ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2024, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (4): 594-615.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2024.00594

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

How do employees respond to enterprise digital transformation?A research proposal from stress-based theoretical perspective

ZHOU Qiwei1,2, LI Qian3(), LIANG Shuang3   

  1. 1College of Management, Ocean University of China, Ocean University of China, Qingdao 266100, China
    2Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Center, Ocean University of China, Qingdao 266100, China
    3International Business School, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing 100089, China
  • Received:2023-08-04 Online:2024-04-15 Published:2024-02-29
  • Contact: LI Qian


Digital transformation has emerged as a critical factor in driving high-quality enterprise development. However, many companies encounter internal challenges, such as a lack of employee support and passive cooperation during the process of digital transformation. Current research on enterprise digital transformation primarily concentrates on the macro-strategic level, while the impact of digital transformation on employees has not been sufficiently explored. Therefore, our study takes a micro-level perspective within the organization and employs the Process Theories of Occupational Stress. We view digital transformation as a “stressor” and aim to investigate the different responses of employees to it and the underlying mechanisms.

First, we investigate the “stressor” by utilizing Grounded Theory to uncover how employees perceive and identify stressors during digital transformation. Second, we explore the “stress outcome” by examining the impact of digital transformation on employees’ work performance and its dynamic changes over time based on the Transition Processes framework. Third, we investigate the “stress experience” from both cognitive and emotional perspectives. We explore the mechanisms, boundary conditions, and subsequent consequences of employees’ different responses (support or resistance) to digital transformation.

This study contributes to the HRM research in the context of enterprise digital transformation in the following three aspects. First, it employs the theoretical lens of “stress” and draws upon the Process Theories of Occupational Stress, to explore employees’ stress experiences and outcomes precipitated by the “stressor” of digital transformation. It provides a new perspective for understanding the mechanisms underlying employees’ dual-reactive responses to digital transformation. As issues related to enterprise digital transformation are dynamic, complex, and evolving, adopting the stress perspective as a theoretical framework and analytical tool enables a precise delineation of the research domain. It aids in formulating well-defined research questions, highlights research focuses, contributes to theory development, and enhance the explanatory power of conclusions.

Second, this study proposes a dual-reactive theoretical framework, linking enterprise digital transformation to employees’ roles as either “supporters” or “resisters”. This expands the research scope and enriches the research content pertaining to enterprise digital transformation in the micro-management domain. Previous studies have typically adopted a perspective of human-technology interaction to discuss the impact of specific digital technology applications on individual employees or human resource management within organizations. By viewing the overall perceptions and extent of enterprise digital transformation as a “stressor”, this study unifies enterprise digital strategy and employee stress within the same theoretical framework. This provides a theoretical foundation and empirical evidence for exploring the dual-reactive responses of employees to enterprise digital transformation. In this way, this study links strategic digital transformation choices at the organizational level with employee behavioral responses and outcomes (job performance and withdrawal behavior) at the individual level. It offers concrete evidence that verify the effective role of enterprise digital transformation at the individual employee level, thereby laying a foundational groundwork for further studies focused on understanding enterprise digital transformation from an individual perspective.

Third, from both cognitive and emotional perspectives, this study further reveals the underlying mechanisms, boundary conditions, and subsequent outcomes of employees’ dual-reactive responses to digital transformation at both individual and daily work levels. Building upon the attention given to stressors and stress outcomes in the Process Theories of Occupational Stress, this study delves into the formation of various stress experiences among employees and explores the moderating roles of technological features and individual attitudes. By highlighting employees’ emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses in the context of digital transformation, this paper responds to the call for integrating employees with digital technologies. Furthermore, it explores methods and pathways for driving enterprise digital transformation from an employee management perspective.

In summary, this study deepens our understanding of how digital transformation affects employees. By examining the micro-level dynamics within organizations, it uncovers key factors that shape employees’ responses to digital transformation. These insights can guide organizations in effectively navigating the challenges associated with digital transformation and fostering a supportive environment where employees can adapt to and excel in the digital age.

Key words: digital transformation, process theories of occupational stress, transactional theory of stress, stressor-emotion model

CLC Number: