part of organisational behaviour literature. The noticeable attention to diversity has elicited a general consensus among organisations that the effective management of diversity is compulsory for organisations striving towards optimally utilising their available talent from a diverse workforce (Jackson & Joshi, 2011). Researchers have also spent a considerable amount of time on finding means and ways to fully utilise the potential advantages of diversity (McKay & Avery, 2015). This is not unexpected because of the well-documented advantages of diverse organisations over homogeneous organisations (Cox & Blake, 1991), such as improved creativity and problem solving (Richard, Roh, & Pieper, 2013), an improved organisational image (Cox, 1993) and a noticeable increase in organisational performance (Richard, Barriet, Dwyer, & Chadwick, 2004). While the constructive benefits of a diverse organisation have intrigued researchers, the negative associations and counterproductive effects, in some cases, have also not gone unnoticed (Joshi & Roh, 2009; Van Dijk, Van Engen, & Van Kippenberg, 2012). Researchers have found that increased diversity from an organisational perspective can also be associated with complications, such as dissatisfaction and conflict (Jayne & Dipboye, 2004), and subtle discrimination (Ogbonna & Harris, 2006).

What could then be considered as a solution for organisations to realise the full potential of diversity? The answer could perhaps be found in leadership. Leadership has been described as a fundamental contributor towards enhancing diversity outcomes (Gotsis & Grimani, 2016). Leadership has also been proven as a substantial predictor of the emerged benefits related to diversity (Wieland, 2004). From a South African perspective, researchers have also called on organisations to improve leadership development and to specifically include diversity, especially because of South Africa's unique history (Denton & Vloeberghs, 2003). Therefore, because of our increased workforce diversification and globalisation, our current thinking pertaining to leadership in these diverse workforces will also need to change (Chin, Desormeaux, & Sawyer, 2016).

Our interest for the present study was neither in the well-researched direct relationship between leadership and employee outcomes, nor the confirmed direct relationship between a constructive diversity climate and employee outcomes. We were more intrigued by the indirect effect of a conducive diversified environment on the leadership style and employee outcome relationship. Unfortunately, the mediating role of a diversity climate has not received much research attention (McKay & Avery, 2015).

The primary aim of this study was to investigate a proposed simple mediation model in which the diversity climate mediates the relationship between transformational leadership and organisational commitment. The next section will be dedicated towards formulating a clear understanding on the proposed model antecedent, the proposed model outcome - employee commitment - and the mediating characteristics of a diversity climate. The literature review also investigates any prior conceptualised and confirmed relationships between these variables. Figure 1 illustrates the proposed model of this study.



Literature review

Proposed model antecedent - Transformational leadership

It has been well documented that transformational leaders are the representatives of change, energising and directing employees towards 'a new set of corporate values and behaviours' (McShane & Von Glinow, 2015, p. 371). We are of the opinion that the suggested new set of corporate values and behaviours can also assume the form of inclusivity and an appreciation of diversity. Colquitt, Lepine and Wesson (2011) further described transformational leadership as the ability to inspire followers to commit towards a shared vision that provides meaning to any employee's daily work. Odemure and Ifeanyi (2013) maintained that a transformational leader pays attention to the progressive needs of the individual; they change the consciousness of their followers and support them in looking at problems from a new perspective. Transformational leaders further serve as role models, supporting their followers towards developing their own potential and viewing problems from new perspectives (Colquitt et al., 2011).

Transformational leadership is regarded as multidimensional and comprising six key behaviours (Podsakoff, Mackenzie, Moorman, & Fetter, 1990). These key behaviours include identifying and articulating a clear vision, being considered an appropriate role model, nurturing the acceptance of team or organisational goals, sustaining high-performing expectations, providing individual support and intellectual stimulation (Podsakoff et al., 1990). According to Sashkin (2004), creating and communicating a vision and creating empowering opportunities are the most common characteristics of leadership behaviour shared by the different usages of transformational leadership. A typical transformational leader is an individual who is able to extend the interest of followers through a process of common stimulation and appeals to followers and is also able to express and communicate an attractive vision and supports followers to go beyond their self-interests in attaining this vision (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Proposed mediation model: Diversity climate

The relatively new field of diversity climate investigates the shared perceptions of the policies and practices directing the extent to which an organisation is committed towards eliminating discrimination and valuing diversity (Pugh, Dietz, Brief, & Wiley, 2008). Diversity climate is also considered as a typical climate that demonstrates openness towards and appreciation of individual differences (Hofhuis, Van der Rijt, & Vlug, 2016). According to Luijters, Zee and Otten (2008), there are two components that constitute the diversity climate of an organisation: openness and appreciation of diversity. Openness of diversity refers to a situation where employees can choose their own work style, while simultaneously maintaining cultural habits. Appreciation of diversity is considered as the value employees and decision-makers place on diversity (Luijters et al., 2008). Therefore, the study considered a diversity climate as shared employee perspectives on organisational commitment towards diversity and the creation of an inclusive employee environment free of preconceptions.

The direct consequences associated with a constructive diversity climate have been confirmed in several studies. These advantages include improved employee and organisational performance (McKay & Avery, 2015). While the direct effects have been well researched, investigation regarding the mediating role of a organisational diversity climate is limited (McKay & Avery, 2015). We could also not find a similar South African study that has investigated diversity climate as mediating transformational leadership. However, from previous research conducted by Volpone, Avery and McKay (2012), Chrobot-Mason and Asomovich (2013) and Taylor (2015), we were able to find evidence that an organisational diversity climate demonstrates promising mediating characteristics. Volpone et al. (2012) demonstrated that diversity climate mediates the relationship between employees' appraisal reactions and employee engagement. Similarly, Chrobot-Mason and Asamovich (2013) found results to confirm the mediating effects of a diversity climate on turnover intentions through organisational identification, climate for innovation, empowerment and identity freedom. In addition, Taylor (2015) was able to confirm that transformational leadership had a significant indirect effect on creative performance through diversity climate.

Employee outcome: Commitment

An employee is considered a candidate for commitment when demonstrating emotional attachment to, identification with and involvement in a particular organisation (McShane & Von Glinow, 2015). Colquitt et al. (2011) stated that organisational commitment is an employee's desire to remain a member of the organisation; the particular employee would usually portray a strong feeling towards a specific aspect of the organisation. Organisational commitment has also been considered as an employee's acceptance of organisational goals and his or her willingness to exert effort on behalf of the organisation (Miller & Lee, 2001). Organisational commitment has also been at the centre of several human resource studies, especially because of the associated advantages and contribution towards organisational performance (Mendes & Jesus, 2018).

Organisational commitment can assume three distinctive forms: continuance, normative or affective commitment (Meyer & Allen, 1991). Among all the forms of organisational commitment, affective commitment has seen the most interest among researchers (Albrecht, Bakker, Gruman, Macey, & Saks, 2015). Employees who demonstrate high levels of affective organisational commitment will stay with the organisation because of a personal intention not to part with the organisation. Employees who are affectively committed towards an organisation demonstrate a sense of belonging and identification that increases their involvement in organisational activities (Meyer & Allen, 1991). Continuance commitment is regarded as a situation where an employee stays with the current employer because of high costs related to changing employment. Employees might also not have any alternative or similar choices of employment and would then remain with their current employer (Meyer & Allen, 1991). Normative commitment refers to employees demonstrating internal loyalty towards the organisation. They also believe that their departure from the organisation would be disastrous for both the organisation and fellow employees (Meyer & Allen, 1991). For the purpose of this study, we considered commitment as a single variable where an employee demonstrates attachment and strong positive feeling towards the current employment.

Commitment, diversity climate and transformational leadership

It is expected that organisational diversity would further increase in future (Fullerton & Toosi, 2001); therefore, the importance of transformational leadership as a means of unlocking potential would also increase. However, it is still important for organisations with the future in mind to 'recognize transformational leadership as a strategy that can be specifically tailored to the challenge of managing diversity' (Kearney & Gebert, 2009, p. 87).

With limited research on diversity climates themselves, it is not surprising that investigations into a relationship between the organisational diversity climate and transformational leadership are also limited. However, the matter has seen research interest in that investigations had been focused on the type and nature of the relationship between 'diversity management interventions' or 'diversity practices' and leadership styles. Research findings suggest that a recorded constructive observation of 'diversity practices' is strongly associated with the presence of transformational leadership (Ng & Sears, 2011). The findings by Ng and Sears (2011, p. 49) are particularly relevant to a diversity climate theme, as these 'diversity practices' were described as 'diversity-related practices in the areas of diversity policies, recruitment, training and development, compensation and accountability', which is no different from confirmed antecedents of an organisational diversity climate). Further research also found that a transformational leadership style is influential in helping cultural minorities' social integration and creative problem-solving within organisations (Malik & Singh, 2017). In support of Ng and Sears (2011), research by Gotsis and Grimani (2016) also indicated that effective leadership will be associated with an environment that values and supports diversity.

Theoretically, the advantages associated with a diversity climate were some of the earliest findings on the matter (McKay & Avery, 2015). Some of these favourable attitudes and behaviours can therefore be directly associated with reduced employee withdrawal, which includes turnover and absenteeism (McKay & Avery, 2015). Groundbreaking research that placed an emphasis on the significance of a diversity climate was conducted in seminal research by Cox (1994), who specifically found proofs that a diversity climate has effects on staff attendance, turnover, productivity and work quality. From a South African qualitative perspective, research has demonstrated that organisational benefits associated with managing diversity, effectively included increased productivity, achieved organisational goals, increased creativity, client-focused service and an interesting work environment, while on an employee (individual) level, advantages included employees' transferred knowledge, improved communication, increased trust and teamwork, and decreased stereotypes and discrimination (Joubert, 2017).

While literature suggests that the presence of transformational leadership in organisations will also be associated with a constructive organisational diversity climate, it would be imperative to look into how transformational leadership has been associated with our investigated employee outcome, namely, commitment. Transformational leaders assist as 'role models who help followers develop their own potential', changing their outlook on traditional problems (Colquitt et al., 2011, p. 496). Consequently, it is not surprising that transformational leadership has not only demonstrated the ability to prevent employees from harbouring propensity-to-leave thoughts, but also to 'cultivate a collaborative culture' (Sun & Wang, 2017, p. 1137). It would therefore seem natural for transformational leadership to also contribute towards a general observation of employee commitment (Walumbwa & Lawler, 2003).

General positive consequences associated with organisational commitment include job satisfaction (Chughtai & Zafar, 2006), motivation (Mathieu & Zajac, 1990) and organisational performance in the form of financial results (Abdul Rashid, Sambasivan, & Johari, 2003). Managers who would like to encourage more employee commitment, should carefully direct their attention towards the fairness of the organisation's diversity climate and organisational procedures (Buttner & Lowe, 2010).


Primary and secondary objectives

Taking into consideration the established direct independent relationships between transformational leadership, the organisational diversity climate and organisational employee outcomes, coupled with the promising mediating characteristics of diversity climates in limited studies, we propose the possibility of the diversity climate mediating the relationship between transformational leadership and organisational commitment. As a result, the main objective of this study was to investigate the mediating role of a diversity climate in the relationship between transformational leadership and employee commitment. The secondary objective was to examine the direct effects between transformational leadership and a diversity climate; transformational leadership and employee commitment; and, finally, a diversity climate and employee commitment.

Research design and method

This study followed a quantitative approach with a cross-sectional design. The cross-sectional design was considered most suitable for this study because the assessment of the relationships between transformational leadership, the diversity climate and employee commitment was measured at a specific point in time, without any planned intervention. Questionnaires were considered the most appropriate method of data collection. A final research proposal was sent for consideration to the ethics committee of the institution and to obtain permission to collect data for the purpose of the study. The study obtained a minimal risk classification.

Permission was obtained from all participating organisations and the surveys were distributed via human resource managers, heads of departments and team leaders. The anonymous nature of the study was thoroughly explained to the participants, indicating clearly that no personal information was required. Adequate time was allowed for participants to complete the questionnaire and completed questionnaires were collected at arranged central points.

Participants, data collection and sample characteristics

A non-probability convenience sample was used to collect data from South African companies situated in Gauteng province. A total of 230 responses were received from 820 distributed questionnaires, resulting in a 28% response rate. Unfortunately, it is presently quite common for researchers to obtain low response rates. Lower frequencies could be a sign of our busy lifestyles (Carley-Baxter et al., 2009). The sample characteristics are presented in Table 1.



Measuring instruments

The measuring instrument comprised a combination of four main sections. The first section focused on obtaining demographic information from the sample group. The remaining three sections collected data on transformational leadership, diversity climate and organisational commitment.

  • The demographic section collected information on participants' date of birth, gender, ethnicity, tenure and an option in which respondents had to indicate where they had spent the majority of their young lives - in an urban or rural area.

  • Transformational leadership comprised six key behaviours for transformational leadership as described by Podsakoff et al. (1990), which include identifying and articulating a vision, providing an appropriate model, fostering the acceptance of group goals, high-performance expectations, providing individualised support and intellectual stimulation. Research by Engelen, Gupta, Strenger and Brettel (2015) and Jackson (2017) applied the same six key behaviours when determining transformational leadership. The instrument measuring transformational leadership used a seven-point Likert scale, where 1 = disagree strongly and 7 = agree strongly. A typical item is 'my manager has a clear understanding of where we are going'. The original research by Podsakoff et al. (1990) reported a Cronbach's alpha of 0.87 for the combined leadership variable. A South African application of the transformational leadership scale by Podsakoff et al. (1990) reported Cronbach's alpha scores ranging from 0.75 to 0.94 for the six key behaviours (Jackson, 2017).

  • The diversity climate variable was determined through a diversity climate measuring instrument developed by McKay et al. (2007). This instrument comprises nine scale items and captures employees' perceptions on how an organisation is able to meet their expectations regarding eliminating discrimination and creating an environment of inclusiveness (McKay et al., 2007). The instrument is considered as a 'snapshot' of the organisational diversity climate, although it requires individuals to respond. The diversity climate measuring instrument uses a five-point Likert scale, with 1 denoting 'well below expectations' and five denoting 'well above expectations'. A sample item in the measuring instrument by McKay et al. (2007) requested participants to indicate how the organisation met their expectation regarding maintaining a 'diversity-friendly work environment'. The original results from McKay et al.'s (2007) study reported a Cronbach's alpha score of 0.91 on the reliability of the scale, while a South African application of the measuring instrument in a tertiary environment reported a Cronbach's alpha score of 0.90 (McCallaghan & Heyns, 2016).

  • The employee commitment variable was determined using an application of the 'organisational commitment' construct in the psychological contracts across employment situations (Psycones) questionnaire (Kerstin, 2002). The organisational commitment variable within the Psycones questionnaire was adapted to a five-item scale from the organisational commitment scale developed by Cook and Wall (1980). The organisational commitment questionnaire as redeveloped by Kerstin (2002) specifically assesses affective commitment. The organisational commitment scale comprises five scale items and uses the same five-point Likert scale. A typical item to determine organisational commitment is 'even if this organisation or client was not doing too well, I would be reluctant to change to another employer or client'. A South African application of the measuring instrument reported a Cronbach's alpha score of 0.72 (Walters, 2008).

Statistical analysis

Primary data were captured, cleaned and processed by the institution's statistical unit. Data were processed using the Statistical Packages for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 23 (IBM Corp., 2015). The statistical analysis included descriptive statistics, reliability and validity, Pearson's correlation statistics and simple mediation models.

The statistical analysis of the factor analysis included the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy, with principal component analysis as the extraction method. Field (2009) advises that the KMO measure of sampling adequacy can be used to determine whether a sample is suitable for factor analysis. A value close to 1 indicates that patterns of correlations are relatively compact and a factor analysis should therefore produce individual, reliable factors (Field, 2009). The assumption that only one factor was present for each factor was based on the amount of variance explained and a strong decrease in the eigenvalue after the first factor. Eigenvalues larger than 1.0 were used as a criterion for factor selection, as proposed by Field (2009).

Descriptive statistics determined central propensities and whether the data were normally distributed. Statistics for skewness and kurtosis were used to determine normality. The criteria used to determine whether data could be considered a normal distribution were set at 2.00 for skewness (Finch & West, 1997) and 4.00 for kurtosis (Field, 2009).

Regarding reliability, Cronbach's alpha values above 0.7 are traditionally regarded as acceptable. However, for scales with fewer than 10 items it is sometimes difficult to obtain a decent Cronbach's alpha value, and for this reason mean inter-item correlation values can be examined as an additional indication of relationships among items (Pallant, 2007). Robinson, Shaver and Wrightsman (1991) suggest a practical alternative, which suggests that Cronbach's alpha as an interpretation of internal consistency can be interpreted as follows: α > 0.80 = exemplary, α > 0.70 = extensive, α > 0.60 = moderate and α < 0.60 = minimal. We followed the guideline proposed by Robinson et al. (1991). As a supplementary test for reliability, we calculated inter-item correlations. Internal correlation was considered adequate at r = 0.10.

To determine the relationships between the described variables, we conducted a Pearson's correlation analysis. Effect sizes were calculated with a confidence level set at 95%; p < 0.05 was considered significant. We interpreted the results by using the following criteria: 01 = small effect, 0.3 = medium effect and 0.5 = large effect (Steyn, 1999). A threshold of 0.30 (medium effect) was set for the practical significance of correlation coefficients (Cohen, 1988).

Simple mediation modelling was performed using the PROCESS macro version 3 (Hayes, 2017) which was installed in SPSS. Mediation was established with the indirect effect that was tested using a percentile bootstrap estimation approach with 10 000 samples (Shrout & Bolger, 2002). An indirect effect from the bootstrap analysis was considered significant if the lower level confidence interval (LLCI) and upper level confidence interval (ULCI) excluded zero (Zhao, Lynch, & Chen, 2010). In order to meet the criteria for a complementary mediation as set by Zhao et al. (2010), the mediated and direct effects should both exist and point in the same direction.


Ethical consideration

Ethical clearance for the study was obtained from the North-West University Business School (Reference number: EMSPBS09/09/16-01/01).



The results of the study are presented as follows: firstly, factor analysis is reported, followed by descriptive and reliability results. Then, results obtained from the correlation analysis are presented, with an interpretation of the type and nature of the relationships between transformational leadership, diversity climate and organisational commitment. Finally, findings from the simple mediation results are reported.

Factor analysis

The analysis of the diversity climate (McKay et al., 2007) revealed that the first factor extracted explained 60.6% of the variance, with an eigenvalue of 5.45 (KMO = 0.90). These results are consistent with the results of the study by McCallaghan and Heyns (2016), which was also able to confirm the one-dimensional structure of this specific diversity climate measuring instrument.

The transformational leadership section contained six factors and a factor analysis was conducted for each individual factor with the following results: vision articulation had 78.2% of the variance explained, with an eigenvalue of 3.91 for the first factor extracted (KMO = 0.87). Role modelling had 93.2% of the variance explained, with an eigenvalue of 2.80 for the first factor extracted (KMO = 0.76). Goal acceptance had 88.1% of the variance explained, with an eigenvalue of 3.53 for the first factor extracted (KMO = 0.87). High-performance expectations had 78.7% of the variance explained, with an eigenvalue of 2.36 for the first factor extracted (KMO 0.70). Individual consideration had 56.3% of the variance explained, with an eigenvalue of 1.69 for the first factor extracted (KMO = 0.50). Intellectual stimulation had 82.4% of the variance explained, with an eigenvalue of 3.30 for the first factor extracted (KMO 0.84). The factor analysis for organisational commitment explained 56.0% of the variance with an eigenvalue of 2.80 (KMO = 0.79). Based on these results, the measuring instruments in the present study are valid because of the establishment of construct validity.

Descriptive results and reliability

Table 2 presents the descriptive results of all variables and factors used in this study. A closer examination of Table 2 reveals that the mean scores of all variables were within the respective scale's positive or agree range. This would suggest that a constructive diversity climate, transformational leadership and organisational commitment are present in the sample group.

Cronbach's alpha scores ranged from 0.62 to 0.96 and inter-item correlation scores ranged from 0.27 to 0.89. Individual consideration (four-scale items) recorded a Cronbach's alpha score of 0.62, which, according to the guidelines by Robinson et al. (1991), reached the moderate level. The inter-item correlation for individual consideration was recorded at r = 0.27. Taking into consideration the guidelines by Pallant (2007) and Robinson et al. (1991), the variables considered in this study were deemed to demonstrate sufficient internal consistency. All skewness and kurtosis results are within the set thresholds (skewness = 2.00, kurtosis = 4.00) and we can confirm that the data were normally distributed.

Table 2 presents the descriptive and reliability results for all variables measured in this study.

Correlation analysis

The study calculated correlations in order to determine the relationship between the described variables. Although correlations are considered a worthy indicator of the relationship, it does not necessarily indicate that one variable is caused by another (Hinkle, Wiersma, & Jurs, 2003). For that reason, the purpose of the correlation analysis was to determine the type and nature of the relationships between transformational leadership characteristics, diversity climate and the characteristics of the defined organisational employee outcomes. The results from the correlation analysis are presented in Table 3.

A closer inspection of the results in Table 3 reveals that all transformational leadership characteristics and the transformational leadership aggregate demonstrated a noticeable relationship with the diversity climate. The role modelling factor revealed a large effect (r = 0.54) in the relationship with the diversity climate. Individual consideration and the diversity climate revealed the lowest scoring correlation (r = 0.21) which was considered a small effect.

An analysis of the relationship between the diversity climate and organisational commitment revealed a medium effect (r = 0.34). The relationship between the transformational leadership aggregate and organisational commitment also demonstrated a medium effect (r = 0.35).

Mediation analysis

The final examination of transformational leadership, the diversity climate and commitment included an analysis of a simple mediation model. This model was computed using PROCESS macro version 3 (Hayes, 2017) through SPSS. The results of the simple mediation model are presented in Table 4.



As indicated in Table 4, the mediation analysis revealed that the four traditional conditions for mediation were met. The reliable bootstrapping bias-corrected 95% lower and upper confidence interval range did not include zero. This result supports the significant indirect effect of a diversity climate on the relationship between transformational leadership and commitment.

Figure 2 illustrates the results of the simple mediation modelling. Transformational leadership was the independent variable, diversity climate the mediator and organisational commitment the dependent variable.



A further analysis of Table 4 and Figure 2 reveals a significant result for the first regression (c) where transformational leadership was considered the independent variable and organisational commitment the dependant variable (b = 0.22, t(228) = 6.28, p < 0.01).

The second regression (a) with transformational leadership and diversity climate (mediator) was also significant with b = 0.26, t(228) = 6.45 and p < 0.01.

The third regression (b) between diversity climate (mediator) and organisational commitment was significant with b = 0.20, t(227) = 3.48, p < 0.01.

The results for the indirect effect revealed a significant result with B = 0.05, SE = 0.02, LLCI = 0.02 and ULCI = 0.10. The indirect effect from the bootstrap analysis with 95% confidence interval did not include zero; therefore, a x b is significant and consequently a diversity climate can be considered as a mediator in the relationship between transformational leadership and organisational commitment. All three pathways (a, b and c) are significant and positive; for that reason, the mediation model was considered a 'complementary mediation' model as prescribed by Zhao et al. (2010).



In this section, we revisit the study's primary and secondary objectives. The primary objective was to test a proposed simple mediation model, with the diversity climate mediating the relationship between transformational leadership and employee commitment. The simple mediation analysis with transformational leadership as the independent variable, diversity climate as the mediator and commitment as the dependent variable yielded a significant result. The diversity climate demonstrated a significant indirect effect on the relationship between transformational leadership and organisational commitment. This result translates to a situation where shared perceptions regarding diversity policies and practices will constructively assist employees in demonstrating commitment towards the organisation when they are exposed to the characteristics of transformational leadership in their specific workplaces. Thus, the mediation result for the path of transformational leadership to organisational commitment via diversity confirms the mediating promises of a diversity climate as demonstrated by Volpone et al. (2012) and Taylor (2015).

The secondary objective of the study was to investigate and analyse the relationships between transformational leadership, diversity climate and employee commitment. The analysis included a correlation analysis and direct effects. The correlation results revealed small to medium practical effects when examining the relationship between transformational leadership and diversity climate. Our result confirms the findings of Ng and Sears (2011) who suggested that a documented constructive observation of 'diversity practices' is strongly associated with the presence of transformational leadership.

The correlation results also exposed the association between diversity climate and organisational commitment. Arguably, our results partially confirm the seminal research by Cox (1994), as we considered large effects to be more conclusive. These results also confirm the notion of Joubert (2017), suggesting that effective diversity management would lead to advantages for both the employee and the organisation.

The study further found evidence to suggest that the presence of transformational leadership will be associated with higher levels of employee commitment. This specific result confirms the notion of Walumbwa and Lawlwer (2003) that transformational leadership also contributes towards a general observation of employee commitment.

While traditional antecedents for diversity climate include human resource practices and policy interpretation and perceptions, none of these antecedents was tested. The study, however, explored transformational characteristics as predictors of the diversity climate score. A standardised regression coefficient demonstrated that transformational leadership could be considered a predictor of diversity climate. This result is consistent with the findings of Taylor (2015) who was also able to demonstrate a direct effect of transformational leadership on diversity climate. Our result further contributes towards organisational diversity climate literature, especially in an African setting, by responding to McKay and Avery's (2015) recommendations that future diversity climate investigations should also look into associations with managerial aspects such as leadership.

Limitations of the study and future research

We are realistic that this study was not faultless. The quantitative approach and cross-sectional design do not allow the testing of cause-effect relationships. This limitation can be addressed in a longitudinal study, investigating the effect of diversity climate interventions on similar leadership styles and employee outcomes. The sampling method (convenience sampling) does not allow the study to generalise the results and is limited to the sample group. Future studies should consider alternative sampling techniques, for example, stratified sampling. This would allow for group comparisons. Common source bias was also considered a limitation because of self-report questionnaires and significant correlations between variables. In order to minimise the common source bias, future studies should consider careful assessment of the research environment to identify potential sources of bias and implement both procedural and statistical methods to control for common source bias (Podsakoff, Mackenzie, & Lee, 2003). Future studies should also consider a mixed-method approach in order to confirm or dismiss quantitative results.

Future studies should further explore the mediating characteristics as demonstrated by the current study. Promising mediating characteristics found in previous studies by Volpone et al. (2012) and Taylor (2015) were confirmed in a South African environment. Future researchers should perhaps investigate alternative organisational outcomes to confirm the mediation capabilities of diversity climate. These outcomes could include typical organisational performance outcomes such as production or profit indicators. More negative outcomes and associations with increased diversity, such as subtle discrimination, could also be considered as dependent variables in the simple mediation model. Alternative leadership styles should also be tested, as studies of such a nature would further contribute towards organisational diversity climate literature.

The sample demographics was dominated by the white group (69.3%), senior managers and middle managers (60.4% combined), which could have possibly impacted the results. South Africa has a unique history in terms of segregation, with distinctive policy and legislative interventions to correct the inherited disproportions (Jackson & Van der Vijver, 2018). Previous research has demonstrated that policies aimed at correcting imbalances in employment will be viewed more positively by the group that has the most to gain (Durrheim, 2010). Furthermore, taking into consideration that South African organisations also demonstrate signs of both Afrocentric and Eurocentric leadership styles (Feldman & Msibi, 2014) and that stereotypical leadership assumptions and behaviours are a reality (Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & Van Engen, 2003), future investigations should explore group differences including a multi-group analysis.

Practical and theoretical implications

The presence of transformational leadership and its associated advantages in the workforce of the sample group should not be underestimated. Organisations that participated in the study should consider leadership assessments for future employees, especially those organisations that require a constructive diversity climate and increased levels of employee commitment. The pathway whereby the diversity climate was considered the independent variable, and organisational commitment was considered the dependent variable, also revealed a significant result, thereby contributing towards the confirmation by Cox (1993) who had also explored outcomes of a positive climate for diversity.

It has been emphasised that future organisational leaders will have to consider managing organisational diversity as being a specialised skill or ability (Thomas, 2006). We believe that the required development of a specialised skill in order to manage future organisational diversity will necessitate an endless supply of information on aspects of leadership in diverse environments. Important transfer of knowledge, from theory to practice, would encompass the relay of information related to the type of leadership required to materialise the full organisational benefits associated with diversity, and the type of managerial tools (policies and practices) required to enhance the process of achieving those sought-after organisational outcomes.

McKay and Avery (2015) confirmed the scarcity of diversity climate mediation studies and have called upon researchers to investigate diversity climate non-related antecedents, such as leadership. The study contributes towards the limited diversity climate literature by confirming the mediating characteristics of a diversity climate in the relationship between transformational leadership and employee commitment in a South African environment.



Future organisational leaders tasked with managing diversity need to understand that although transformational leadership will enhance employee organisational commitment, the development and implementation of policies and practices towards diversity should receive equal attention. This study has contributed towards the body of knowledge for South African organisations, with the confirmation that transformational leadership and constructive perceptions regarding policies and practices directed at diversity are associated with organisational commitment.



Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships which may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the authors and do not represent those of the participating organisations or university where the study was conducted.

Author's contributions

S.M. conducted the literature review, collected and processed all data and was responsible for the write-up of the article. L.J. and M.H. guided the conceptualisation and interpretation of results, provided commentary and co-authored the article.



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Sean McCallaghan

Received: 19 Nov. 2018
Accepted: 15 Apr. 2019
Published: 24 June 2019

^rND^sAbdul Rashid^nM. Z.^rND^sSambasivan^nM.^rND^sJohari^nJ.^rND^sAlbrecht^nS. L.^rND^sBakker^nA. B.^rND^sGruman^nJ. A.^rND^sMacey^nW. H.^rND^sSaks^nA. M.^rND^sButtner^nE. H.^rND^sLowe^nK. B.^rND^sCarley-Baxter^nL. R.^rND^sHill^nC. A.^rND^sRoe^nD. J.^rND^sTwiddy^nS. E.^rND^sBaxter^nR. K.^rND^sRuppenkamp^nJ.^rND^sChin^nJ. L.^rND^sDesormeaux^nL.^rND^sSawyer^nK.^rND^sChrobot-Mason^nD.^rND^sAramovich^nN. P.^rND^sChughtai^nA. A.^rND^sZafar^nS.^rND^sCook^nJ.^rND^sWall^nT.^rND^sCox^nT. H.^rND^sBlake^nS.^rND^sDenton^nM.^rND^sVloeberghs^nD.^rND^sDurrheim^nK.^rND^sEagly^nA. H^rND^sJohannesen-Schmidt^nM. C.^rND^sVan Engen^nM. L.^rND^sEngelen^nA.^rND^sGupta^nV.^rND^sStrenger^nL.^rND^sBrettel^nM.^rND^sFeldman^nA.^rND^sMsibi^nS.^rND^sFinch^nJ. F.^rND^sWest^nS. G.^rND^sFullerton^nF. N.^rND^sToossi^nM.^rND^sGotsis^nG.^rND^sGrimani^nK.^rND^sHofhuis^nJ.^rND^sVan Der Rijt^nP. G. A.^rND^sVlug^nM.^rND^sJackson^nL. T. B.^rND^sJackson^nL. T. B.^rND^sVan Der Vijver^nF. J. R.^rND^sJackson^nS. E.^rND^sJoshi^nA.^rND^sJayne^nM. E. A.^rND^sDipboye^nR. L.^rND^sJoshi^nA.^rND^sRoh^nH.^rND^sJoubert^nT.^rND^sKearney^nR.^rND^sGebert^nD.^rND^sLuijters^nK.^rND^sVan Der Zee^nK.^rND^sOtten^nS.^rND^sMalik^nA. R.^rND^sSingh^nP.^rND^sMathieu^nJ.^rND^sZajac^nD.^rND^sMcCallaghan^nS.^rND^sHeyns^nM. M.^rND^sMcKay^nP. F.^rND^sAvery^nD. R.^rND^sMcKay^nP. F.^rND^sAvery^nD. R.^rND^sTonidandel^nS.^rND^sMorris^nM. A.^rND^sHernandez^nM.^rND^sHebl^nM. R.^rND^sMendes^nL.^rND^sJesus^nJ.^rND^sMeyer^nJ. P.^rND^sAllen^nN. J.^rND^sMiller^nD.^rND^sLee^nJ.^rND^sNg^nE. S.^rND^sSears^nG. J.^rND^sOdemure^nJ. A.^rND^sIfeanyi^nG. O.^rND^sOgbonna^nE.^rND^sHarris^nL. C.^rND^sPodsakoff^nP. M.^rND^sMackenzie^nS. B.^rND^sLee^nJ.^rND^sPodsakoff^nP. M.^rND^sMackenzie^nS. B.^rND^sMoorman^nR. H.^rND^sFetter^nR.^rND^sPugh^nS. D.^rND^sDietz^nJ.^rND^sBrief^nA. P.^rND^sWiley^nJ. W.^rND^sRichard^nO.^rND^sRoh^nH.^rND^sPieper^nJ. R.^rND^sRichard^nO. C.^rND^sBarnett^nT.^rND^sDwyer^nS^rND^sChadwick^nK.^rND^sRobinson^nJ. P.^rND^sShaver^nP. R.^rND^sWrightsman^nL. S.^rND^sSashkin^nM.^rND^sShrout^nP. E.^rND^sBolger^nN.^rND^sSteyn^nH. S.^rND^sSun^nR.^rND^sWang^nW.^rND^sThomas^nR. R.^rND^sVan Dijk^nH.^rND^sVan Engen^nM. L.^rND^sVan Knippenberg^nD.^rND^sVolpone^nS. D.^rND^sAvery^nD. R.^rND^sMcKay^nP. F.^rND^sWalumbwa^nF. O.^rND^sLawler^nJ. J.^rND^sWieland^nA. J.^rND^sZhao^nX.^rND^sLynch^nJ. G.^rND^sChen^nQ.^rND^sZiegert^nJ. C.^rND^sHanges^nP. J.^rND^1A01^nNicola^sVermooten^rND^1A01^nBilly^sBoonzaier^rND^1A02^nMartin^sKidd^rND^1A01^nNicola^sVermooten^rND^1A01^nBilly^sBoonzaier^rND^1A02^nMartin^sKidd^rND^1A01^nNicola^sVermooten^rND^1A01^nBilly^sBoonzaier^rND^1A02^nMartin^sKidd



Job crafting, proactive personality and meaningful work: Implications for employee engagement and turnover intention



Nicola VermootenI; Billy BoonzaierI; Martin KiddII

IDepartment of Industrial Psychology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
IICentre for Statistical Consultation, and Department of Statistics and Actuarial Sciences, Stellenbosch University Stellenbosch, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Jobs in the financial services industry are in constant flux because of the ever-changing nature of the products and services provided to customers. This could result in employee disengagement and turnover intention
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The purpose of the study was to examine the role of job crafting, proactive personality and meaningful work in predicting employee engagement and turnover intention among employees in the financial services industry based on the central tenets of the Job Demands-Resources theory
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Organisations or incumbents may redesign jobs. The self-initiated proactive behaviour that incumbents exhibit to shape the meaning of their work is known as job crafting. The relationships that exist among job crafting, proactive personality, meaningful work, employee engagement and turnover intention were, therefore, investigated.
RESEARCH DESIGN, APPROACH AND METHOD: A quantitative cross-sectional survey design was used to gather primary data in service-providing firms across South Africa (n = 391).
MAIN FINDINGS: Results demonstrated that job crafting, proactive personality and meaningful work significantly predict variance in employee engagement and turnover intention.
PRACTICAL AND MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: Specific human resource practices and interventions are proffered to foster job crafting, proactivity and meaningful work and, in doing so, address employee disengagement and turnover intention.
CONTRIBUTION OR VALUE-ADD: The study highlights the importance of encouraging employees to craft their jobs as it has specific implications for prominent work-related outcomes, such as employee engagement and turnover intention, among employees in the financial services industry.

Keywords: Positive psychology; web-based survey; proactive personality scale; job crafting scale; psychological meaningfulness scale; Utrecht work engagement scale; turnover intention scale; covariance structural equation modelling; partial least squares structural equation modelling.




Research has shown that employees perform optimally in challenging, resourceful work environments, as these environments foster employee engagement (Bakker & Demerouti, 2014). Organisations in the financial services industry should, therefore, develop and implement human resource practices and interventions that influence the work conditions (i.e. job demands and job resources) of their employees. In addition, the researchers argue that it is just as important for employees themselves to adjust their work conditions proactively. This can be achieved through crafting behaviour (i.e. job crafting) (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001).

Job crafting is the process whereby employees, through their personal initiative, adjust their work environment to ensure that their need for congruence with their environment is met and to improve the meaningfulness of their work-related activities (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). As opposed to other bottom-up but reactive approaches to job redesign (e.g. employee participation in job redesign), job crafting denotes a self-initiated proactive work behaviour (Crant, 1995).

According to Parker and Collins (2010), proactive work behaviours involve taking action to address foreseeable situations at work in advance or taking control and effecting change in the work environment. Research has shown that employees who have a disposition towards proactive behaviour (i.e. proactive personality) are more inclined to exhibit proactive work behaviours than their counterparts (McCormick, Guay, Colbert, & Stewart, 2018). It is, therefore, proposed that job crafting, proactive personality and meaningful work are salient antecedents of variance in prominent work-related outcomes, such as employee engagement and turnover intention.


Research purpose and objectives

Against this background, the purpose of the study was to examine the role of job crafting, proactive personality and meaningful work in predicting employee engagement and turnover intention among employees in the financial services industry within the framework of the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) theory. More specifically, the study aimed to:

  • determine the level of employee engagement and turnover intention among employees in service-providing firms that operate in the financial services industry;

  • propose and empirically test an explanatory employee engagement and turnover intention structural model among employees in service-providing firms that operate in the financial services industry;

  • highlight the managerial implications of results, and recommend specific human resource practices and interventions to address challenges pertaining to employee engagement and turnover intention among employees in service-providing firms that operate in the financial services industry.


Literature review

Job Demands-Resources theory

The JD-R theory is a meta-theoretical framework that can be applied to diverse occupational settings. Even though each occupation has a unique set of work characteristics that are associated with employee wellness and effectiveness, the JD-R theory suggests that these characteristics can be categorised as job demands or job resources (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001).

Job demands are the physical, psychological, social or organisational features of a job that require sustained physical, mental and/or psychological (i.e. cognitive and emotional) effort from employees (e.g. job insecurity or role conflict). Notably, job demands do not necessarily incur physiological and/or psychological costs. These characteristics evoke strain only when they exceed the adaptive capability of employees. Job resources, on the other hand, are the physical, psychological, social or organisational features of a job that enable employees to reduce job demands, achieve work goals, and stimulate development, learning and personal growth (Tims & Bakker, 2010). These characteristics are found at an organisational level (e.g. opportunities for advancement), an interpersonal level (e.g. team processes), a task level (e.g. feedback) or the level of work design (e.g. autonomy) (Demerouti & Bakker, 2011).

The JD-R theory suggests that two different underlying psychological processes influence the development of job strain (i.e. burnout) on the one hand and motivation (i.e. employee engagement) on the other. These processes reflect a health impairment process and a motivational process. The health impairment process (or effort-driven process) assumes that demanding jobs or jobs with chronic demands incur physiological and/or psychological costs by exhausting employees' physical and mental resources. This, in turn, may lead to health problems and the depletion of their energy. The motivational process (or motivation-driven process), on the other hand, assumes that job resources are not only used to deal with job demands but may be valued in their own right (i.e. intrinsic motivation) or may help employees achieve or protect other valued resources (i.e. extrinsic motivation) as well. By implication, these characteristics possess motivation potential that may foster employee engagement, improve job performance and discourage cynicism. Empirical research has demonstrated support for both processes (Bakker & Demerouti, 2014; Demerouti & Bakker, 2011).

Even though the JD-R theory was initially restricted to work conditions (i.e. job demands and job resources), Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti and Schaufeli (2007) highlighted that personal resources (e.g. optimism or self-efficacy) are also important determinants of employees' adaptive capability. These researchers defined personal resources as 'aspects of the self that are generally linked to resiliency and refer to individuals' sense of their ability to control and influence their environment successfully' (p. 123). Their cross-sectional study among 714 Dutch employees from an electrical engineering and electronics organisation showed support for this notion and demonstrated that personal resources mediate the positive association between job resources and employee engagement (i.e. motivational process) and influence employees' perception of job resources.

Job crafting

Parker and Ohly (2008) proposed that employees could actively shape their job design from the bottom up. This employee-driven process, known as job crafting, was initially defined as cognitive and physical changes employees make to the relational or task boundaries of their job (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). However, this definition of job crafting offered a limited perspective of the construct. To address concerns with the above-mentioned definition of job crafting, Tims, Bakker and Derks (2012) proposed that it involves self-initiated changes that employees make to their work conditions (i.e. job demands and job resources) in accordance with the JD-R theory. More specifically, these researchers proposed that job crafting involves increasing social or structural job resources, as well as challenging (positive) job demands, and/or decreasing hindrance stressors that interfere with work performance.

By drawing on the central precepts of the JD-R theory, the researchers operationalised proactive personality as a personal resource and meaningful work as a job resource among employees in the financial services industry.

Proactive personality

All humans have a unique personality characterised by a set of distinct personality traits. These traits signify the dimensions along which humans' personalities vary in relatively stable ways (Roberts et al., 2017). According to Barrick, Mount and Li (2013), personality traits are distal motivational forces that can be used to make generalisations about human nature and explore between-person differences, as they determine humans' behavioural responses. The researchers argue that proactive personality represents an invaluable personal resource among employees in the financial services industry.

Proactive personality refers to a 'relatively stable tendency to effect environmental change' (Bateman & Crant, 1993, p. 103). In other words, it denotes a dispositional tendency to engage in proactive behaviour. While some employees adapt to, react to and are shaped by their work environment, employees who have a proactive personality recognise opportunities, take personal initiative and persevere until they have brought about meaningful change in their work environment (Bakker, Tims, & Derks, 2012).

By drawing on the theory of proactive personality (Bateman & Crant, 1993), the researchers propose that employees who have a proactive personality, would be more inclined to exhibit crafting behaviour. More specifically, employees who have a proactive personality are more inclined to increase social or structural job resources and challenging job demands, and decrease hindering job demands. Research has shown direct support for the positive association between proactive personality and job crafting. For example, a cross-sectional study conducted by Bakker et al. (2012) among 95 dyads (n = 190) in the Netherlands found that employees who have a proactive personality were more inclined to craft their jobs (i.e. increasing structural or social job resources and challenging job demands). Comparable results were reported by Plomp et al. (2016) among a heterogeneous group of 574 employees and by Zhang, Lu and Li (2018) among 1971 employees. Based on a review of the existing literature, the researchers formulated the following hypothesis:

H1: Proactive personality has a significant positive influence on job crafting (i.e. increasing social or structural job resources and challenging job demands, and decreasing hindering job demands).

Turnover intention

Employee turnover involves the voluntary movement of employees across the membership boundaries of organisations (Price, 2001). It occurs when employees decide to depart from their current organisation despite having the opportunity of continued employment. Notably, employee turnover is a multistage process. Turnover intention is the last sequence of withdrawal cognitions in the turnover process (Parker & Martin, 2009). Although turnover intentions may not necessarily lead to employee turnover, research has indicated that it represents an important outcome variable (Chang, Wang, & Huang, 2013).

Research has revealed that employees who have a proactive personality strive for congruence between themselves and their work environment in terms of their needs and abilities (Parker & Collins, 2010; Tims & Bakker, 2010). The researchers argue that this might be compounded by their inclination to adopt proactive work behaviours. If their need for congruence with their work environment is not met, employees with a proactive personality may be more inclined, because of their inclination to adopt proactive work behaviours, to seek alternative employment opportunities. As opposed to tolerating a frustrating work environment, these employees may respond to the lack of congruence between themselves and their work environment by developing turnover intention. For this reason, the researchers formulated the following hypothesis:

H2: Proactive personality has a significant positive influence on turnover intention.

Meaningful work

Adlerian theory proposes that all humans live in the realm of meanings (Alderfer, 1972). They experience their reality by attaching meaning to experiences through the process of meaning-making. According to Mezirow (1981, p. 394), 'at its simplest meaning-making refers to a lifelong process of understanding the world and our relationships with it'. Through the interpretation of their experiences, humans spin webs of meaning known as 'meaning systems' (Molden & Dweck, 2006, p. 201). These integrated mental representations of interrelations between objects, events and relationships encompass everything humans know.

In light of the preceding discussion, it is to be expected that employees seek meaning in their work experiences. It is, however, necessary to recognise that considerable differences exist in the way employees perceive their work (Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin, & Schwartz, 1997). Job design alone does not determine the meaningfulness of work (Steger, Dik, & Duffy, 2012; Tims, Derks, & Bakker, 2016). Inherent in the existence of meaningful work are job design (e.g. task significance and comprehensibility), person-job fit (e.g. values and mission), work relationships (e.g. colleagues and supervisors) and work beliefs (e.g. calling orientation) (Pratt & Ashforth, 2003). Wrzesniewski (2003) proposed that employees can improve the meaningfulness of their work by aligning it with their perception of work through job crafting.

A three-wave study conducted by Tims et al. (2016) among a heterogeneous group of 114 employees in the Netherlands has examined whether job crafting and meaningful work are positively related. These researchers demonstrated that employees who engaged in job crafting in the first week (i.e. increasing social or structural job resources and challenging job demands, and decreasing hindering job demands) reported higher levels of person-job fit the following week and, in turn, found their work more meaningful in the final week. In line with this, Wrzesniewski, LoBuglio, Dutton and Berg (2013) suggested that job crafting is related to work meaning and identity. This suggests that job crafting optimises person-job fit and, in turn, enhances the meaningfulness of work. In line with the above, the researchers formulated the following hypothesis:

H3: Job crafting (i.e. increasing social or structural job resources and challenging job demands, and decreasing hindering job demands) has a significant positive influence on meaningful work.

Employee engagement

Employee engagement has attracted much attention from researchers and practitioners alike. Perhaps this is to be expected given that it is considered a key determinant of organisational success (Macey, Schneider, Barbera, & Young, 2009; Rich, LePine, & Crawford, 2010). Despite being one of the most popular constructs in the research field of industrial and organisational psychology, there is still a lack of agreement about its definition and meaning. In this study, employee engagement is defined in accordance with Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Romá and Bakker (2002).

Schaufeli et al. (2002, p. 74) define employee engagement as 'a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterised by vigour, dedication, and absorption'. These researchers describe it as a relatively persistent and pervasive affective-cognitive state that does not depend on specific objects, events, individuals or behaviours. They suggest, in contrast to early studies (e.g. Maslach & Leiter, 1997) which conceptualised burnout and engagement as opposite poles of a continuum, that burnout and engagement are independent concepts (that should be measured with different instruments).

Apart from the positive association between job crafting and meaningful work, the study propose that employees who consider their work meaningful are more inclined to invest themselves in their work and engage more fully. Because of the intrinsic motivational force associated with meaningful work, these employees may find it easier to approach their work-related activities with vigour, dedication and absorption. Research has shown direct support for the positive association between meaningful work and employee engagement (Shuck, 2019). As an illustration, a cross-sectional study conducted by Jung and Yoon (2016) among 352 employees from family-style restaurants and 5-star hotels in South Korea demonstrated that employees who considered their work to be meaningful were engaged in their work. In line with this, Steger, Littman-Ovadia, Miller, Menger and Rothmann (2013) demonstrated that meaningful work and employee engagement were positively related among a heterogeneous group of 252 white-collar employees in Israel. Comparable results were reported by Geldenhuys, Łaba and Venter (2014) among a heterogeneous group of 415 employees in South Africa. The researchers consequently formulated the following hypothesis:

H4: Meaningful work has a significant positive influence on employee engagement.

In line with hypothesis 4, the researchers propose that employees who consider their work meaningful are less inclined to quit their job in the near future. Because of the presence of the intrinsic motivational force associated with meaningful work, these employees may be less inclined to seek alternative employment opportunities.

Research has revealed support for the negative association between meaningful work and turnover intention. As an illustration, a cross-sectional study conducted by Janik and Rothmann (2015) demonstrated that meaningful work and turnover intention were negatively related among 502 secondary school teachers in Namibia. Comparable results were reported by Arnoux-Nicolas, Sovet, Lhotellier, Di Fabio and Bernaud (2016) among a heterogeneous group of 336 employees in France and by Sun, Lee and Sohn (2019) among 315 employees in South Korea. For this reason, the researchers formulated the following hypothesis:

H5: Meaningful work has a significant negative influence on turnover intention.

Meta-analytic evidence reported by Bakker, Hakanen, Demerouti and Xanthopoulou (2007) showed that job resources and employee engagement were positively related, especially when job demands were high. By implication, when employees, who face high job demands, have sufficient job resources they are still able to flourish in their work. With this in mind, the researchers proffered that employees who exhibit crafting behaviour are more inclined to be engaged in their work as they adjust their work conditions (i.e. job demands and job resources) proactively. Job crafting, therefore, represents a practical way in which emplyees themselves can enhance their own work engagement.

Research has shown direct and indirect support for the above-mentioned process of 'self-engagement' (Bakker et al., 2012, p. 1363). As an example, a cross-sectional study conducted by Hakanen, Bakker and Schaufeli (2006) among 2555 Finish dentists found that personal initiative and employee engagement were positively related. Similarly, a cross-sectional study conducted by Hyvönen, Feldt, Salmela-Aro, Kinnunen and Mäkikangas (2009) among 747 Finnish managers found that managers who wanted to expand their professional knowledge and develop themselves on the job were engaged in their work. Comparable results were reported by Harju, Hakanen and Schaufeli (2016) among 1630 educated employees in Finland and by Mäkikangas (2018) among 131 Finish rehabilitation workers. Consequently, the researchers formulated the following hypothesis:

H6: Job crafting (i.e. increasing social or structural job resources and challenging job demands, and decreasing hindering job demands) has a significant positive influence on employee engagement.

Notably, Bakker (2011) suggested that the positive association between employee engagement and job crafting may be dynamic. He proposed that apart from the positive association between job crafting and employee engagement, it is plausible that a recerse causal association also exists between these constructs. Drawing on the Broaden-and-Build theory of positive emotions (Fredrickson, 2004), the researchers support this notion. The Broaden-and-Build theory proposes that positive emotions broaden employees' momentary thought-action repertoire (i.e. broaden hypothesis). As their momentary thought-action repertoire broadens, employees build personal resources that range from psychological and social resources to intellectual and physical resources (i.e. build hypothesis). In contrast, negative emotions narrow the momentary thought-action repertoire of employees (Fredrickson, 2004). A study conducted by Schaufeli and Van Rhenen (2006) among 815 managers from a telecommunications organisation in the Netherlands showed that engaged employees experienced positive emotions. In view of this, the current researchers support the notion that the positive emotions (including vigour, dedication and absorption) that engaged employees experience broaden their momentary thought-action repertoire and, in turn, encourage job crafting.

Research has revealed direct and indirect support for the reverse causal association between job crafting and employee engagement. For example, a diary study conducted by Sonnentag (2003) among 147 employees from public service organisations in Germany demonstrated that day-level employee engagement was positively associated with day-level proactive behaviour (i.e. the pursuit of learning and personal initiative) during the following work day. In accordance with this, Fritz and Sonnentag (2009) found that positive affective experiences were related to proactive behaviours (i.e. personal initiative) among 172 employees from civil service organisations in Germany. Harju et al. (2016) demonstrated direct support for this notion among 1630 educated employees in Finland. More specifically, they found that engaged employees were more inclined to exhibit crafting behaviour (i.e. increasing social or structural job resources). Comparable results were reported by Hakanen, Peeters and Schaufeli (2018) among 1877 dentists in Finland. The following hypothesis was consequently formulated in the study:

H7: Employee engagement has a significant positive influence on job crafting (i.e. increasing social or structural job resources and challenging job demands, and decreasing hindering job demands).

Apart from encouraging job crafting, the positive emotions (specifically vigour and dedication) that engaged employees experience may cultivate a sense of organisational commitment and, in turn, discourage the development of turnover intention. The researchers offer the Conversion of Resources theory (Hobfoll, 1989) to support this notion. The Conversion of Resources theory proposes that employees invest resources in their work environment and seek to minimize the loss of resources. Engaged employees willingly commit themselves to their work (i.e. dedication) and have difficulty detaching themselves after tasks have been completed (i.e. absorption) thereby investing resources in their current organisation (Schaufeli et al., 2002). In consideration of this, the researchers advocated that engaged employees are less inclined to seek alternative employment opportunities. The loss of resources that is associated with starting work in a new organisation discourages these employees to develop turnover intentions.

Research has shown direct support for the negative association between employee engagement and turnover intention. Meta-analytic evidence reported by Halbesleben (2010) and Saks (2019) found that employees who exhibit vigour and dedication were less inclined to develop turnover intention. In accordance with this, Takawira, Coetzee and Schreuder (2014) demonstrated that dedication and turnover intention were negatively related among 153 academic and non-academic employees from a higher education institution in South Africa. Comparable results were reported by Gabel Shemueli, Dolan, Suárez Ceretti and Nuñez Del Prado (2016) among 818 nurses in Uruguay (n = 316) and Spain (n = 502) and by Agarwal and Gupta (2018) among 1302 heterogenous managers in India. For this reason, the researchers formulated the following hypothesis:

H8: Employee engagement has a significant negative influence on turnover intention.


Research design

Research approach

The researchers adopted a quantitative research approach based on correlational analysis to achieve the research objectives. More specifically, primary data were collected through a cross-sectional survey of job crafting, proactive personality, meaningful work, employee engagement and turnover intention.

Research method

Research participants

The setting for the study comprised organisations in the financial services industry. Three service-providing firms that operate in the financial services industry were invited to participate in the study. Each firm, with regional offices across South Africa, was part of an international service provider offering primarily auditing and accounting services.

The researchers used non-probability purposive sampling to select a sample of approximately 800 employees from participating regional offices. Three hundred and ninety-one employees participated in the study (49% response rate). Table 1 offers a description of the demographic and employment characteristics of participants.



Data showed that women comprised 61% of the sample. The majority of participants had completed an Honour's degree (highest level of education; 70%), were employed less than a year at their current service-providing firm (organisational tenure; 34%) and worked in the auditing department (department; 82%). Furthermore, the age of participants varied from 18 to 57 years (mean = 26.53 years).

Measuring instruments

The web-based survey comprising two sections was developed specifically for the study. The first section requested the demographic and employment information of participants and the second section measured the latent variables of interest.

Proactive Personality Scale

Proactive personality was measured with the abbreviated Proactive Personality Scale (Claes, Beheydt, & Lemmens, 2005). This self-report measure consists of six items. An example item is 'If I see something I don't like, I fix it'. A cross-cultural analysis across three countries (i.e. Belgium, Finland and Spain) showed support for the internal consistency reliability of the abbreviated Proactive Personality Scale (α = 0.78 to 0.86) (Claes et al., 2005). The abbreviated Proactive Personality Scale measured the degree to which participants had a proactive personality. A seven-point Likert-type scale varying from 1 (certainly not agree) to 7 (certainly agree) was used to score responses. No items of the abbreviated Proactive Personality Scale were reverse-scored.

Job Crafting Scale

The Job Crafting Scale (Tims et al., 2012) was used to measure job crafting. This self-report measure, which consists of 21 items, assesses the four dimensions of job crafting, namely increasing social job resources (five items, e.g. 'I ask others for feedback on my job performance'), increasing structural job resources (five items, e.g. 'I try to develop myself professionally'), increasing challenging job demands (five items, e.g. 'when there is not much to do at work, I see it as a chance to start new projects') and decreasing hindering job demands (six items, e.g. 'I make sure that my work is mentally less intense'). A validation study among a random sample of 375 employees in the Netherlands (Tims et al., 2012) demonstrated support for the internal consistency reliability of the subscales of the Job Crafting Scale (increasing social job resources: α = 0.77; increasing structural job resources: α = 0.82; increasing challenging job demands: α = 0.75; decreasing hindering job demands: α = 0.79). The four subscales of the Job Crafting Scale were combined in the study. The composite measurement indicator measured the degree to which participants engaged in crafting behaviour. A five-point Likert-type scale varying from 1 (never) to 5 (often) was used to score responses. No items of the Job Crafting Scale were reverse-scored.

Psychological Meaningfulness Scale

Meaningful work was measured with the Psychological Meaningfulness Scale (May, Gilson, & Harter, 2004). This self-report measure consists of six items. An example item is 'I feel that the work I do on my job is valuable'. A validation study among 213 employees from an insurance firm in the United States of America (US) demonstrated support for the internal consistency reliability of the Psychological Meaningfulness Scale (α = 0.90) (May et al., 2004). The Psychological Meaningfulness Scale measured the degree of meaning that participants in the study found in their work-related activities. A five-point Likert-type scale varying from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) was used to score responses. No items of the Psychological Meaningfulness Scale were reverse-scored.

Utrecht Work Engagement Scale

The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES-9) (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Salanova, 2006) was used to measure employee engagement. This self-report measure, which consists of nine items, assesses the three dimensions of employee engagement, namely vigour (three items, e.g. 'at my work, I feel bursting with energy'), dedication (three items, e.g. 'I am enthusiastic about my job') and absorption (three items, e.g. 'I am immersed in my work'). A cross-cultural analysis across 10 countries (i.e. Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Spain) showed support for the internal consistency reliability of the UWES-9 (α = 0.85-0.92) and its subscales (vigour: α = 0.60-0.88; dedication: α = 0.75-0.90; absorption: α = 0.66-0.86) (Schaufeli et al., 2006). The three subscales of the UWES-9 were combined in the study. The composite measurement indicator measured the degree to which participants were engaged in their work. A seven-point Likert-type scale varying from 0 (never) to 6 (always or everyday) was used to score responses. No items of the UWES-9 were reverse-scored.

Turnover Intention Scale

Turnover was measured with the Turnover Intention Scale (Moore, 2000). This self-report measure consists of four items. An example item is 'I will probably look for a job at a different company in the next year'. A validation study among a random sample of 214 employees in the US demonstrated support for the internal consistency reliability of the Turnover Intention Scale (α = 0.92) (Moore, 2000). The Turnover Intention Scale measured the probability that participants would quit their job in the near future. A five-point Likert-type scale varying from 1 (very unlikely) to 5 (very likely) was used to score responses. Two items of the Turnover Intention Scale were reverse-scored.

Research procedure

Once the study was evaluated and approved by the Ethics Committee of the university where the research was undertaken, the researchers approached the human resource managers of financial service-providing firms with regional offices across South Africa. The human resource managers received an email that contained a letter of approval from abovementioned Ethics Committee and an institutional permission form. Human resource managers who agreed to participate in the study were asked to send a signed copy of the institutional permission form to the principal researcher. This gave the researchers written permission to invite employees to complete the web-based survey.

The web-based survey was sent electronically to employees of participating regional offices. Participation was anonymous and voluntary. Informed consent was obtained from individual participants. Participants were given 3 weeks to complete the survey. Two reminders (i.e. weekly) were sent to employees to encourage their participation.

Statistical analysis

A number of statistical procedures were used to analyse the data and to evaluate the proposed employee engagement and turnover intention structural model, depicted in Figure 1. These techniques included item analysis to determine the reliability of the latent variable scales, confirmatory factor analysis to validate the measurement model and covariance-based Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) to evaluate the structural model. In addition, partial least squares (PLS) SEM, a prediction-oriented SEM technique, was performed as an alternative method to evaluate the structural model.



Ethical consideration

Ethical approval was received from the Stellenbosch University Research Ethics Committee: Human Research (Humanities). Ref. nr: DESC_VanderwesthuizenN2013.



Testing the measurement model

Item analysis

An item analysis was done on each latent variable scale that was included in the web-based survey. Table 2 shows that the Cronbach's alpha for each latent variable scale were satisfactory ( 0.70) (Nunnally, 1978). Moreover, the average inter-item correlation of the Psychological Meaningfulness Scale, UWES-9 and Turnover Intention Scale was > 0.50. Even though the average inter-item correlation for the abbreviated Proactive Personality Scale and Job Crafting Scale was 0.45 and 0.26, respectively, this was still considered satisfactory ( 0.15) (Clark & Watson, 1995).



Evaluating measurement model fit

Confirmatory factor analysis was performed to evaluate the measurement model fit. Notably, the researchers did not test all the model parameters in a single measurement model. Three measurement models were constructed. These measurement models were the employee engagement measurement model, the job crafting measurement model, and the meaningful work, proactive personality and turnover intention measurement model.

Results showed that the empirical data reproduced the employee engagement measurement model reasonably well: Sattora Bentler chi-square value = 85.84 (p < 0.00), root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) value = 0.08, goodness-of-fit index (GFI) value = 1.00 and adjusted goodness-of-fit index (AGFI) value = 0.99. The factor loadings of the indicator variables, which were included in the employee engagement measurement model, were statistically significant (p < 0.05) and the t-values exceeded the critical cut-off values (1.96 < t-value < +1.96). The factor loadings ranged from 0.71 to 0.97, and t-values ranged from 18.68 to 96.16.

Comparable results were reported for the job crafting measurement model. The job crafting measurement model was also reproduced reasonably well by the empirical data: Sattora Bentler chi-square value = 480.41 (p < 0.00), RMSEA value = 0.07, GFI value = 0.97 and AGFI value = 0.97. The factor loadings of the indicator variables, which were included in the job crafting measurement model, were statistically significant (p < 0.05) and the t-values exceeded the critical cut-off values (1.96 < t-value < +1.96). The factor loadings ranged from 0.58 to 0.93, and t-values ranged from 8.61 to 38.13.

In line with the above results, the meaningful work, proactive personality and turnover intention measurement model also reproduced by the empirical data reasonably well: Sattora Bentler chi-square value = 277.41 (p < 0.00), RMSEA value = 0.07, GFI value = 0.92 and AGFI value = 0.89. The factor loadings of the indicator variables, which were included in proactive personality, meaningful work and turnover intention measurement model, were statistically significant (p < 0.05) and the t-values exceeded the critical cut-off values (1.96 < t-value < +1.96). The factor loadings ranged from 0.53 to 0.92, and t-values ranged from 13.03 to 93.33.

Empirical data thus corroborate the three measurement models reasonably well. Each measurement model showed reasonable fit (0.05 < RMSEA < 0.08) and met the criteria for the GFI value (> 0.90). The factor loadings of the indicator variables, which were included in each of the measurement models, were statistically significant (p < 0.05) and the t-values exceeded the critical cut-off values (1.96 < t-value < +1.96).

Testing the structural model

Fitting the employee engagement and turnover intention structural model

It is important to mention that the subscales of the Job Crafting Scale (Tims et al., 2012) and the UWES-9 (Schaufeli et al., 2006) were operationalised as manifest variables of job crafting and employee engagement, respectively, during covariance-based SEM. This enabled the researchers to fit the employee engagement and turnover intention structural model despite restrictions in terms of sample size (n = 391).

The proposed employee engagement and turnover intention structural model, depicted in Figure 1, did not fit the empirical data exceptionally well: Sattora Bentler chi-square value = 549.22 (p < 0.00), RMSEA value = 0.06, GFI value = 0.89 and AGFI value = 0.86. Although the RMSEA value (0.06) showed reasonable fit, this was not verified by the GFI value (0.89) and the AGFI value (0.86). These values indicated mediocre fit. To ensure the accuracy and consistency of the results obtained from subsequent statistical analyses concerning the strength and significance of the hypothesised relationships that exist among the latent variables, covariance-based SEM was supplemented with PLS SEM.

Testing the hypothesised relationships

Table 3 shows that five p-values in the proposed employee engagement and turnover intention structural model were statistically significant. The strength of the influence of ξj and/or ηj on ηi was substantial and significant between proactive personality and job crafting (p = 0.73; accept Hypothesis 1); job crafting and meaningful work (p = 0.34; accept Hypothesis 3); meaningful work and employee engagement (p = 0.67; accept Hypothesis 4); job crafting and employee engagement (p = 0.29; accept Hypothesis 6); and employee engagement and turnover intention (p = 0.50; accept Hypothesis 8) at the 95% confidence level.



Three p-values were not statistically significant. The strength of the influence of ξj and/or ηj on ηi was not substantial and significant between proactive personality and turnover intention (p = 0.12; reject Hypothesis 2); meaningful work and turnover intention (p = 0.01; reject Hypothesis 5); and employee engagement and job crafting (p = 0.05; reject Hypothesis 7) at the 95% confidence level.

Partial least squares path analysis

Before commencing with PLS SEM, the proposed employee engagement and turnover intention structural model was modified. As shown in Figure 2, the revised structural model excluded the hypothesised positive influence of employee engagement on job crafting. Hypothesis 7 could, therefore, not be tested during PLS SEM because of the model modification.



Reliability analysis

A reliability analysis was done on all the latent variable scales that were included in the web-based survey. Table 4 shows that the composite reliability (> 0.70) and average variance extracted (> 0.50) obtained for the latent variable scales were satisfactory. It was concluded that the outer-measurement model fit was satisfactory. Each latent variable scale measured the construct it was assigned to measure.



Testing the structural model

Table 4 shows that the R2 values of employee engagement (0.57) and turnover intention (0.21) were satisfactory. By implication, the inner-model measurement fit was satisfactory. The latent variables in the revised employee engagement and turnover intention structural model explained 57% of variance in employee engagement and 21% of variance in turnover intention.

Figure 3 depicts the path coefficients between the latent variables of interest. Six path coefficients in the revised employee engagement and turnover intention structural model were statistically significant. The strength of the influence of ξj and/or ηj on ηi was substantial and significant between proactive personality and job crafting (accept Hypothesis 1); job crafting and meaningful work (accept Hypothesis 3); meaningful work and employee engagement (accept Hypothesis 4); meaningful work and turnover intention (accept Hypothesis 5); job crafting and employee engagement (accept Hypothesis 6); and employee engagement and turnover intention (accept Hypothesis 8) at the 95% confidence level.



One path coefficient was not statistically significant. The strength of the influence of ξj and/or ηj on ηi was not substantial and significant between proactive personality and turnover intention (reject Hypothesis 2) at the 95% confidence level.



The researchers drew on the central tenets of the JD-R theory to examine the role of job crafting, proactive personality (i.e. a personal resource) and meaningful work (i.e. a job resource) in predicting employee engagement and turnover intention among employees in service-providing firms that operate in the financial services industry. Results showed that employees exhibit average levels of employee engagement and turnover intention. It is, therefore, necessary to develop and implement human resource practices and interventions that concentrate on addressing employee disengagement and turnover intention.

Research has directed attention to a number of antecedents of variance in employee engagement and turnover intention. However, in response to recent developments in job crafting and proactive personality literature, only meaningful work, job crafting and proactive personality were addressed within the scope of the study. The researchers hypothesised that employees who have a proactive personality would be more inclined to exhibit crafting behaviour. This, in turn, may contribute to the meaningfulness of work-related activities, foster employee engagement and discourage the development of turnover intention.

Results generally supported the hypothesised relationships. Covariance-based SEM showed that hypotheses 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8 were statistically significant, and hypotheses 2, 5 and 7 were not statistically significant. Results of PLS SEM were mostly consistent with the results of covariance-based SEM. Partial least squares SEM showed that hypotheses 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 were statistically significant, and Hypothesis 2 was not statistically significant. As mentioned, Hypothesis 7 could not be tested during PLS SEM because of the model modification. The only difference in the results of covariance-based SEM and PLS SEM related to Hypothesis 5. In summary, results revealed that proactive personality was positively related to employee engagement and negatively related to turnover intention through job crafting and meaningful work.

Unexpectedly, the hypothesised positive influence of proactive personality on turnover intention was not statistically significant. Covariance-based SEM (p = 0.12) and PLS SEM (PLS path coefficient = 0.11) demonstrated that proactive personality was not a predictor of turnover intention. By drawing on the results obtained for Hypothesis 1 (p = 0.73; PLS path coefficient = 0.59), the researchers argued that employees who have a proactive personality rather exhibit crafting behaviour when their need for congruence is not met by their current work environment, as opposed to seeking alternative employment opportunities (i.e. turnover intention).

Practical implications

The practical implications of the study are threefold. Firstly, covariance-based SEM and PLS SEM demonstrated that job crafting is a predictor of meaningful work (p = 0.34; PLS path coefficient = 0.33), as well as employee engagement (p = 0.29; PLS path coefficient = 0.27). It is, therefore, necessary to encourage crafting behaviour among employees in the financial services industry in order to contribute to the meaningfulness of work-related activities and to foster employee engagement. The antecedents of job crafting can broadly be divided into individual differences (e.g. psychological states and personality traits) and organisational factors (e.g. organisational climate and supervisory support) (Petrou, 2013). The researchers recommend that at an individual level, human resource practices and interventions should be tailored to recruit and select employees who are more inclined to exhibit crafting behaviour. At an organisational level, supervisors should cultivate an organisational climate that encourages job crafting. In addition, supervisors should model crafting behaviours to their subordinates.

Secondly, covariance-based SEM (p = 0.73) and PLS SEM (PLS path coefficient = 0.59) demonstrated that proactive personality is a predictor of job crafting. It is, therefore, necessary to encourage proactivity among employees in the financial services industry in order to foster job crafting. Theories of proactivity suggest that the antecedents of proactivity can broadly be separated into individual differences (e.g. knowledge, skills and abilities and personality traits), motivational forces (e.g. extrinsic motivation and role-based motivation) and organisational factors (e.g. organisational climate and supervisory support) (Strauss & Parker, 2014). At an individual level, human resource practices and interventions should be tailored to recruit and select employees who are more inclined to be 'self-starting and change-orientated to enhance personal and organisational effectiveness' (Unsworth & Parker, 2003, p. 178). In addition, human resources practitioners should implement developmental interventions that equip employees with the knowledge, skills and abilities required for proactivity. At a motivational level, it is important to recognise and reward employees who exhibit proactivity. Recognising and rewarding employees who exhibit proactivity, will reinforce its value. Lastly, at an organisational level, supervisors should cultivate an organisational climate that encourages proactivity (McCormick et al., 2018).

Thirdly, covariance-based SEM (p = 0.67) and PLS SEM (PLS path coefficient = 0.62) demonstrated that meaningful work is a predictor of employee engagement. In addition, PLS SEM (PLS path coefficient = 0.14) demonstrated that meaningful work is a predictor of turnover intention. It is, therefore, necessary to improve the meaningfulness of work in organisations in the financial services industry in order to foster employee engagement and to discourage the development of turnover intention. As mentioned, job design (e.g. task significance and comprehensibility), person-job fit (e.g. values and mission), work relationships (e.g. colleagues and supervisors) and work beliefs (e.g. calling orientation) contribute to the meaningfulness of work-related activities (Pratt & Ashforth, 2003). With this in mind, the researchers recommend that human resources practitioners draw on the Job Characteristics theory (Hackman & Oldham, 1976) in order to improve the meaningfulness of employees' work-related activities through job enrichment. In addition, it is recommended that human resource practices and interventions be tailored to consider person-job fit and work beliefs when recruiting and selecting employees.

Limitations of the study and recommendations for research

Although the study offers valuable insight into the relationships between job crafting, proactive personality, meaningful work, employee engagement and turnover intention, it is not without limitations. The most noteworthy limitation of the study is its cross-sectional survey design. This design prevents the examination of causal relationships between latent variables and additional (including longitudinal) research is needed to understand the interplay and relational dynamics between the latent variables.

Another limitation relates to the nature of self-reported measures. Owing to the use of self-report measures, it is plausible that common-method variance negatively affected the accuracy of associations between the latent variables of interest. Reasonable steps were, however, taken to assure participants of the complete protection of their identity in order to reduce evaluation apprehension and, as a consequence, common-method variance (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). Nonetheless, multiple-source studies are needed to fully understand how job crafting, proactive personality and meaningful work influence employee engagement and turnover intention.

The mean age of respondents was 26.53 years old, and 34% of participants had been employed for less than a year at their current service-providing firm. Research has revealed that demographic characteristics, such as age and organisational tenure, influence employee engagement (Berg, Wrzesniewski, & Dutton, 2010) and turnover intention (Peltokorpi, Allen, & Froese, 2015). Although the sample size of the study was satisfactory, it is recommended that the study should be replicated among a sample with broader representation in terms of age and organisational tenure. Similarly, women comprised 61% of the sample. While research concerning the association between gender and proactivity has not been conclusive (Berdicchia, Nicolli, & Masino, 2016), it is recommended that future studies explore the salience of gender.

The four subscales of the Job Crafting Scale (Tims et al., 2012) were combined to obtain a composite measurement of crafting behaviour among participants. Research is needed to understand how each type of job crafting (i.e. increasing social or structural job resources and challenging job demands, and decreasing hindering job demands) is related to proactive personality, meaningful work and employee engagement. In addition, job crafting was operationalised as an individual-level phenomenon. It would, however, be valuable to investigate how the opportunity to perform crafting behaviours, as well as the effects of job crafting, may be influenced by other individuals such as colleagues and supervisors (Bakker, Rodríguez-Muñoz, & Sanz Vergel, 2016; Tims, Bakker, Derks, & Van Rhenen, 2013). Research which operationalises job crafting as a team-level phenomenon is needed.

The demarcation of the study within the financial services industry limits the findings and conclusions to the context of organisations within this industry. Research is needed to determine whether results obtained in the study hold true in other occupational contexts in order to generalise results to other work environments.


Concluding remarks

The study illustrates that the central tenets of JD-R theory can be applied to employees in the financial services industry to address challenges regarding employee engagement and turnover intention. Results demonstrated that job crafting, proactive personality and meaningful work significantly predict variance in employee engagement, which in turn significantly predicts turnover intention along with meaningful work. Employees with a proactive personality were more inclined to exhibit crafting behaviour to align job demands and job resources with their needs and abilities. By making their work more meaningful, these employees were more engaged in their work and, in turn, less inclined to develop turnover intention.



The authors are grateful for the support received from the service-providing firms that agreed to participate in the research study.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships which may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Author's contributions

N.V. conducted the literature review, facilitated the self-administered web-based survey and prepared the manuscript. B.B. was the study leader of this project. M.K. facilitated the data processing.


This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability statement

New data were created and analysed in this study. Authors may be contacted in this regard.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Nicola Vermooten

Received: 18 July 2018
Accepted: 01 Mar. 2019
Published: 30 July 2019

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Nurses' views on promotion and the influence of race, class and gender in relation to the Employment Equity Act



Mariana M. van der Heever; Anita S. van der Merwe; Talitha Crowley

Department of Nursing and Midwifery, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Regardless of the implementation of the Employment Equity Act (EEA), No. 55 of 1998 and the abolishment of apartheid in 1994, African and mixed-race females are under-represented in managerial positions in the public sector of the Western Cape (WC) in South Africa and nationally in the private health sector.
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The purpose was to explore the views of nurses about promotion to managerial positions in view of the Employment Equity Act (EEA) and the possible influence of race, class and gender.
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: South Africa has a history of racial hierarchies and gender inequities. It was therefore important to explore the influence of the EEA and race, class and gender on the promotion of nurses in the post-apartheid context.
Research approach/design and method: A cross-sectional descriptive survey design was completed. Six hundred and eighty-eight (n = 688) nurses consented to participate and 573 (83%) questionnaires were returned.
MAIN FINDINGS: Race as a social construct surfaced in the superior viewing of white and the inferior viewing of African nurses. Mixed-race and white nurses seemed disgruntled with the EEA because of the benefits it holds for African nurses. African nurses seemed angered by their under-representation in managerial positions in the private and public sectors in the WC. White nurses seemed convinced that African, mixed-race and Indian nurses experience upward mobility. Mixed-race nurses (public sector WC) showed concerns about the career successes of males in a female-dominated profession.
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: Managerial structures should be required to invest in diversity training, create awareness of the noble intentions of the EEA and communicate the relevance of employment equity plans.
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: The findings provided evidence that reflected a need for diversity training and the creation of awareness about the longstanding influence of racial and gender hierarchies.

Keywords: Employment equity; nurses; promotion; race; class; gender.




This article forms part of a larger PhD study that focused on the promotion of female nurses in public and private sector hospitals in South Africa, and reports on a subsection of the larger study, that is, the views of nurses on the influence of the Employment Equity Act (EEA), No. 55 of 1998 of South Africa on the promotion to managerial positions and the embedded realities of race, class and gender. The EEA was promulgated in 1998 by the South African government to redress the labour market inequities created by apartheid and to minimise discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability and Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status. According to the EEA, unfair discrimination does not apply to the exclusion of a candidate who does not meet the minimum inherent requirements of a job. At the same time, Section 20, subsection 5 (Republic of South Africa, 1998) affirms that unfair discrimination similarly relates to not appointing a qualified person because of a lack of experience. Furthermore, employers have to develop employment equity plans to attain an equitable account of all designated groups in the workplace. These plans should promote employment opportunities for designated groups that were previously disadvantaged, that is, females, African people (this included African people, mixed-race people and Indian people) and people with disabilities (Steyn, 2010; Burger & Jephta, 2006). The 2015 equity reports reflect that despite the implementation of the EEA in 1998, progress has only been achieved with the promotion of Indian and white females to managerial positions, and not African and mixed-race females (Republic of South Africa, 2015). For the purpose of this study, African and mixed-race female nurses are referred to as 'female nurses of colour'.

The study was carried out in the Western Cape (WC) and Gauteng provinces of South Africa because of representing different geographic and equity data. Geographically mixed-race people dominate in the WC as the population consists of 32.9% African people, 48.8% mixed-race people, 1% Indian people and 15.7% white people (Statistics South Africa, 2012). In contrast, Gauteng has a different profile. The population of Gauteng comprises 77.4% African people, 3.5% mixed-race people, 2.9% Indian people and 15.6% white people (Statistics South Africa, 2012), reflecting an African majority.

In considering equity data, the 2012 equity report of the public health sector in the WC (Republic of South Africa, 2012) indicated mostly white females occupying senior managerial positions. Mid-managerial positions were held mostly by mixed-race people, followed by white and lastly African females. The 2015 equity report of the public health sector in the WC (Republic of South Africa, 2015) shows minimal improvement in terms of equity, as white females still occupied more senior management positions than African and mixed-race females. Mid-managerial positions are still mostly occupied by mixed-race people, followed by white and lastly African females. Considering the demographic dominance firstly of mixed-race people and then African people in the WC, these groups' representation in managerial positions in the public health sector seems less prominent than that of white people.

The 2014 equity report of the public health sector in Gauteng reflects mostly African females in senior and mid-managerial positions, followed by white females and a lower representation of mixed-race people compared with Indian females (Republic of South Africa, 2014). The spread of African females is more representative considering the demographic dominance of the group in Gauteng.

Equity reports of private health care: The 2015 national equity reports of the private health sector do not reflect a breakdown according to province (Republic of South Africa, 2015). The reports show strong representation of white people (118) and Indian people (23) compared with that of mixed-race people (9) and African people (11) in senior managerial positions. The dominance of white people (564) in mid-managerial positions is also strong compared with African people (98), mixed-race people (67) and Indian people (94).


The findings of South African studies (Mputa, Heinechen & Vorster, 2016; Msomi, 2006) show that compliance to equity legislation seems to be slow in white male-dominated companies. The slow pace of achieving diversity in the workplace is further confirmed by a report of the Commission of Employment Equity in South Africa (2016) and Oosthuizen and Naidoo (2010). Research completed in the United Kingdom (Crofts, 2013; Taylor, 2007) and Canada (Yap & Konrad, 2009) confirmed slow progress with the creation of diversity in managerial positions despite the implementation of employment equity legislation.


Qualifications and advancement

Advancement to middle management (deputy nurse manager) in South African public sector hospitals can only be achieved should the applicant have a minimum of 9 years' experience in nursing of which 4 years should be at managerial level. Advancement to senior management (the head of nursing at a hospital) can only be achieved should the applicant have an additional postgraduate qualification (diploma) in nursing management (Republic of South Africa, 2007). In the private health sector, the postgraduate diploma in nursing management is an advantage but not a requirement for advancement to middle management (deputy nurse manager) and senior manager positions (nursing service manager). However, extensive experience in nursing management - preferably in the private health sector - is valued (Dorse, 2015; Coustas, 2015).

The statistical data of the South African Nursing Council (SANC, the legislative body representing South African nurses) on how many nurses are in possession of postgraduate qualifications in nursing management do not show a breakdown according to race (Hattingh, 2017). Ultimately, it appears that the minimum qualifications weighted against years of experience required for advancement in both the public and private sectors indicate that experience instead of qualifications might be the deciding factor for advancement.


Racial discrimination

South Africa has a history of legalised racial discrimination (apartheid) that benefited white people and disadvantaged African people (Ndinda & Okeke-Uzodike, 2012). Mixed-race people and Indian people were disadvantaged to a lesser extent than African people. During apartheid, white people were assigned improved privileges in terms of schooling, jobs, remuneration and social services. Mixed-race people and Indian people were assigned fewer of these privileges and African people fewest (Horwitz & Jain, 2011). Apartheid also surfaced in the history of nursing in South Africa. Nursing in South Africa was initially managed by white male medical doctors. White female nurses seem to have benefited because of their affiliation with white males (Marks, 1994) and later became the custodians of the nursing profession (Schultheiss, 2010). African nurses, however, were viewed as inferior as they were legally not allowed to oversee white nurses, ultimately enhancing institutional racism (Marks, 1990). Ndinda and Okeke-Uzodike (2012) aver that despite the abolishment of apartheid in 1994, institutionalised racism seems to persist in post-apartheid South Africa and is evident in terms of income and positions held in the workforce. The authors state that African females are the most disadvantaged because of being female and views relating to their ethnic background. African females are disadvantaged by the legacy of apartheid, meaning prejudice of white male managers and that they entered the corporate sector rather late, post 1994, lacking the necessary managerial exposure and experience (Msomi, 2006). In addition, managerial positions in the private health sector in South Africa seem to be dominated by white people, whereas African people seem to fare better in the public health sector (Republic of South Africa, 2015). If one considers the low presentation of African nurses in managerial positions in private health care as reflected in the national equity reports (Republic of South Africa, 2015), one can deduce that the domination of white people in private health care could benefit white nurses in terms of upward mobility and disadvantage the African nurses.


The Theory of Intersectionality

This study is supported by the theory of intersectionality. This theory was developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw (Crenshaw, 1989), and explains unfair discrimination as a consequence of the creation of prejudice by mutually reinforcing vectors of race, gender, class and sexuality. The simultaneity of these reinforcing vectors of race, gender, class and sexuality in everyday lives and social practices is considered to influence the identities of African females, their experiences and their constant struggles for empowerment, ultimately causing them to be marginalised and subordinate (Nash, 2008). As the study did not focus on sexuality, sexuality is not included in the following discussion.

Race and gender

The theory describes the twofold burden of race and gender as females in general are discriminated against; yet females of colour experience discrimination because of being female and their ethnic background (Jean-Marie, Williams & Sherman, 2009; Yap & Konrad, 2009). In workplace structures where white male managers are in control, females of colour tend to experience more difficulty with upward mobility than white females, reflecting elements of patriarchy and race intersecting with gender (Fryberg, 2010). The white female in the workplace seems to benefit as a result of the positive notions associated with whiteness and not being subjected to racial oppression (Ndinda & Okeke-Uzodike, 2012).

Gender and class

Organisational structures tend to reflect men's masculine power and practices and then reproduce these. Therefore, the concept of male supremacy in workplace structures seems to hold and the tendency to ascribe females an inferior stance compared with males, eventually demonstrates how gender intersects with class (Collinson, 2007). The situation tends to be worse for females of colour as they tend to experience more marginalisation because of race intersecting with class and gender (Ndinda & Okeke-Uzodike, 2012; Nash, 2008).

Race and class

Race relates to the systematic subordination or privileges that are assigned to a group based on the evaluation of their biological attributes (Haslanger, 2000). Class intersects with race and is visible in the superior views that society tends to hold of white people compared to the inferior views of those who are not white (Flecher, 2013). The Department of Labour in South Africa distinguishes four race groups: African, mixed-race, Indian and white people (Republic of South Africa, 2015). South Africa has a history of racial hierarchies where white people were regarded as being superior to other races, followed by mixed-race people and Indians, while African people were viewed as being inferior to these race groups (Horwitz & Jain, 2011). Historically, white people were regarded as superior to other races and race was viewed as a system of global oppression against people of other races in the interests of capitalism (Fletcher, 2013; Marks, 1994).

It is therefore deduced that regardless of the implementation of the EEA in 1998 and the abolishment of apartheid in 1994, African and mixed-race females are not well represented in managerial positions in the public sector of the WC and nationally in the private health sector of South Africa. The minimum requirements for advancement to managerial positions in both sectors reflect a preference for managerial experience rather than formal qualifications. It is consequently surmised that because of the history of apartheid, racial hierarchies and institutionalised racism may persist and curb the upward mobility of African and mixed-race females.


Research purpose

The purpose of this article was to report the views of nurses on promotion to managerial positions in light of the implementation of the EEA and the influence of race, class and gender.

Research design

Research approach

A post-positivist worldview was adopted as it does not view research to be subjective or objective. The post-positivist worldview also values multiplicity of inputs such as the multiple realities obtained via the survey pertaining to the views of participants regarding the influence of the EEA and race, class and gender on promotion (Ryan, 2006).


A cross-sectional descriptive design was used as it allowed investigation of a small group of concepts (Creswell, 2009) - as for the purposes of this study, the influence of the EEA, race, class and gender on the promotion of nurses to leadership positions - and a large group of participants (Kelle, 2006). The large group of participants was useful as it enabled heterogeneity of the final sample, meaning participants from the private and public health sectors and two provinces of South Africa. Furthermore, qualitative data were derived from the open-ended questions and thematic analysis of such data assisted with the identification of patterns of data that enhance interpretation (Terre Blanche, Durheim & Painter, 2006).


The population concerned comprised professional nurses (PNs) employed in both the public and private sector hospitals of the WC and Gauteng provinces. The study used multi-staged sampling. The two provinces were purposefully selected as they host the largest public and private hospitals in South Africa. Thereafter one central hospital (a public sector hospital with more than 1200 beds) and three private hospitals (bed occupancy ranged between 330 and 150 each) were purposefully selected in each province. It was assumed that because of the size of the hospitals, promotion and appointments to managerial positions would occur more regularly and nurses employed at the hospitals would have observed or experienced promotional processes. Sample size was calculated on the basis of logistical criteria such as time, costs and the availability of participants. A bio-statistician calculated the sample size to ensure a proportionate and representative sample of each hospital and sector. Accordingly, one-third (n = 825) of the total population (N=2476 PNs) was selected by means of systematic random sampling. A total of 688 participants consented to participate and 573 (83%) questionnaires were returned.

Measuring instrument

Instrumentation comprised a questionnaire with two sections. Section A relates to demographic information such as race, qualifications, gender and location. Section B contains the actual questions concerning the concepts under study, for example, the EEA, race, class and gender. Question 1 reflects a rating scale question where participants have to rate the possible influence of the implementation of the EEA on race, gender and hierarchical relationships in the workplace as well as advancement of nurses from previously disadvantaged groups. Ratings vary from -3 (worsened) to 0 (stayed the same) and then +3 (improved).

Questions 2 and 3 are Likert scale questions, for example, participants have to reflect on promotional opportunities in the workplace, namely, whether increased concerns arise when promotional opportunities become available, and whether decision-making is influenced by race, class, gender and the EEA. Options were coded as follows: not at all (1), slightly (2), moderately (3) and absolutely (4). Furthermore, each question has a sub-question, that is, an open-ended question that allows participants to relate experiences not addressed in the initial question.

An existing questionnaire that addressed the intersection of race, class, gender and equity legislation on promotion could not be found. The first and second authors therefore developed the structured questionnaire over time and with careful consideration of the implied conceptual realities. Terre Blanche et al. (2006) are of the opinion that establishing content validity of an abstract construct such as subtle racism is not easy as the real content is vast and not restricted to what can be found in textbooks. Therefore, as advised by Terre Blanche et al. (2006), care was taken to explain and include the content area of the phenomenon under study. Concepts such as the EEA, race, class and gender were therefore explained to the reader on the first page of the questionnaire.

Face and content validity

As this study is based on the theory of intersectionality, the concepts contained in the theory are reflected in the objectives of the study and the questionnaire. Besides, to enhance precision regarding content, the questionnaire was developed with the assistance of an expert in industrial psychology employed at Stellenbosch University who restructured various questions to enhance both face and content validity. To further ensure content validity, the instrument was reviewed by a well-known expert in political sciences at Stellenbosch University.


The interrelatedness of the individual options contained in the Likert and rating scale questions was found sufficient as the Cronbach alpha of question 1 was 0.90, question 2 was 0.77 and question 3 was 0.80.

Pilot test

The questionnaire was pre-tested by 10 PNs employed at a large district hospital in the Cape Metropolitan Area to verify possible inaccuracies such as vague instructions and language, as advised by Brink, van der Walt and van Rensburg (2012). Following the pilot test, minor adjustments were made to the questionnaire, for example, words were changed to enhance meaning. The data obtained via the pilot test were not included in the results of the actual study because the questionnaire had yet to be finalised.

Research procedure and ethical considerations

Data collection was completed by the first author over an 8-month period. The following process was followed at each hospital. The first author reported her presence to the unit manager or person in command of a shift and requested their input as to a suitable time and date to recruit the individual participants. In cases where the ward was not that busy, the unit manager or shift leader allowed the first author to approach participants. Participants who consented to participate were handed an envelope that contained two consent forms and the questionnaire. Once the consent forms were signed, the researcher retained a copy and handed the original copy to the participant. The researcher collected the questionnaires on the next shift of a participant.

Written consent was obtained from each participant after which each was handed a leaflet that further explained the context of the study, voluntary participation and their right to withdraw from the study at any stage. Questionnaires were kept anonymous, not reflecting identifying details of the institution or the participant. Data are kept in a locked safe for 5 years, after which they will be destroyed.

Statistical analysis

Data were analysed with the assistance of a bio-statistician using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) software, version 24. Descriptive statistics were used to organise the data (visual presentation through frequency tables).

As the study is supported by the theory of intersectionality, the responses to each question were compared to race, class and gender. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used to compare the responses for three or more groups, such as the African, mixed-race, Indian, and white racial groups. The scores (continuous variables) were therefore rank-ordered and the mean rank for each group was compared (Pallant, 2013). The Mann-Whitney U test was used to compare the responses of two independent groups such as gender (male and female) and position/class (managers and followers, i.e., the PNs) with a continuous variable (Pallant, 2013), that is, the scores of the possible responses, for example, 1, 2, 3, -1, -2, -3 and 0.

Data from the open-ended questions were analysed using the approach described by Terre Blanche et al. (2006), comprising the following steps: familiarisation and immersion, inducing themes, coding, elaboration and interpretation and checking. During this process the researcher endeavoured to set aside her preconceived notions about the topic and focused on the meaning of the text.


Ethical consideration

The study received ethical clearance from Stellenbosch University (ethical clearance number: S1505122) and institutional permission was granted by the individual public hospitals and private hospital groups.



The results (Tables 1 and 2) confirm the female dominance among nurses (n = 516, 91.2%) and African dominance (n = 266, 47.2%) among the South African race groups. Most participants were from the public sector (n = 304, 53.1%) and were PNs (n = 461, 85.5%). Although Gauteng had a larger private health care component (n = 146, 52.3%), the WC had a larger public health care component (n = 170, 57.8%). A large number had undergraduate (n = 400, 77.5%) and postgraduate nursing (n = 198, 67.3%) diplomas.





The mean age of the participants was 44 with a standard deviation (SD) of 10.5, indicating a good spread of generations as some were as young as 24 while others were 67 years old. The average years working at an institution were 12 (SD 10.7), ranging from rather low (3 months) periods of employment to being employed at one institution for a lengthy period of time (43 years).

The influence of the EEA on racial, gender and hierarchical relationships and promotion in the workplace (results displayed in Figure 1 and Table 3).



Figure 1 illustrates that overall the application of the EEA contributed to improved racial, gender and hierarchical relationships in the workplace and increased promotion of nurses from previously disadvantaged groups. The improvements were generally rated 1 and 2, reflecting a rather cautious stance towards admitting that improvement had taken place. Equally, a large number of participants perceived that racial, gender and hierarchical relationships, and the promotion of previously disadvantaged groups, have stayed the same.

Statistically significant differences existed in the views for all the options contained in this question across categories of race (means and SDs are displayed in Table 3). The mixed-race group was least convinced that the EEA contributed to improved racial relationships in the workplace, whereas the African group had a more positive stance. The mixed-race group also seemed to be most sceptical that the application of the EEA improved gender relationships, whereas the Indian group was more likely to concur. Although African, mixed-race and Indian nurses were more optimistic that the application of the EEA contributed to improved hierarchical relationships in the workplace, white nurses were less convinced. Similarly, compared with managers, the PNs were less likely to concur that the application of the EEA contributed to improved hierarchical relationships. Regarding whether the application of the EEA enhanced the promotion of African, mixed-race and Indian nurses, mixed-race and African nurses were less convinced, whereas white nurses were more convinced and in agreement. No statistically significant differences were found between the views of males and females for all the options contained in this question.

Concerns that arise when new promotional opportunities become available - that decision-making be influenced by race, class, gender and the EEA (results displayed in Figure 2 and Table 4).



Figure 2 illustrates that when promotional opportunities become available, there are fewer concerns that class and gender will play a role. However, the majority indicated that concerns about the influence of race and the EEA increased considerably with new promotional opportunities.

The race groups hold statistically significant divergent views regarding all the options contained in the question (means and SDs are displayed in Table 4). The mixed-race and white groups seemed to be most concerned that race could influence decision-making regarding promotion, whereas the African group seem to be less concerned, yet rather divided (the larger SD). Likewise, the Indian and white groups were more certain and in agreement that class would have a lesser influence on decision-making when promotional opportunities became available. The mixed-race and African groups were also less concerned about the possible influence of class, yet more divided (the larger SDs). On the contrary, the mixed-race group, followed by the African group were more concerned that gender would influence decision-making when promotional opportunities become available compared with the Indian and white groups. Furthermore, the mixed-race and white groups were most convinced that the EEA plays a role in decision-making regarding promotion, followed by the African and Indian groups.

No statistically significant differences were found between the views of males and females (gender) and those of managers and PNs (class) across all the options contained in this question (Table 4).

The extent that the Employment Equity Act is implemented in a facility; the presence, training, encouragement and successes of African, mixed-race and Indian nurses with promotion (results are displayed in Figure 3 and Table 5).



Figure 3 illustrates that although African, mixed-race and Indian nurses were encouraged to apply for promotion, their success in being promoted was generally viewed to be moderate. Furthermore, the overall view was that African, mixed-race and Indian nurses were encouraged to apply for promotion and that they received training that enabled them to be promoted. One can therefore infer that the participating facilities considered the implementation of the EEA.

However, irrespective of the positive views indicated by the frequencies, the race groups again differed statistically significantly across all the options contained in the question (the means and SDs are displayed in Table 5). Although white nurses were most convinced that African, mixed-race and Indian nurses are promoted to leadership positions, these nurses themselves were less convinced. White nurses again seemed to be most certain that African, mixed-race and Indian nurses are encouraged to apply for promotion, while these nurses were less in agreement. White nurses were also quite convinced that African, mixed-race and Indian nurses are successful when applying for promotion, while these nurses themselves were less so. African nurses were, however, less convinced than nurses from the other race groups that African, mixed-race and Indian nurses received training that enabled them to be promoted. Male nurses too were less convinced about the provision of training.

No statistically significant differences were found among the views of managers and PNs.


Findings from the open-ended responses

Five themes emerged from the responses to the open-ended questions: race, gender, class, nepotism and bribery, and staff development and promotion.


Mixed-race participants seemed almost anxious about the role of race in promotions and that they might not be valued in the implementation of the EEA:

'Yes if you not black enough you won't get the post [and] equity favours the Africans only unfortunately.' (WC, female, public sector)

African participants, however, commented on the dominance of mixed-race people in managerial positions:

'Mixed-race nurses have better opportunities than Africans. Most mixed-races are into leadership positions except Africans.' (WC, female, public sector)

African participants also appeared to be disgruntled by their low presentation in managerial positions:

'There is not a single unit manager that is black at my hospital and this disgusts me. I'll just say "slightly" on all the above, because otherwise I'll just get more upset about this - it is almost as if we don't get recognised.' (WC, female, private sector)

White participants too seemed concerned about the role of race:

'It is often voiced by some of my colleagues that with the new legislation if whites apply for promotion, that it will be overlooked for blacks or other previously disadvantaged groups as there is an active drive in the group to align themselves with EEA initiatives. Concerns are also raised that the company will favour colour as opposed to qualifications or experience.' (WC, female, private sector)

The comments from white and mixed-race participants signify a solicitousness for one's own career and not the broader ethical purpose of the EEA. Considering the dominance of white people in managerial positions in the private sector, one can deduce that white nurses might not be knowledgeable of their firm representation in managerial positions as is reflected in the equity reports.

Participants in Gauteng's private and public sectors referred to the role of race, but in a less anxious manner. African nurses reflected on their dominance in the public sector:

'Really difficult to comment accurately on racial issues, as the majority of the employees are Africans - 99.9%.' (Gauteng, male, public sector)

Another opinion of white nurses on increased employment of mixed-race nurses was that:

'More black and mixed-race nurses are employed.' (Gauteng, female, private sector).


Concerns were also raised about the promotion of males, that at times, males were appointed irrespective of poor performance in the interview:

'Since 2014 men are more considered when promotion opportunities become available' (WC, female, public sector)

'most men usually fail dismally during the interview but still selected even if a man got 48% marks.' (WC, female, public sector).

Other participants had differing views; some averred that males were not treated fairly in terms of promotion, while others indicated that they were favoured:

'Profession is dominated by females from African background. Men are being overlooked and discriminated against [and] because males are few and are given first preference.' (Gauteng, male, public sector)

Similarly, comments also reflected favouritism of males:

'Males also get higher salaries [and] Africans take preference above others of colour and men above women.' (Gauteng, female, private sector)

Those in the private sector commented on female domination in managerial posts:

'There are more women in management roles.' (WC, male, private sector)

Yet, those employed in the public sector in Gauteng observed more respect being demonstrated towards male nurses, signifying the possibility of patriarchal behaviour surfacing at work:

'Male nurses are respected more than female nurses and are given leadership positions'. (Gauteng, female, public sector)


Race as a social construct appeared in the view of African people as inferior and superior view of white people in the WC:

'Because I am an African, I am not considered as a person who may hold high position. Because of my race and clan.' (WC, female, public sector)

'White nurses are still regarded as more competent' (WC, female, private sector).

Class also surfaced in hierarchical structures, signifying the presence of autocratic leadership practices; participative decision-making was seemingly not practised consistently:

'Poor hierarchical relations between managers and followers, for example if you request leave for your relative one is questioned; deny mostly one's requests. Off duties just changed without notification. Autocratic [and] only abuse of power - using one or position of authority to improper benefit or discriminate against another person.' (WC, female, public sector)

Equally, hierarchical relationships were seemingly unsound and managerial interest in the careers of nurses was lacking:

'No relationship between managers and nurses. No succession plan in leadership positions'. (Gauteng, female, public sector)

Nepotism and bribery

At times, bribery, good relationships and affiliation with social clubs seemingly influenced promotion practices:

'Sometimes people are hand-picked to apply and are given tips on which areas to read in preparation for interviews. And this is followed by a reward, because those will get their promotion irrespective of how bad they performed.' (Gauteng, male, public sector)

Money talks:

' give me this, and I will give you that.' (Gauteng, male, public sector)

'They preferred to give promotional posts to nurses they know socially'. (Gauteng, male, public sector)

Staff development and promotion

A postgraduate diploma in nursing management is not a requirement for promotion to senior managerial positions in the private sector, but necessary for senior managerial positions in the public sector (see qualifications and advancement). Participants averred that it was difficult to obtain study leave and that lacking a qualification could have implications for successful promotion:

'It is difficult to receive assistance, for example study leave to do nursing administration even on a part-time basis, which makes applying for promotion even more difficult due to lack of qualification.' (WC, female, public sector)

'Most people apply to further their studies without being successful.' (Gauteng, female, private sector).

Another comment suggested discrimination in terms of who was granted study leave:

'Most of the study opportunities are given to whites in our department - they get 95% chance; whereas our Africans get 5%.' (WC, female, private sector).



The purpose of this article was to report the views of nurses about the influence that the EEA and race, class and gender have on promotion.

The results showed a cautious stance towards conceding that the implementation of the EEA benefited female nurses of colour. Mixed-race nurses were sceptical that the EEA contributed to their being promoted and were most concerned that the EEA could influence promotional outcomes. Qualitative data also reflected that the mixed-race group might not value the EEA as the implementation of the Act could enhance the promotion of African nurses. Oosthuizen and Naidoo (2010) confirm disgruntlement among some mixed-race people with the EEA as the Act, according to them, mostly benefits African staff.

The equity reports (Republic of South Africa, 2015) reflect that mixed-race nurses dominate in mid-managerial positions in the WC, while white nurses are more successful with senior appointments in both the public sector of the WC and in the private health sector nationally. African nurses dominate in the public sector in Gauteng (Republic of South Africa, 2014), but have yet to find their feet in the private sector (Republic of South Africa, 2015).

The fact that senior managerial positions tend to evade mixed-race nurses in the private health sector and the WC, despite their demographic dominance in the province, might explain their discontent with the Act. Taylor, Mwaba and Roman (2014) and Amberger (2007) report that mixed-race people in post-apartheid South Africa tend to view race as an issue, being marginalised to some extent.

White nurses, however, seemed more convinced about the successful promotion of female nurses of colour: that female nurses of colour occupy managerial positions and are encouraged to apply for promotion. Female nurses of colour concurred less on these issues. The Witt-Kiefer report (2011) showed that white people tend to hold views that people of African descent indeed experience upward mobility in the health sector, whereas those of African descent were not in agreement.

White nurses were also less in agreement than the other groups that the EEA contributed to improved hierarchical relationships and expressed concerns that equity takes precedence over the competency profile of a candidate. Oosthuizen and Naidoo (2010) showed that white people view the EEA as benefiting African people; that at times, a person of colour who is successful lacks the required experience for the position. Other research findings (Mputa, Heinechen & Vorster, 2016; Level Playing Field Institute, 2008) confirmed the notion among white employees that managers tend to favour people of colour in an effort to meet equity targets. Mputa et al. (2016) refer to feelings of being disadvantaged by the EEA among white South Africans because the Act focuses on the advancement of previously disadvantaged groups. Steyn (2010) relates an element of angst among white Afrikaners about potentially losing the power or advantage created by apartheid.

Conversely, the disgruntlement of African nurses with their perceived lack of upward mobility in the private health sector and the public sector in the WC could be explained by the 2015 equity reports that show under-representation of the group in these spheres despite the implementation of the EEA in 1998 (Republic of South Africa, 2015). Mixed-race and white participants in these sectors seemed to be disgruntled and concerned about the EEA and the advantages it holds for African nurses. Seekings (2007) and Oosthuizen and Naidoo (2010) aver that race remains an issue in post-apartheid South Africa. Steyn (2010) also reports a scramble for power among white South Africans in order not to lose any advantage already attained. It therefore appears that African nurses have a difficult road towards achieving promotion in post-apartheid South Africa.

The frequency distributions suggested that gender has little influence on decision-making regarding promotion. However, mixed-race nurses were most concerned about this. The responses to the open-ended questions of the public sector in the WC indicated purposeful efforts to appoint males, whereas the responses of nurses in the Gauteng private sector implied that males might be favoured in terms of promotions and salaries. The equity reports of the WC public sector (Republic of SA, 2015) show a 1:3.2 male-to-female ratio in mid- and junior managerial levels, whereas the equity report of Gauteng (Republic of SA, 2014) reflects 1: 3.4 (mid-managerial level) and 1:4.5 (junior managerial levels) male-to-female ratios. The website of the South African Nursing Council (SANC) (the legislative body that governs nursing practice in South Africa and maintains statistics of registration of all South African PNs) reflects a 1:8 male-to-female nurse ratio. The divide between the ratios of SANC and those of the equity reports signifies that although males are few, they are also in command. Therefore, despite nursing being a female-dominated profession (SANC, 2016), males tend to experience more upward mobility in the WC than Gauteng. These ratios might explain the discontent of the mixed-race people. Research findings of Simpson (2004) confirm that the careers of males tend to flourish in female-dominated professions such as nursing. Males in their study seemed to have benefited from the minority status in the female-dominated profession and the belief that males are worthy leaders. Furthermore, Muench, Sindelar, Busch and Buerhaus (2015) and Brown (2009) found in their studies that male nurses were better remunerated than female nurses.

Irrespective of the influence of gender, the racial hierarchies created by apartheid (Horwitz & Jain, 2011) seem to persist, as reflected in the inferior viewing of African nurses and superior viewing of white nurses in the current study. Talbot and Durrheim (2012) confirm the existence of racial stereotyping in post-apartheid South Africa. Booysen and Nkomo (2010) and Bendick and Nunes (2012) ascribe the slow progress with diversity in the workplace to the persistence of these racial stereotypes. Tropp and Molina (2012) found that people tend to view individuals from their own race group more favourably than those from other race groups. Nguyen-Phuong-Mai (2017) also reports discriminatory acts exhibited by dominant groups in organisations as efforts to protect their own power and privileges. The latter might explain the responses reflecting racial discrimination in terms of developmental opportunities.

Class also surfaced in institutional hierarchies (managers vs. followers) where those with less power were seemingly marginalised through autocratic managerial practices. Although managers hold views that the EEA contributed to improved hierarchical relationships, the PNs (followers) were less convinced. Wetzel (2014) writes that PNs (lower class) tend to find themselves in bureaucratic systems that are controlled by managers with decision-making power who could be intimidating because resistance could have an impact on their careers. The PNs have yet to become managers, whereas the managers are the privileged ones (and could be blind to these privileges) who do not have to be concerned about promotional prospects (Pratto & Stewart, 2012). Therefore, one can deduce why the managers would view the EEA to have contributed to improved hierarchical relationships.

Furthermore, on the point of class and the power contained in it, research conducted by the Public Service Commission of South Africa (2016) and Pauw (2017) confirmed irregularities with promotion and appointments that might explain the comments reflecting nepotism and bribery. The Commission found that at times documentation regarding recruitment and promotion was absent and in some cases lacked evidence of the selection committee members and/or the selection process, deducing that this evidence could have been purposefully misplaced.



Although African nurses seemed to be marginalised in the WC public and private sector, mixed-race nurses experience marginalisation in the private sector. The progress that African nurses experience in the public sector, Gauteng, and mixed-race nurses, WC, seems to relate to their demographic dominance in the respective provinces. The superior viewing of white females and their dominance in senior managerial positions in public and private sectors is rather prominent regardless of their being a minority group, signifying the persistence of advantages attained through apartheid. The dominance of racial hierarchies in terms of upward mobility is therefore a reality with female nurses of colour receiving the shorter end of the stick. The apparent superior viewing of male nurses and their progress with upward mobility, although a minority, displays class intersecting with gender. It therefore appears that institutions have to reassess their efforts to do justice to the noble intentions of the EEA.

Practical implications

As the results indicate the persistence of racial hierarchies in terms of positions held in the workplace and the inferior viewing of mixed-race people, management should actively seek ways to enhance inclusivity. These should include diversity training, a racially diverse recruitment team and enhancing the transformational managerial skills of managers to minimise discontent among followers and increase unity among race groups.

Limitations of the study

The study was carried out in the hospital environment and therefore excluded day clinics, primary health care settings and nursing schools. It is assumed that the views of nurses working in these areas might be different.



M.M.v.d.H. acknowledges the support of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the South African Nurses Trust (SANTRUST) in the preparation and execution of the research. The authors also acknowledge the support of Profs. Johann Malan and Amanda Gouws at Stellenbosch University for their contributions with the development of the questionnaire.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this paper.

Author's contributions

M.M.v.d.H. wrote the article and conducted the research under the supervision of the A.S.v.d.M. A.S.v.d.M. was the supervisor involved in the study. She reviewed the article and provided advice regarding the completion thereof. T.C. provided guidance with the presentation of the results and the section on statistical analysis. She also reviewed the article.


A sabbatical grant was received from the National Research Foundation of South Africa to complete the degree and the article: NRF grant number 110862.

Data availability statement

A lot of data have been generated in the larger study. The data is the intellectual property of Stellenbosch University and not for sharing.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Mariana van der Heever

Received: 13 Nov. 2018
Accepted: 04 Feb. 2019
Published: 31 July 2019

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A psycho-philosophical view on the 'conceptualisation' of psychological measure development



Hannelie du PreezI; Werner de KlerkII

IDepartment of Early Childhood Education, Faculty of Education, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
IISchool of Psychosocial Health, Community Psychosocial Research (COMPRES), North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa





ORIENTATION: When researchers' understanding and application of 'conceptualisation' can allude to nearly anything, it loses its philosophical purpose and stature. Negating the philosophical meaning of the term 'conceptualisation', because it appears obvious, will result in research inquiries becoming ambiguous and ideologically diminished. Paradigms and theoretical frameworks are rooted in philosophical principles, yet researchers often 'conceptualise' and conduct inquiries without understanding the foundation of their applied scientific methods
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The historicity of psychological measurement development depicts a fusion of transdisciplinary knowledge systems and the stature of scientific methods is comprehensive. Yet the philosophical lenses through which researchers 'conceptualise' their measure to understand psychological behaviour are not as clear.
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Contemporary psychometric literature postulates the 'conceptualisation phase' as a mere point of departure to develop a psychological measure, whereas philosophical literature depicts 'conceptualisation' as the mainstay of any research inquiry.
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: A qualitative design was used with the conceptual analysis of terminology as approach. Textual or typographical psychometric and psychological literature was purposively sampled and inductively and deductively analysed, using the philosophical framework of Van der Walt and Potgieter.
MAIN FINDINGS: The definition of the 'conceptualisation phase' is principally characterised as the scientific method to measure the scientific reality, while the integral human component, represented by the measure developer, is overlooked.
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: Insights derived can enthuse future dialogues on the purpose and importance of the conceptualisation phase in the development of psychological measures.
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: A potential delineation of what the 'conceptualisation phase' should encapsulate is proposed.

Keywords: Conceptual analysis; conceptualisation; conceptualisation phase; psycho-philosophical viewpoints; psychological measure development.




Psychological measures, or psychometric tools, typically constitute a process-orientated action to objectively and systematically gather information about aspect(s) of a person's psychological behaviour or being, whereupon inferences are drawn to inform decisions and/or make recommendations (Anastasi & Urbina, 1997; Murphy & Davidshofer, 2014; Ryan, Lopez, & Sumerall, 2001; Schweizer & DiStefano, 2016). In brief, a psychological measure characterises a clearly designed map of constructs or latent traits (scientific reality) and the measurement (scientific method) thereof (Finkelstein, 2003; Michell, 1997).

This generic definition is evidence of important fundamentals when developing a psychological measure; however, what the conceptualisation phase in measure development pertains to is consequently not as clear as assumed. The fundamentals of the definitions of psychological measure indicate rigorous experimentation and mathematisation to measure constructs. However, the measure developer's own philosophical lens or interpretation of the scientific method and the scientific reality is not explicitly accounted for (Borsboom, 2005, 2006; Maul, Torres Irribarra, & Wilson, 2016; Michell, 1997). A serious social scientist, scholar or researcher, also implying a measure developer, characterises someone who carefully considers their philosophical positioning when conceptualising before operationalising their actions (Comte-Sponville, 2005, Harris, 2010). Social science is a branch of the philosophy of science (Delanty & Strydom, 2010), and the practice of measurement has philosophical implications (Michell, 2005). Therefore, the body of scholarship of social sciences, psychology and philosophy are integrated, not dichotomous, and for this article labelled a psycho-philosophical view.

Supportive literature indicated that terminology in social sciences and psychology is commonly overlooked, not studied, not questioned, and frequently accepted as being self-explanatory, obvious or apparent (Cocchiarella, 2007; Petocz & Newbery, 2010). Words, concepts, terms and symbols are the only mediums available for conveying meaning, and such terminology gives voice to serious measure developers to structure their thoughts and determine their prediction in language. Therefore, clarifying concepts and terminology, disclosing conceptual anomalies in theories and models, questioning unsound assumptions and arguments and evaluating the reliability of procedural methods are much needed (Borsboom, 2006; Petocz & Newbery, 2010).

Conceptualisation, as one of seven phases (see Figure 1), is precariously open for unguided interpretation, faces the risk of detaching from its precise meaning and understanding, and might become vague and manifold (Cocchiarella, 2007; Hutto, 2013). Seeing that the meaning of the 'conceptualisation phase' is not always obvious, it is sometimes confused with or seen as part of the operationalisation phase(s). This suggests that the serious measure developer's insinuations, inclinations, assumptions and/or biases influence his or her understanding of the scientific reality and the scientific method; the more reason to delineate the conceptualisation phase. As soon as language eludes signs, index, description or register, philosophical scrutiny becomes necessary (Hutto, 2013; Margolis & Laurence, 2007).

The conceptual and methodological silences in the body of scholarship inspired us to formulate and answer the research question: What is the psycho-philosophical meaning of 'conceptualisation' as the first phase during the development of a psychological measurement? We were set to explore the existing body of scholarship pertaining to the 'conceptualisation phase' of psychological measure development. We critiqued the sampled textual sources and identified a lacuna in the delineation of the conceptualisation phase by using a philosophical a priori framework. We found that 'conceptualising' a psychological measure is an iterative, continuous and intentional process of abstracting, simplifying and categorising. It is a conceptual mapping of the ontological scientific reality, its epistemological scientific method, and the anthropological and axiological scientific understanding of human behaviour and being, as a relational system.


Literature review

Research endeavours in psychometrics show evidence of and support for measure development, utilisation and advancement in the pursuit of esteemed psychometric modelling (Borsboom, 2005, 2006; Goldstein & Beers, 2004). Scientific knowledge systems, and therefore psychological measure frameworks, comprise statements and approximations about reality (the ontological-epistemological criterion) that are in accordance with the evidence that alludes to the application of rigorous techniques and methods (the objectivity criterion), which are scrutinised and accepted or rejected by a scientific community (the rational criterion) (Babbie & Mouton, 2001). To contextualise each of these aspects that constitute a scientific knowledge system, we allude to the historicity of psychological measurement development, conceptualisation, the nature of a psychological measure and the development thereof against the backdrop of a psycho-philosophical context.

The historicity of psychological measure development

The origin of measurement can be traced back to the physical sciences (Finkelstein, 2003). Measurement has since been applied in diverse inter- and trans-disciplinary fields of study, and has achieved prominence in psychology and the social sciences (Humphry, 2013; Jones & Thissen, 2006). The historicity of measurement signals four major physical science and mathematical eras that contributed to and served as an important impetus in the establishment of psychometrics as a disciplinary field, namely, the syncopated era (500 BC-1000 AD); the Middle Ages or symbolic era (1000-1500 AD); the modern era (1500-1900 AD) and, finally, the contemporary era (1900 AD-present). Each of these eras, and their respective renowned scholars, revolutionised how the foundations of measurement tools were invented, practised and revised, drawing on both philosophical and mathematical viewpoints (Finkelstein, 2003).

The innovative works of astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher and mathematician Galileo contributed to the nexus of the theory-praxis dichotomy, as he quantified observations of the physical world through mathematics (Finkelstein, 2003). A trajectory of continuous discoveries charted the quest for closing the theory-praxis gap by quantifying human's psychological behaviour and being. A succinct trajectory of some revolutionary works is: (1) Newton and Maxwell's mathematical theories how to denote the physical world; (2) psycho-physicist Helmholtz's contribution to a modern theory of measurement; (3) philosopher, physicist and experimental psychologist Fechner, who is the founder of psychophysics; (4) Campbell's work on physical quantities for empirical operation; (5) the nature of measurement in psychology by Stevens, and philosophically analysed by Ellis; (6) the institution of scholarly journals (Psychometrika and Psychometric Methods) and the Psychometric Society by psycho-physicist Thurstone and psychologist Guildford; and (7) the leap forward in proposing the representational theory of measurement by Tarski, Suppes, Zinnes, Luce and Krantz, to name a few (Finkelstein, 2003; Humphry, 2013; Jones & Thissen, 2006; Michell, 1997).

The historicity of psychometrics, firstly, signalled the importance of fusing fields of study and their knowledge systems and, secondly, indicated how philosophy has shed light on a scientific hiatus, and vice versa. Observing and understanding human psychological behaviour is not only a philosophical, scientific or a mathematical phenomenon. Rather, scholars from these distinct fields of study recognised the importance of establishing an intellectual cohort to advance the scientific measurement of a scientific reality. In other words, the origins of psychometrics herald important transitions and revolutions, such as hybridising trans- and cross-disciplinary fields of knowledge, incorporating innovative views on reality and joining scholarly communities (Borsboom, 2006; Finkelstein, 2003; Jones & Thissen, 2006).

As with any discipline, psychometrics also has manifold measurement models and theories, which are based on works of particular, serious scientists, operating from very specific paradigmatic orientations. For example, the test for individual differences is associated with Gauss, Bessel, Galton and Cattell, while factor analysis was pioneered by Spearman, Thomson, Binet, Goddard and Terman (Humphry, 2013; Jones & Thissen, 2006). In addition to these theories is the Rasch model, based on the mathematical theory of item response theory, and the psychological measurement and multidimensional scaling, as influenced by Thurstone, Luce, Tukey, Guttman, Tucker and Messick, among others (Humphry, 2013; Jones & Thissen, 2006). Scrutinising the underlying theoretical premises of each of the aforementioned scholars is not the focus of the article; however, it is important that a serious measure developer should establish his or her theoretical framework when conceptualising a psychological measure. The historicity of psychometrics contextualises and informs our psycho-philosophical understanding of the importance of conceptualisation.


From a philosophical point of view, conceptualisation characterises a scholar's act of going through an iterative, continuous and intentional process to abstract, simplify and categorise his or her impressions, experiences or perceptions of a phenomenon or reality, to give meaning, purpose or expression through clear and descriptive language (Babbie & Mouton, 2001; De Vos & Strydom, 2011). This philosophical explication moots the possibility for the serious measure developer to map 'an empirical relational system into a well-defined theory in a mathematical language' (Finkelstein, 2003, p. 44). Therefore, conceptualisation is crucial to understand the history, philosophy and purpose of the intended measure, which represents its nature.

Nature of psychological measurement

The nature of a psychological measure is the experimentation and mathematisation of the scientific reality through a scientific method (Michell, 1997, 2005). Evidently, the majority of working definitions draw on science- and mathematics-related terminology, for example, 'process-orientated', 'systematic', 'scientific', 'standardise', 'norms', 'categories', 'scales' and, of course, 'quantify'. Maul (2013) and Maul et al. (2016), on the other hand, suggest that any measure has a philosophically infused foundation, which is not accounted for in most working definitions.

In light of the two perspectives on the nature of a psychological measure, it seems that consensus on the delineation of a psychological measure has not been reached, because the merit of the scientific reality, the scientific method, as well as philosophically infused provisions, are not evident in all working definitions. To better understand the complex nature of a psychological measure, firstly, warrants a better understanding of how a psychological measure is developed step-by-step (or phase-by-phase) and, secondly, realising the importance of psycho-philosophical contexts.

Psychological measure development

Acknowledged frameworks stipulate specific stages, phases or steps when developing a psychological measure (see Figure 1). Although a universally accepted exact, sequential and descriptive model has not yet been agreed upon, we have scrutinised the body of scholarship and developed a probable depiction, or side-by-side illustration, which represents the acceptable and sequential phases and their tasks that are evident in the process of developing a psychological measure (Chadha, 2009, pp. 87-90; Coaley, 2014, pp. 52-53; Cohen & Swerdlik, 2009, pp. 245-252; Foxcroft & Roodt, 2013, pp. 70-74; Kingston, Scheuring, & Kramer, 2013, pp. 165-182; Moerdyk, 2009, pp. 27-28; Murphy & Davidshofer, 2014, pp. 227-238; Ryan et al., 2001, pp. 1-4; Wright, 1999, pp. 65-101).

Figure 1 is a preliminary representation of the scientific reality and the scientific method of a philosophical measure; however, the philosophically infused provisions are not obvious, which call for a psycho-philosophical context.

Psycho-philosophical context

Philosophy has always been concerned with the fundamental question of what it means to be human and its corollaries of what truth is and how we can know it. The question that Galileo asked, 'What has philosophy got to do with measuring?' (Drake, 1999, p. 266) and its teased obverse, 'What has measuring got to do with philosophy?' (Michell, 2005, p. 285) indicate a historical dichotomy - a division where measure developers have to choose between science and philosophy, whereas the advancement of a measurement necessitates unifying science and philosophy (Maul et al., 2016; Michell, 1997, 2005). According to Oono (2012, p. v), the investigation of realities to convey clarity and precise meaning is, indeed, important research, because researchers ought to make 'intuitively grasped concepts clear'.

A psycho-philosophical lens can facilitate a conceptual tribunal and a collaborative ingenuity; it can assure that the psychological measure is conceptually clear, ethical towards humankind, meaningful and relevant through proper conceptualisation (Hacker, 2013). 'The license that philosophy possesses to intervene in scientific debates is a critical one, but the licit criticism is not empirical. It is purely conceptual' (Hacker, 2013, p. 20). In this context, we adopted the notion stressed by Maul (2013) and Michell (1997, 2005) to include philosophical principles in the working definition and potentially breaking away from common practice, where synonyms and word substitutions are used, which misconstrues the intent and meaning of conceptualisation.


Research design

Concept analysis of terminology

Qualitative social research endeavours ordinarily serve diverse purposes, among which are exploring, describing and explaining scientific knowledge systems, and clarifying concepts and terminology (Babbie & Mouton, 2001). Concept analysis is a process to guide the exploration of a term that is new, ambiguous and/or underdeveloped (Hughes & Duffy, 2018). Although concept analysis requires the systematic investigation of the characteristics or attributes of a concept to clarify its meaning (Hughes & Duffy, 2018; Nuopponen, 2010a, 2010b, 2011), it should not be confused with a systematic review or meta-analysis. A systematic review summarises key quantitative and qualitative scientific contributions to a field, while meta-analysis offers a statistical procedure to fuse findings to obtain overall reliability (Tranfield, Denyer, & Smart, 2003). The rationale for using concept analysis is to clarify and delineate terminology that are open to subjectivity, individual interpretation and multiple truths (Hughes & Duffy, 2018) We wanted to explore the delineation of the 'conceptualisation phase' according to psychometric as psychological (social science and psychology) textual sources; and elaborate on its meaning by interpreting it through a philosophical lens. We derived a possible delineation for the 'conceptualisation phase' and further dialogues on this delineation beckon. Different models can be utilised to conduct conceptual analysis (Hughes & Duffy, 2018), but for this inquiry we drew on Nuopponen's (2010a, 2010b, 2011) six generic phases, as depicted in Figure 2.



In the first two phases, the purpose, scope and knowledge domains for the analysis of the term 'conceptualisation' are delineated. Utilising this particular research approach indicates that to clarify or give meaning to a term, that cannot be sufficiently addressed by a mere literature review, requires a research investigation.

Phase three consists of identifying, attaining and constructing a textual or typographical dataset, from which an informed understanding about the discipline is formed (Nuopponen, 2010b). Our study is categorised as an empirical study in which we utilised existing typographical or textual sources to construct a particular and restricted textual dataset, which we then analysed. The integral and central part of our methodology comprised continuously scanning, scoping, gathering and selecting the most suitable textual sources for analysis and interpretation in a systematic and purposive manner (Babbie & Mouton, 2001). We collaborated with an information specialist to sample scholarly textbooks, using specific search terminology to locate either virtual (computerised) or physical (non-computerised) literature. This search was guided by establishing inclusion and exclusion criteria. The first inclusion criterion was that the content of the source should match the predetermined terminology or keywords (e.g. 'conceptualise' and/or 'conceptualise phase' and 'plan? phase' in 'measure?', and/or 'assess?', and/or 'test' in 'psychometric', and/or 'psychological' in and/or 'measure?', and/or 'assess?', and/or 'test'). Secondly, the textual sources had to represent the works of renowned scholars within the field of psychometrics and psychology; a body of scholarship on how to objectively and systematically measure psychological behaviour or being. Thirdly, each source should be accessible in its full electronic or printed format through an official and authorised library. Lastly, the selection of sources should represent both international and national scholars and be written in or translated into English. In relation to the exclusion criteria, we firstly discarded texts where the psychological measurement development was not located in psychology or psychometrics. Secondly, texts elucidating phases other than conceptualisation and/or planning or accounts of actual measuring or assessing of specific psychological constructs were rejected. Lastly, texts published in a language other than English were also not selected. We identified and scrutinised nine existing or typographical sources because they complied with all the inclusion and exclusion criteria and fit the purpose of this inquiry.

In phase four we identified a philosophical framework, because all research, including measure development, should be clarified and legitimised by the philosophical framework (Harris, 2010; Van der Walt & Potgieter, 2012). This particular a priori framework consisted of four philosophically inspired pre-scientific provisions, as founded in the work of Van der Walt and Potgieter (2012), and guided our thinking and reasoning about 'conceptualisation' during analysis and interpretation. The four philosophical pre-conditions and justifications provide conceptual clarity and guide a researcher's thinking and decisions about the scientific reality and the scientific method which influence the quality of the outcome or product or finding. The importance of a framework to explain the construct (scientific reality) is also alluded by leading Rasch measurement theorists Bond and Fox (2015) and Boone, Staver and Yale (2014). A serious measure developer should focus firstly on theoretical premises underlying the construct (scientific reality) and thereafter on the quantitative analysis (scientific method). Conceptualising and refining a psychological measure should primarily be carried out for construct representation; in other words, the data should fit the philosophical framework (Bond & Fox, 2015; Boone et al., 2014).

The first provision is integrated personality positioning, which is the intentional choice of a researcher, as a holistic individual being, to unify or connect with his or her choice of research inquiry and ideological preferences. Furthermore, it is expected that a researcher should demonstrate qualities such as integrity, moral reflectiveness, authenticity, trustworthiness and dedication to serve others when conducting research. The second provision, namely transcendental positioning, denotes the intentional and theoretical deductions that a researcher cherishes about the research topic, such as his or her own assumptions, values, predispositions and intuitive thinking. Although the latter account could be considered as being an 'opinion', rather than a scientific fact, it remains likely that a researcher's underlying ontology will ultimately guide his or her research conduct pertaining to the choice of epistemology, cosmology, anthropology and methodology. The third provision, teleological positioning, acknowledges the importance of envisioning the outcome or reflecting on the purpose of a research inquiry and, therefore, what the researcher aims to attain when developing a measure. The intentional reflection on the outcome of the measure should resonate with his or her integrated and transcendental orientation and serve not only as an encouraging driving force to develop a measure but also to warrant a trustworthy and authentic outcome that mirrors quality and excellence in every aspect of the word. Lastly, a nomothetic positioning refers to a researcher's informed decision to consider an audience whom the outcome can affect and to whom it can contribute. Given the importance of establishing a community of scholars, such an audience can be sampled on the premises of ontological, epistemological and anthropological choices.

Commencing phase five, we were cautious (Guarino, 1995; Margolis & Laurence, 2007) not to cherish an all-confounding illusion to finally define the 'conceptualisation phase'. Rather, we deductively and inductively analysed, compared and interpreted the dataset in order for us to develop a clearer understanding of the terminology and to linguistically express our finding and delineate this phase and its implication(s). Through iterative steps of analyses, comparisons, interpretations and reflection, we interpreted the dataset and in phase six concluded our research inquiry by drawing a preliminarily delineation of the term 'conceptualisation'. The philosophical framework that enriched our understanding in phase four was imperative for our delineation of the conceptualisation of a psychological measure. How we constructed psycho-philosophical lenses to view the conceptualisation of a psychological measure is pivotal and necessitates explanation.

Inductive analysis as our psychological lens

An inductive analysis of the generated dataset enabled us to condense the psychometric literature on the conceptualisation phase into a tabular format, to indicate how psychometric literature depicts this phase. As seen in Table 1, we documented 'activity-based captions' from the nine sources and preliminarily grouped these captions into pre-emptive, possible thematic relations. Probable synonyms, polysemy and equivalences were considered as another validation process to assure the themes and their captions carried the same meaning across literature. The grouped captions were categorised into themes and labelled according to the predominant trends and patterns of the captions. We present eight general themes with their 34 respective captions, as well as evidence of which authors' texts were analysed.

The majority of scholars included 'piloting the measure', determining the 'format of the test items', and the 'audience' as the most important aspects to consider when conceptualising a psychological measure. Some scholars alluded to the 'rationale' and 'construction, format and scaling of items' as important aspects also to consider in this phase. Yet, the smallest number of scholars included the role of the 'measure developer', elucidating and emphasising the scope of practice of a serious measure developer. Looking at what was prevalently focused on in psychometric literature regarding the 'conceptualisation phase', it corroborates that psychological measures are rapidly operationalised and not sufficiently conceptualised. The 'type' (objective, subjective or projective), 'format' (open-ended, forced-choice or sentence completion) and 'description of constructs' are emphasised, while the 'knowledge, skills and dispositions' of the measure developer, as well as his or her theoretical framework, is almost entirely negated. It is assumed that serious measure developers are alike rather than unique, complex, individual and different. To illustrate the importance of considering the person who is utilising his or her social, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and physical views when developing a psychological measure, required that we analyse the same dataset deductively, using our philosophical framework.

Deductive analysis as our psycho-philosophical lens

The deductive analysis of the generated dataset enabled us to utilise the a priori framework to indicate a philosophical understanding of psychometric and psychological literature. We wanted to detect evidence of structured thought, experiences and rule-following activities that support a philosophical understanding of conceptualisation. By re-analysing the nine sources, we scrutinised the dataset for evidence of pre-scientific provisions in their descriptions of what constitutes the conceptualisation phase. Table 2 represents the process of deductive analysis.

The majority of these scholars incorporated transcendental, teleological and nomothetic positioning in their delineation of the conceptualisation phase, while the smallest number of scholars assimilated the integrated personality positioning in their working definition. The most prevalent activity-based captions that were suggested are the 'intentional expression of his or her understanding of the outcome, purpose or aim of measure', 'trustworthiness of the measure' and the 'justification of audience' for whom the measure is intended. In contrast, the 'intentional expression of his or her own socio-historical-cultural predispositions and thinking and its influence on the measure development', and also 'his or her understanding of the meaning of psychological behaviour and of being in the world, or being human' were almost omitted.


Limitations and recommendation

We acknowledge the likelihood that more scientific sources, which fit the exact inclusion and exclusion criteria, may exist and this can be a limitation. Further identification of such sources for inductive and deductive analyses may result in the elimination or addition of themes and activity-based captions in ways that may further improve the trustworthiness of this inquiry. We are also aware that other philosophical frameworks could be utilised. Yet we are convinced that the content analysed from this sample was sufficient and we have reached inductive thematic saturation and a priori thematic saturation (Saunders et al., 2018). Interestingly, the small sample of analysed textual or typographical psychometric literature has shed light on the importance of utilising psycho-philosophical lenses to make sense of a scientific hiatus.


Ethical consideration

This research inquiry was approved and monitored by the Health Research Ethics Committee (HREC) and the North-West University Institutional Research Ethics Regulatory Committee (NWU-IRERC). Ethical clearance number: NWU-00087-16-A1.


Discussion and practical implications

The most remarkable result to emerge from the data is that the conceptualisation phase merely expresses a synopsis on the agreement of what the scientific process entails, almost like an aerial view of the identified scientific reality and the applied scientific method. The transition from the conceptualisation phase of the scientific reality (ontology) and the scientific reality (epistemology) to the operationalisation phase of the measurement is swift, without considering the human positioning (anthropology and axiology) in the development of a psychological measure. Negating the human positioning in measure development is a serious lacuna. The proposed philosophical framework legitimises human reflexivity in the conceptualisation phase, which can enhance the integrity of the instrument. In our opinion, the four pre-scientific provisions can frame and inspire the delineation of the conceptualisation phase of a psychological measure in the following ways:

Integrated personality positioning

This can serve as a reminder that the serious measure developer should take a moment to become cognisant of himself or herself and take notice of self-interest as a possible motive (Comte-Sponville, 2005; Van der Walt & Potgieter, 2012) before commencing the development of a psychological measure that could be worthwhile, useful and beneficial to others. An intentional opportunity for self-interest should challenge serious measure developers to reflect on their socio-historical and cultural predispositions about the phenomenon and the scientific method (Comte-Sponville, 2005; Van der Walt & Potgieter, 2012). The reason for such an opportunity is that any scientific reality is socially, culturally, philosophically and historically constructed and affects how a theory of measurement and understanding is applied to develop a measure (Maul et al., 2016). Proper contextualisation of the scientific reality (ontology),the scientific method (epistemology) and the human positioning (anthropology and axiology) affects the entire development process (Finkelstein, 2003; Michell, 1997; Petocz & Newbery, 2010).

Transcendental positioning

Conceptualisation should prompt serious measure developers to think about their ethical behaviour and morality (Harris, 2010; Van der Walt & Potgieter, 2012), particularly because after following a set of methodological procedures (Maul et al., 2016; Petocz & Newbery, 2010), a measure will be constructed and utilised by human beings. Opportunity should be created for serious measure developers to evaluate and reflect on their ideological and theoretical assumptions and their understanding of terminology and concepts in order to identify risks that could threaten the measure's internal and external structure, which could harm future test takers (Maul et al., 2016; Michell, 1997, 2005). The validity and reliability of the measure's structure is always of concern and require the measure developer to consider both the purpose and use of the measure (Coaley, 2014; Finkelstein, 2003). Although the diversity of ideology is acknowledged, certain shared systems of human understanding do exist, and its influence on how one views and applies a scientific phenomenon is accentuated (Burgess & Plunkett, 2013; Michell, 1997, 2005). The measure developer's own anthropological positioning and approach to developing such a measure is an intrinsic and important part of the process (Michell, 1997, 2005; Petocz & Newbery, 2010) and proper conceptualisation can help measure developers move beyond an epistemological focus and achieve an ontological essence (Maul et al., 2016; Petocz & Newbery, 2010).

Teleological positioning

Along with the intentional act of reflecting on and explaining the purpose of the measure, to ensure that the internal and external structure contributes towards the aim (Coaley, 2014), the conceptualisation phase should also consider the individual for whom the measure is intended. The continuous and conscious engagement of scholars to construct, change, create, define, develop, give, interpret, justify, make and/or rationalise the use and applicability of a measure is an important practice (Babbie & Mouton, 2001; Van der Walt & Potgieter, 2012). No measure is faultless or perpetually relevant and should be revisited and adapted and, in some sense, reconceptualised. The validity and reliability of the measure rely on the continuous involvement of measure developers throughout the entire development process and on their collaboration with scholars to attain the purpose of the envisioned measure in an ethical and moral way (Michell, 1997, 2005; Petocz & Newbery, 2010).

Nomothetic positioning

The conceptualisation phase also necessitates that not only should the serious measure developer consider the audience for whom the measure is intended, but they should also establish beforehand their collaborating measure development team. Each human participant introduces his or her own integrated personality, as well as their transcendental and teleological orientation to the development process (Delanty & Strydom, 2010; Van der Walt & Potgieter, 2012). The latter is a crucial element to introduce multiple views and to expand our use of language pertaining to the scientific reality and scientific method. The conceptualisation phase creates the opportunity to co-construct a clear conceptual vocabulary by collaborating for meaning on the scientific reality, as well as the scientific method (Humphry, 2013; Maul et al., 2016). The engagement of the measure developer with the conceptualisation and with all the operational phases justifies that they can coexist (Petocz & Newbery, 2010) and, in turn, promote the outcomes and trustworthiness of the measure that will serve humankind.


Conclusion and recommendations

To introduce a philosophical stance when conceptualising a psychological measure gives the serious measure developer the edge to obtain a clearer view of the scientific reality and the scientific method throughout the entire process:

The greater the field of our awareness and understanding, the more we can transform from mute followers of rigid authoritarian prescriptions into authentic and willing embracers of aporia and enlightened ignorance. (Petocz & Newbery, 2010, p. 141)

On the other hand, overlooking the fundamental role of the philosophical framework during the conceptualisation of a psychological measurement can have serious repercussions for test developers and the test users. The conceptualisation of a psychological measure calls for a serious measure developer, who intentionally shows awareness of the intricate relationship that exists between language and thinking, as well as the social, cultural and historical nature of infused scientific knowledge systems about reality, method and being. The serious measure developer should furthermore intentionally reflect on their own structure of thought, experiences, rule-following, cognitive and linguistic capacities about the scientific reality, scientific method and being, as the meaning and understanding of the latter are loaded with socio-contemporaneity and socio-linguistic interpretations. A serious measure developer should justify and clearly express their understanding of conceptualisation in a well-defined theory in a mathematical and linguistic language. We are of the opinion that utilising the proposed psycho-philosophical lens can herald further studies that promote the rootedness of any type of theoretical framework in those philosophical principles that influence serious measure developers' understanding and measurement of a psychological phenomenon.



This article is based on the MA mini-dissertation of H. Du Preez, entitled, 'A conceptual analysis of conceptualisation as first phase in the development of a psychological measurement', under the supervision of W. de Klerk, North-West University, Potchefstroom.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Author's contributions

H.D.P. is the lead author and responsible for conducting the entire research inquiry. H.D.P. and W.d.K. collaborated in conceptualising and designing the research inquiry. H.D.P. continuously scanned, scoped, gathered and selected the most suitable textual sources for analysis and interpretation in a systematic and purposive manner. W.d.K. is the co-author and supervisor of this article and was responsible for the critical reading, synthesis and analysis of all content in the manuscript.


This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability statement

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The authors confirm that this work is original and has not been published elsewhere, nor is it currently under consideration for publication elsewhere. Furthermore, they also confirm that the content represented in this article is their own and not an official position of the institution or funder.



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Hannelie du Preez

Received: 28 Sept. 2018
Accepted: 31 May 2019
Published: 31 July 2019

^rND^sBorsboom^nD.^rND^sBurgess^nA.^rND^sPlunkett^nD.^rND^sDe Vos^nA. S.^rND^sStrydom^nH.^rND^sFinkelstein^nL.^rND^sGuarino^nN.^rND^sHacker^nP. M. S.^rND^sHughes^nM.^rND^sDuffy^nC.^rND^sHumphry^nS. M.^rND^sHutto^nD.^rND^sJones^nL. V.^rND^sThissen^nD.^rND^sKingston^nN. M.^rND^sScheuring^nS. T.^rND^sKramer^nL. B.^rND^sMargolis^nE.^rND^sLaurence^nS.^rND^sMaul^nA.^rND^sMaul^nA.^rND^sTorres Irribarra^nD.^rND^sWilson^nM.^rND^sMichell^nJ.^rND^sMichell^nJ.^rND^sNuopponen^nA.^rND^sNuopponen^nA.^rND^sNuopponen^nA.^rND^sPetocz^nA.^rND^sNewbery^nG.^rND^sRyan^nJ. J.^rND^sLopez^nS. J.^rND^sSumerall^nS. W.^rND^sSaunders^nB.^rND^sSim^nJ.^rND^sKingston^nT.^rND^sBaker^nS.^rND^sWaterfield^nJ.^rND^sBartlam^nB.^rND^sJinks^nC.^rND^sTranfield^nD.^rND^sDenyer^nD.^rND^sSmart^nP.^rND^sVan der Walt^nJ. L.^rND^sPotgieter^nF. J.^rND^sWright^nB. D.^rND^1A01^nTatenda^sNyabvudzi^rND^1A02^nWillie T.^sChinyamurindi^rND^1A01^nTatenda^sNyabvudzi^rND^1A02^nWillie T.^sChinyamurindi^rND^1A01^nTatenda^sNyabvudzi^rND^1A02^nWillie T^sChinyamurindi



The career development processes of women refugees in South Africa: An exploratory study



Tatenda NyabvudziI; Willie T. ChinyamurindiII

IDepartment of Industrial Psychology, Faculty of Management and Commerce, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa
IIDepartment of Business Management, Faculty of Management and Commerce, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa





ORIENTATION: There is an observed global movement of labour (freely and forcibly). South Africa emerges as a popular receiving ground for refugees. Within the career psychology literature, scant attention is given to understanding the career development concerns, post-settlement, of women refugees in the host country.
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The study explored the career development processes of women refugees, post-settlement, in South Africa as a host country.
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Calls have been made within local and international literature for studies that give attention to understanding the career development processes of minority groups.
RESEARCH APPROACH/DESIGN AND METHOD: Using a narrative inquiry approach, this study explored the career development processes of women refugees using a sample of 20 women refugees in South Africa. Relying on a snowball sampling procedure to recruit the participants, in-depth interviews were utilised as a data collection technique.
MAIN FINDINGS: Drawing on participants' narratives, the findings illustrate how women refugees have been more concerned with fulfilling a short-term desire for survival and acquiring basic commodities at the expense of a longer focus of advancement and career progression. This is mainly compounded by the structural constraints that limit both their career development and their lived experiences. Issues exclusive to the women refugees are also revealed. Overall, the results illustrate how all the aforementioned factors intersect as barriers that hinder women refugees in developing their careers.
PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The study provides information and strategies that policymakers in South Africa and other developing nations that are hosting refugees can use to facilitate the career development processes of women refugees.
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: This study contributes to the growing body of knowledge focussing on career development of women refuges, a populace that previously received limited focus both locally and internationally.

Keywords: South Africa; women; refugees; career development; minority groups.




Generally, women are perceived to be a vulnerable gender group compared to their male counterparts (Doubell & Struwig, 2014). However, they are not inherently vulnerable as their vulnerability depends on multiple factors which extend beyond the fact that they are females (Islam, Ingham, Hicks, & Manock, 2017). In the same way, refugees represent the most vulnerable and deprived fraction of the immigrant workforce (Magqibelo, Londt, September, & Roman, 2016; United Nations High Comissioner of Refugees, United Nations Population Fund Agency & Women's Refugee Commission, 2016). Having fled from their home countries, the moment refugees arrive in another country, they hope that they will be protected, they encounter adversity as they seek employment and navigate in this new and unfamiliar environment (Anderson, Stuart, & Rossen, 2015; Newman, Brimrose, Nielsem, & Zacher, 2018). There is an observation that refugees have the potential to face challenges linked to their gender, history and immigration status (Harry, Dodd, & Chinyamurindi, 2019). Notably, women refugees are viewed as one of the most vulnerable groups of the immigrant workforce (Mason & Pulvirenti, 2011; United Nations High Commission of Refugees, 2016). This study heightens focus on the issues faced by such a sample group.

The number of people seeking refuge and protection has escalated over the past decade (Newman et al., 2018). Reportedly, one in every 122 individuals across the world is seeking refuge (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2015) in countries that hold the promise of a safe and fulfilling life (Abkherz & McMahon, 2017). One such country is South Africa, which is regarded as more popular in receiving refugees than any other African country (Harry, Dodd, & Chinyamurindi, 2017; International Organisation for Migration, 2012). Since the transition to democracy in 1994, South Africa has been a favoured destination by a high number of refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries (Greyling, 2015). It has been observed in South Africa that refugees and migrants are vulnerable because of their status in the host country, yet their contribution can be immense (Harry et al., 2017; Mothibi, Roelofse, & Tshivhase, 2015). Within the extant literature, calls exist to understand issues that affect refugees' integration into the mainstream society (Felicano & Lanuza, 2017). Obtaining decent work is a significant contributor towards successful resettlement for refugees and, as such, this study explored the process of how refugee women navigate their careers when they arrive in a host country such as South Africa.

Often, career trajectories of women migrants receive less scholarly attention than migrant men (Kofman, 2012; Rydzik, Pritchard, Morgan, & Sedgley, 2017) and despite the international observation that half of all migrants are women, the migration literature often frames the experience to be one that is gender neutral (De Leon Siantz, 2013; Kibiribiri, Moodley, Groves, & Sebitloane, 2016; Noyori-Corbett & Moxley, 2017). The researchers acknowledge that there has been a growing body of literature exploring careers of female self-initiated expatriates (Rydzik et al., 2017; Vagenshtein & Yemini, 2016); however, less attention has been given to the plight of women refugees (Noyori-Corbett & Moxley, 2017; United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2015). The distinguishing factor is that one group initiates movement (e.g. self-initiated expatriates), whereas others like refugees are forced to leave their country.

A plethora of literature positions women refugees as a demographic group that is vulnerable often because of their difficult life trajectories (Abkherz & McMahon, 2017; Magqibelo et al., 2016; Noyori-Corbett & Moxley, 2017), an experience also noted in South Africa (Legal Resource Centre, 2015; United Nations High Commission of Refugees, 2016). The vocational obstacles and experiences among female refugees are not well-known as most refugee studies have presented women as dependants of men rather than economic providers (Kofman, 2012). It is only recently that the vocational literature has begun to focus on vulnerable groups such as women refugees (Abkhezr, McMahon, Glasheen, & Campell, 2018; Newman et al., 2018).

Despite strides made through the enactment of legislation that seeks to protect refugees, like the South African Refugee Act 130 of 1998, challenges still exist that impede the career development processes not just of refugees, but especially those of women refugees (Abkherz & McMahon, 2017; Magqibelo et al., 2016). This has led to calls, especially in South Africa, for studies that examine both the career transitions and the experiences of refugees (Elez, 2014). Within such nations, the career development processes of women refugees remain an underexplored phenomenon (Chinyamurindi, 2012, 2016). It is thus useful to explore the career development processes of women refugees in South Africa, with a particular focus on the role that structural constraints can play (Harry et al., 2017).


Research purpose and objectives

Calls exist within the empirical literature for studies that focus more on understanding the issues presented in this literature review, primarily on the career development processes of vulnerable groups such as women refugees (Campion, 2017). Thus, the main questions guiding the study were the following: how do the career development processes of women refugees in South Africa manifest, and what factors influence such processes when they arrive in host countries?

Additionally, very little is known about the impact of the global refugee crisis on the career dynamics and national labour markets (Richardson, Karam, & Afiouni, 2016). With the reported influx of refugees in South Africa (Greyling, 2015), limited studies have investigated how refugees adapt to new life settings, career ecosystems and the impact of their migration in the management of their careers (Elez, 2014). Further, there is also a need to ascertain the role of structural constraints (including gender) in the lived experiences of refugees, especially within a developing nation context (Chinyamurindi, 2016). It is against this background that the study investigated the lived experiences of women refugees and the challenges they encounter in developing their careers in the South African context.


Literature review

Theoretical lens

This article is guided by a threefold theoretical framework. Firstly, feminist theory (Feminist Africa, 2015; Fernandes, 2013); secondly, intersectionality theory which emanates from black feminist theory (Crenshaw, 1991; McCall, 2005); and, lastly, the career construction theory (Savickas, 2005), which addresses unique issues that impact the career and life experiences to address women refugees' career development (Savickas, 2005). All three theoretical frameworks are discussed next.

Feminist theory

The feminist theory acknowledges subjectivities and women's struggles (Fernandes, 2013) and advocates for equal rights for women and equality of sexes (Lubis, Nasution, Rahimah, & Zein, 2016). Feminist theorists call for the establishment of equal opportunities in all spheres of life, for instance in education, employment and voting (Hyndman & De Alwis, 2008), and are primarily concerned with issues of gender differences (Feminist Africa, 2015). This study takes a feministic standpoint by promoting women refugees' voices through their career trajectories as their experiences are often muted within refugee studies (Hyndman & De Alwis, 2008; Noyori-Corbett & Moxley, 2017; Rydzik et al., 2017). As a feminist exploration of refugee women's experiences, this article builds on the career development literature by incorporating the voice of an often-neglected populace.

Intersectionality theory

Intersectional feminism is deeply rooted in black feminist thoughts that advocated and analysed the multiple oppressions of race, class and gender (Carbado, Crenshaw, Mays, & Tomlinson, 2013; Choo & Ferree, 2010). The basis of intersectional feminism is to examine overlapping systems of oppression and discrimination that certain groups of women encounter on the basis of gender, race and class simultaneously (Mitchell, 2013). Similarly, Cook, Heppner and O'Brien (2002) ascertained that the career development processes of women are more complex than those of men because of a combination of internal and external barriers exclusive to women. The intersectionality theory helps to understand the multiple sources of refugee women's experiences as well as the impact of the interconnections in the career development of the women refugees.

Career construction theory

This study also focussed on the career construction theory in helping to understand how careers develop and adapt over time in response to role transitions over a given lifespan (Di Fabio & Maree, 2013; Savickas, 2005). This theory has been used in previous research with refugees as a research sample (Campion, 2017). Within the career construction theory, value is placed on the role of career adaptability through an individual's readiness and resources for coping with varying career transitions (Savickas, 2005; Xie, Xia, Xin, & Zhou, 2016). The underlying focus is that career adaptability influences career decision-making, career engagement and satisfaction (Perera & Mcllveen, 2014). This positions the career construction theory as beneficial in understanding career development experiences as it focusses on individuals and their response to varying changes, especially those in their environment (Maree, 2015; Savickas, 2005).

Empirical literature

The empirical literature attributes the successful integration of refugees mostly to the effects created by the interaction of pre- and post-migration factors (Tharmaseelan, Inkson, & Carr, 2010). These pre- and post-migration factors have the potential to influence the success or failure of refugees in the host country (Berger, 2004; Harry, Dodd, & Chinyamurindi, 2017; Yakushko, Backhaus, Watson, Ngaruiya, & Gonzalez, 2008). Pre-migration factors include education, vocational experience, knowledge and skills that one acquired before migrating in their home country (Tharmaseelan et al., 2010). Post-migration factors comprise occupational demography, culture of the host country as well as structural constraints (Codell, Hill, Woltz, & Paul, 2011; Tharmaseelan et al., 2010). Often it is the role of their gender that limits these refugees' lived experiences in the resettlement phase (Noyori-Corbett & Moxley, 2017).

Notably, the first universal instrument to outline the definition of a refugee, the 1951 Convention, excluded the experiences of women from the scope of the convention (Arbel, Dauvergne, & Millbank, 2014). Feminists argue that the convention is silent on the forms of harm and disadvantages specific to women and their experiences may be understood as falling outside the definition of persecution (Fletcher, 2006), and this has seen some women's asylum applications being rejected (Edwards, 2010). Consequently, failure to obtain a legal status impedes their rights stipulated in the South African Constitution, including the right to work.

Previous studies in South Africa have framed the role of gender and structural constraints in the career development processes of women, mostly from an organisational perspective (Chinyamurindi, 2016; Crush, 2011; Doubell & Struwig, 2014). Internationally, this also appears to be a trend, with the focus being on the role that quests for balance and responses to societal expectations play in career development (Allen, French, & Poteet, 2016; Bleinjenbergh, Gremmen, & Peters, 2016; Campion, 2017). Ostensibly, migrant women often devalue their qualifications and take service jobs like domestic work as a measure to gain entry into the labour force. In some cases, this is because of some employers and organisations not recognising the refugees' right to work (Magqibelo et al., 2016), the desire to fend for family, as well as already existing challenges of forced migration (Chinyamurindi, 2012; Harry et al., 2017; Saunders, 2017). Often, women refugees fail to secure employment due to a combination of low language skills, poor or no formal qualifications (Nicolescu, 2017; Willott & Stevenson, 2013), in some cases xenophobic attacks because of the threat they pose to citizens' socio-economic success (Amataika, 2013), as well as traditional gender stereotyping which sees the society upholding that certain roles and duties belong to women (International Labour Organization, 2015; Sandberg, 2013).


Research design

Research approach and strategy

With the predominantly explorative nature of this study, the authors followed a qualitative and interpretivist research approach.

The interpretivist paradigm promotes the value of qualitative data in seeking knowledge (Yilmaz, 2013), exploring unique realities faced by participants and understanding human experiences through the participants' voices, activities, beliefs and behaviour (Shaik, 2016).

The study further operated from the feministic premise of giving women the voice of constructing their realities (McMahon, Watson, Chetty, & Hoelson, 2012); thus, the interpretive paradigm was best suited to the exploration.

Ontologically, the authors believe that reality is socially constructed and that there are as many realities as there are people constructing them (Scotland, 2012). The authors thus do not claim any neutrality in the process of meaning-making but adopted strategies to ensure data quality. The authors' epistemological perspective is based on real-world phenomena (Scotland, 2012) where the social world can be understood from participants' perspective (Creswell, 2013).

Research method


The study used a purposive and snowball sampling technique to identify research participants (Abkherz & McMahon, 2017). This technique allowed deliberately access to a reliable database that is not easily accessible (Woodley & Lockard, 2016).

A total of 20 women refugees were recruited, who shared their career development narratives. The research participants consisted of women refugees from African countries, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (35%), Somalia (30%), Uganda (10%), Burundi (15%), Cameroon (5%) and Kenya (5%). Table 1 details the profiles of the participating women refugees.

Research setting, entrée and researcher roles

The researchers strategically located the study in the city of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape province, as this was a well-known receiving ground for refugees settling in South Africa. The researchers approached the refugee reception centre in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape province, and asked for permission to access refugee women who take part in their activities. Once contacts from the agencies were established, the researcher relied on referrals from these contacts.

The choice of the research setting was based on the purposive nature of the study. Permission to access participants was obtained from the refugee reception centre as well as consent from individuals who volunteered to take part in the study. The first author who worked as an intern at the refugee reception centre facilitated the data collection and transcription. The second author participated in the full data analysis and completion of the manuscript.

Data collection

Data were collected primarily through the use of face-to-face, semi-structured in-depth interviews. The interviewer worked as an intern at a refugee reception centre and conducted all 20 interviews over the course of 7 months (approximately three interviews per month). Because of this lengthy period, the researchers had enough time to try to recruit more participants and transcribe the data. Interviews were conducted in a closed room at the refugee centre to ensure complete confidentiality.

Data recording

Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim and stored on password-protected computers accessible only to the researchers. Recording interviews protected the researcher against bias and provided a true record of what was said during the interviews (Cormark, 2000).

Strategies to ensure data quality

Four steps were followed to ensure data quality. Firstly, interview questions (refer to Appendix 1) were pre-tested with a sample of 10 female international students as a way to pre-test the measuring instrument. The researchers acknowledge here that international students may not necessarily be refugees, but they are close to fitting the experiences refugees may go through, especially by not being from South Africa and also seeking ways to adjust in a foreign land. The latter are traits viewed as common to those of refugees (Abkherz & McMahon, 2017). Secondly, to ensure credibility of data, all the interview data were recorded and transcribed verbatim within 24 h of the interview. Thirdly, after the data transcription process, a copy of the transcripts was sent to participants by mail or email to verify the accuracy thereof. This process took some time and was usually followed up by a telephone call. Finally, before and during the study, reflexivity was conducted to safeguard objectivity and avoid researcher bias, as well as to ensure sensitivity on how data were collected, analysed and represented (Taylor, Gibbs, & Lewins, 2005). In doing so, we also took comprehensive notes at all critical stages of the research for additional depth and quality.

Furthermore, to enhance transferability and dependability of the findings, a detailed description of the research methods, setting and sample size was provided. To ensure data authenticity and credibility, voluntary participation and rapport building were maintained to enhance open and honest responses. The interviewer being a woman and introducing herself as a foreign national made the participants feel at ease and communicate openly without being inhibited about their language skills. Confirmability of the findings was enhanced by using the participants' quotes in presenting our findings.

Data analysis

The interviews were all exported into QSR International's NVivo 11, a useful data analysis and management software package for dealing with masses of text, graphic, audio and video data (Reuben & Bobat, 2014). Narrative analysis procedure based on three levels of meaning-making was adopted, as used in previous narrative research (for example Chinyamurindi, 2012; 2016; McCormack, 2000). The researchers used level 1 to gain a good understanding of the career development experience of each of the women refugee's stories. This was done by re-reading each interview and listening to audio recordings. This process allowed for the identification of "markers" within the stories and developing an in-depth understanding of each interview (McCormack, 2000; Thornhill, Clare, & May, 2004). This process consisted of an evaluation of each transcript and grouping of each story based on the narrated experiences of the women refugees. The researchers then proceeded with level 2, which was achieved through classifying responses from participants into meaningful and useful categories (Nachmias & Nachmias, 1996). Classifying responses helped to derive themes and identify connecting themes from participants (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Nachmias & Nachmias, 1996). Quotes and stories were then used to provide an analysis of the themes gathered. Finally, on level 3, the researchers analysed the content of the gathered narrative accounts and themes by identifying themes and using quotes based on consistencies across the participant stories (McCormack, 2000).

Ethical consideration

Firstly, an ethical clearance was applied for and granted by the participating institution. Secondly, permission was sought from the refugee agencies. Furthermore, the research followed an ethical framework that entails voluntary participation, informed consent, the right to withdraw, anonymity and confidentiality.



Three main findings emerged from the data analysis. Firstly, it appears that the women refugees were more concerned with their desire for short-term survival through acquiring basic commodities than a long-term focus to advance and develop their careers. Although most of the participants narrated their vocational aspirations, their careers are currently daunted by their refugee status, socio-histories and gender. Informal employment emerged as the most viable option for them, allowing them to at least meet their day-to-day survival needs, shifting their attention from the long-term focus to build careers to meeting basic needs for survival. This could be because of the changed standard of living in South Africa as opposed to their home countries. Secondly, we found the role of personal and structural constraints to be informing the career development processes as well as the lived experiences of the women refugees. Finally, gender was illustrated as playing a role in the women's career development and in their lived experiences.

Short-term desire for survival

Participants in the study expressed a desire for short-term survival as opposed to a long-term orientation to issues that affected them. This short-term desire was manifested through their expression to acquire and fulfil more of their physiological needs (mainly food, shelter and security) instead of being engaged in the long-haul on a career path. One participant, Brenda, pointed out her desperation to meet these everyday needs:

'When I got to South Africa from my home country, I studied a home based care course, not because I liked the course, but rather it was the cheapest and quickest I could get a job. The issue was to pay my bills and provide for the family. Though I was not a fan of the course and job.' (Brenda, Somalian, Translator & General Labourer)

The desire for meeting immediate short-term needs appeared to press on the lived experience of women refugees and affected their vocational choices. One participant, Prisca, also narrated her frustration of lack of a long-term career focus whilst opting for a short-term solution to acquire basic commodities:

'The struggle is on, I may know what I want, but I am more into what makes economic sense for now which is to have money to pay rent and survive for now. I want to think the future, but things are really challenging now affecting me and my baby That's what the focus is for now, watching out for me and my baby.' (Prisca, Ugandan, Unemployed)

Part of the challenge and a possible explanation for the short-term survivalist mentality could be attributed to a language barrier. Refugees often find it difficult to express themselves in English, let alone the local South African languages. As a result of this, refugees like Deon prefer to stay in jobs with little or no career progression because of the language issue. Deon stated that within these jobs, she is able to have some money to meet his basic needs:

'Language is a challenge for refugees, especially us from Somalia, and also adjusting to the way of life here in South Africa. So we as Somalians are more focussed on careers where we have minimal or no progression whilst making a basic living to pay rent and buy food.' (Deon, Somalian, Translator)

The majority of the participants reported that they could not obtain employment as a result of their limited English proficiency and low level of formal education when they arrived in South Africa. Over time their language proficiency has improved and some have even obtained a formal qualification to gain entry into the labour force although they continue to face formidable barriers in obtaining employment. Mary who has a Social Work qualification narrated her ordeal as follows:

'My refugee status has affected big time I have been turned down in positions l am qualified for because of refugee status. This makes me very helpless.' (Mary, Somalian, Researcher & Translator)

Some refugees admitted having established careers in their home countries. For instance, Jacqueline came from Uganda where she worked as a teacher, whilst in South Africa she is currently a domestic worker and also sells goods on the streets. Her desire is to further pursue her interest in a teaching career. However, this has challenges which make her focus more on the short-term options:

'It is very difficult to work here and sustain a long-term career focus. As refugees, we have dreams we wish realised. The journey to those dreams in a foreign country is not always easy. So leading to those dreams, if ever they get realised, one must find ways in the present to earn an income and sustain themselves.' (Jacqueline, Ugandan, Hawker)

In essence, a short-term focus for survival was prioritised by the women refugees who took part in this study, at the expense of a more long-term option, where a career path is envisioned. This short-term focus was mostly because of constraints that pressed on the women refugees and mostly beyond their control. These constraints placed a limit on the ability to enact career choices albeit the desire exists. Thus, the second finding from the analysis of the views of the women refugees reveals the structural constraints affecting both their career and their lived experiences.

Structural constraints as limitation to career and lived experiences

The results indicate that the structural constraints that affect women refugees are mostly socio-economic in nature. These constraints not only limit individual involvement in their careers, but also their lived experiences.

The pressing issue narrated by most of the participants is xenophobia. The xenophobic attacks do not only affect their vocational lives but also their personal lives, and this hinders their settlement process. One participant narrated her experience as follows:

'You just don't belong. Like there is an intense hatred for foreigners. At work one time I was shouted at by my colleagues who are South Africans. Basically, I was told to go back to my home country, and they don't want me here.' (Flora, Burundian, Home Based Carer)

Xenophobia affects career development of refugees because of a number of factors. Firstly, the local citizens see refugees as a threat to the economic security by stealing their jobs. Secondly, some employers are ignorant and reluctant to employ refugees because of their documentation:

'It is us against them. Everywhere you go, our foreign status and identity is a feature. Once you present refugee documentation to prospective employers, it's a no for them. This is usually followed by an intense hatred at what it means to be foreigner, a strangeness the locals detest.' (Ruth, Somalian, Spaza Shop Owner)

The participants narrated how they experience negative prejudices when seeking employment and how their applications are rejected because of their nationality. This has resulted in their lack of social and economic power.

'There was a vacant position and I was being considered for the post but when a new director was appointed and she consulted with other people only to learn that I am a refugee, they all reportedly said that I am just a refugee and the best position I can have is being an interpreter.' (Mary, Somalian. Researcher & Translator)

Another participant narrated her ordeal as follows:

'A refugee in South Africa has no power whatsoever. For instance, I went to apply for a job and the employer could not recognise and understand my refugee status and the accompanying documents.' (Trish, Congolese, Hairdressor)

Taking all the aforementioned narratives into account, it can be said that most of the women refugees have resorted to informal economy for their livelihood. However, they continue to encounter formidable barriers that continue to affect their well-being. One participant expressed how document accessibility hinders informal trading:

'I wanted to rent a place for my business but it was hard. They wanted proof of address and bank statement which I could not have because the bank did not allow me to open an account with my identity document.' (Jacqueline, Uganda, Hawker)

Another participant also recalled an incident where foreign traders were attacked by the local citizens:

'Foreigners face challenges in this country. A few years ago we noticed the xenophobic challenges especially here in Port Elizabeth. Foreigners were attacked and their property either looted or destroyed. South Africans at least to me just hate as foreigners, especially African foreigners.' (Queen, Congolese, Hawker)

Through the data analysis, some issues that relate to gender as affecting the career development processes and the lived experiences of the women refugees were also identified.

Issues exclusive to women refugees

The women refugees who took part in this study provided a frank disclosure of what it means to be a woman and also a refugee. In most cases, aspects of earning a living accompanied these experiences and comparison was made with their male counterparts:

'My situation would be different if I was a male; this world is a man's world. Male refugees often get a priority ahead of us females. They are perceived to be stronger than us women.' (Clara, Congolese, Hawker)

Some of the women, like Edith, narrated challenging experiences as part of their lived experiences that have subsequently affected them, for instance, rape:

'I used to have a shop, but I was robbed two times. I am now struggling to get a job or at least raise funds to open a shop again. One day robbers arrived at the shop and raped me. Since then I have never been the same and also have psychological problems.' (Clara, Somalian, Hawker)

Other challenges concerned seeking to strike a balance between commitments at work and taking care of their families. This was a quest for work-life balance, as confirmed by Brenda:

'I want to expand my career, but I know I cannot. I do need a job and at best a career but this is not possible. I am a mother and have to look after my baby. I am the mother and father together for my child.' (Brenda, Somalian, Translator & General Labourer)



The purpose of this article was to explore the career development processes of women refugees in South Africa. The results of the current study contribute generally to an understanding of the issues that refugees face in the resettlement phase, especially within developing countries like South Africa, which is witnessing an increase in refugees. Narrating their career trajectories, refugee women cited markers of their personal environment factors, migration status and gender identity to explain the hardships they face in navigating their careers.

It is evident that the career development process of the women refugees is shaped by various factors, such as language proficiency and education, emanating from pre-migration career capital (Tharmaseelan et al., 2010), structural constraints such as xenophobia (Di Fabio & Maree, 2013) as well as gender (Doubell & Struwig, 2014). Of importance is that these challenges are not mutually exclusive but are interconnected and inextricably intertwined with their gender, history and immigration status (Mitchell, 2013).

As conceptualised by Tharmaseelan et al. (2010), the narratives that emerged in this study emphasise that career development is moderated by both pre- and post-migration factors. Firstly, as per prior studies (Nicolescu, 2017; Willott & Stevenson, 2013), refugees struggle to integrate into the host country because of language barriers. Secondly, organisations fail to recognise their documentation and their right to work (Magqibelo et al., 2016). Xenophobia, a recurrent and prevalent culture in the South Africa (Amataika, 2013), continues to see refugees vulnerable in their place of refuge.

Our work advances empirical work in South Africa, which shows refugees to be facing challenges in the resettlement phase (Gordon, 2015; International Organisation for Migration, 2012). Uniquely, our findings show that women refugees have a basic need for survival, rather than a long-term career focus. This desire is actuated by the situation and experience of being a refugee, which is complex and marred by uncertainty. Subsequently, this justifies the short-term focus as a basis for survival. Linked to this idea of a short-term focus is the role of structural constraints, especially those of a socio-economic nature, as hindering the growth of the women refugees. The latter finding places focus on the role of structural constraints in affecting the enactment of career choices (Di Fabio & Maree, 2013). Our findings support previous empirical work that identified the role of the environment in the lived experiences of refugees and the possible limitations they impose (Baranika et al., 2017). This work extends work on the role of gender and the structural constraints of career development outside the organisational lens in South Africa (Chinyamurindi, 2016; Doubell & Struwig, 2014).

Implication for practice, theory and research

This study makes four contributions to the literature. Firstly, by exploring the lived experiences and career issues affecting women refugees (the short-term focus, the structural constraints and the gender issues), we offer a nuanced view of refugee issues considering our socio-cultural milieu. Our results emphasise the vulnerable view of refugees, especially in the resettlement phase (Mothibi et al., 2015). Despite the view that the experience of being a refugee is gender neutral, our findings contradict this view and show struggles that potentially can exist within the resettlement phase of a refugee's life (Codell et al., 2011). In this regard, our study contributes to research on the career development processes of women refugees within a South African context, answering the call for studies that focus on such vulnerable groups (Chinyamurindi, 2016; Harry et al., 2017). Despite challenges that women refugees encounter, some remain hopeful and desire to have long-term career aspirations. This is evident from them (albeit the structural constraints) still seeking for survival and basic needs in view of a long-term aspiration.

Secondly, through the findings of the research, our work intensifies understanding of a range of factors and their influence on career development as well as the lived experience (Abkherz & McMahon, 2017). As depicted in Table 1, most of the women refugees indicated their vocational aspirations, but their growth is hindered by existing constraints. Ultimately, the only viable solution has been for the women refugees to take part in menial jobs, as a form of sustenance and to have a short-term career focus. This gives cadence to the theorising around the complexity of career issues affecting women (Cook et al., 2002). Importantly, our study illustrates how structural constraints impede individual experience and integration into society (Olliff, 2010). The previous theorising on such issues has been scant, especially within developing countries like South Africa. Thirdly, we advance the understanding of issues specific to women refugees and add to a collection of literature on the same topic internationally and within developing countries (Abkherz & McMahon, 2017; Harry et al., 2017). To this, we also illustrate the intersection of structural constraints and gender to the lived and career experiences of women refugees. All these factors could assist in how refugees re-establish their lives in a host country.

The research heightened focus on the role of a multi-stakeholder approach in assisting women refugees in their resettlement. Through barriers identified in this study, stakeholders can propose policy and practical interventions that assist women refugees. For instance, participants of this study reported barriers faced when trying to find work and they exposed the ignorance and prejudiced nature of society towards immigrants. It could be useful for organisations dedicated to assisting refugees to work with relevant government departments in educating organisations and employers to understand issues affecting refugees. Furthermore, educational and awareness programmes can be introduced to a targeted and broader society, given the challenges of xenophobia. Government support could also assist in all these efforts by creating an enabling environment that allows for the prosperity, not just of locals, but also of refugees.

Limitations and future research

Because of the explorative nature of our study, the research purposely consists of a limited number of women refugees, whereas there are also male refugees. The excerpts presented in the study provide rich data that are useful in creating interventions for career development of this neglected population group. Future research should also compare career development processes of men and explore the gender perspective from another angle.

The researchers believe that a good rapport was established owing to the feministic nature and acquaintances that the interviewer had with the participants. However, a possible drawback that cannot be overlooked is that the language utilised during the interviews is a second language to both the interviewer and participants. Certainly, there were moments of misunderstanding during the interviews and a few questions such as 'Do you think women's career development processes are different from those of men?' and 'Is your career developing as you anticipate?' went unanswered during one (Interview with Anna) of the interviews as they were not fully understood by the participant. However, the fact that the interviewer introduced herself as a foreigner and non-native English speaker enabled the participants to speak more openly without being inhibited about their language skills. The interviewer was also in a better position to understand some speakers who made errors as she is also used to hearing similar mistakes from her colleagues and some that she also makes herself. As such it is possible that each of the stories if told in a different context and another language would yield different meanings.



The study focussed on how career development processes of women refugees in South Africa are manifest, as well as the factors and barriers that influence such processes. The research drew attention to both the gendered nature of society and the structural constraints that impede the lived experiences of refugees, especially within the context of a developing country. It was evident from the women participants in the study that the experience of being a refugee has affected them, often resulting in irony. Firstly, the women refugees appear to have lost not only the source of livelihood they had in their home countries, but also the enactment of a career choice. However, an advantage is their experience of the environment which is favourable compared to their home countries. In essence, this favourable environment made South Africa a desired destination.



The researchers acknowledge the participating students who made this study worthwhile.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Author's contributions

W.T.C. supervised T.N. for her PhD degree. The article was a joint effort between the supervisor and the student.


This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability statement

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.



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Willie Chinyamurindi

Received: 22 Mar. 2019
Accepted: 01 July 2019
Published: 20 Aug. 2019



Appendix 1

Interview guide:

1. Tell me about yourself. (Background information-education level and employment history; marital status; children; country of origin)

2. May you tell me about the circumstances that forced you to leave your home country? (When did you arrive in South Africa; why did you choose to come to South Africa)

3. What experiences and challenges did you face during your journey from your country of origin to South Africa?

4. Tell me a story of your arrival in South Africa, (Which border gate did you use to enter South Africa, did you know anyone in the country when you arrived?)

5. Did you receive assistance from the government or humanitarian organisations when you arrived? (What kind of assistance? explain how this assisted you?)

6. Did you encounter any challenges in adapting to the new environment? (How did you deal with the situations)

7. Tell me about your profession and career when you were in your home country.

8. Upon arrival, how long did it take you to get a job, did you get assistance from job agents? (What are some of the challenges that you encountered when looking for employment, is your current job in line with your area of expertise?)

9. Is the organisation that you are working for accommodative of refugees? (Did they play a role in the way you adjusted to the new environment?)

10. Tell me about the most stressful situation that you faced when you started working in South Africa and how you handled the situation?

11. In your own understanding, what is meant by the term career development? (What factors do you think influence career development)

12. Do you think women's career development is different from that of men? (Please tell me a story that explains why it is different)

13. Is your career developing as you anticipate? (What factors that are influencing the success of your career? what aspects are within your control and which are beyond your control?)

14. How do you think the government and organisations should assist with some of the challenges that you are facing? (What do you think should be done to help women refugees?)