Building Resilient Infrastructure through Effective Leadership and Management of Infrastructure Organisations

2012-2015, Funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment; Science Investment Round

This 3 year research project aims to improve the resilience of vital infrastructure organisations so that they can provide greater security of services, with the best possible initial emergency responses and longer-term recovery and restoration. We are working in partnership with a range of organisations, focusing on areas such as adaptive and learning capabilities, leadership, engaging and supporting staff. This includes an investigation of how employees experience organisational strategies, focusing on employees' perceptions of their working situation, organisational support, and well-being.

For more details see the building resilient infrastructure project

Organisational Responding to an Extended Disaster Situation: Post-disaster Management of Human Resources

2011-2012, Supported by the Natural Hazards Platform GNS, and the Human Resources Institute of NZ

This project investigates human resource (HR) issues during an extended, ongoing crisis. The study addresses the tension between the elevated levels of psycho-social stress that staff experience, and the demands of organisational continuity which require employees to maintain their work roles. The ways in which these combined demands of work, and outside-of-work, matters are managed throughout this extended period has a major influence on the effectiveness of organisations.

Post-disaster Management of Human Resources: Learning From an Extended Crisis

Researchers: Bernard Walker, Venkataraman Nilakant, Kylie Rochford, Jessie Ford

Workplace Stress in the Human Services in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster


This study explores the challenges and opportunities faced by human service workers in the aftermath of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Canterbury. Interviews with 28 front line staff and 15 managers across a range of government and non-government organisations identified complex imbalances of micro and macro level demands and resources, and the importance of ongoing support from leaders and peers. Most participants identified a reciprocal relationship between stresses at home and at work.

Researcher: Dr Kate van Heugten

Promoting Personal Resilience and Organisational Resilience in NGO Settings

2012-2013, Supported by Ministry of Social Development and the University of Canterbury

NGOs (non-governmental, non-commercial organizations) played a major role in supporting individuals and communities in the face of continuous seismic activity in Christchurch. This project uses in-depth interviews to explore the nature of individual and organisational resilience in NGOs. Of particular importance are the ways in which organisations can support or hinder individual resilience, and the impact of this on promoting organizational resilience.

Researchers: Bernard Walker, Deane Nicholls, Eleanor Grimshaw, John Vargo

NGO Leadership and its Impact on Organisational Resilience

2012-2013, Supported by Ministry of Social Development and the University of Canterbury

This project explores the relationship between leadership and resilience in two NGOs in Christchurch following the seismic events of 2010-2011 through in-depth interviews of organisational members. People who were perceived as effective leaders were seen as being approachable by staff and very aware and concerned with staff well being. These leaders cultivated a strong culture of 'togetherness' amongst staff and were able to utilize networks effectively to gather additional support in times of crisis.

Researchers: Venkataraman Nilakant, Ben Abraham, John Vargo

Evaluation of the Earthquake Support Coordination Service: Job analysis of the Earthquake Support Coordinator role

2012-2013, Supported by Ministry of Social Development and the University of Canterbury

This project investigates the role of the Earthquake Support Coordination Service (ESC), developed through an initiative by the MSD in collaboration with non-governmental agencies. The service offers assistance in terms of "navigation" through recovery issues such as insurance, land decisions, temporary housing and repairs. The project documents the background and process which led up to the service in place today, focusing on the collaboration between government (MSD) and non-government agencies. The evaluation utilises government reports, case studies, internal documentation, meeting attendance, and interviews with stakeholders.

Researchers: Katharina Naswall, Janet Carter, Eileen Britt, Charlotte Renouf, Abigail Roberts, Hannah Moss

Increasing Volunteering

2012-2013, Supported by the Ministry of Social Development and the University of Canterbury

This research project investigated the ways in which organisations can increase the participation of individuals in volunteer work, and how best to manage volunteers from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Researchers: Sanna Malinen, Anne Scott, Leechin Heng

Attitudes and motivations of volunteer workers


This research investigates why people choose to do unpaid work and what keeps them engaging in such activities. This research programme includes various studies, with the overall aim to better the recruitment and retention processes of volunteer workers, and to improve organisations' volunteer management practices.

Researchers: Sanna Malinen


Employee Learning in a Transient Alliance: Exploring Learning Enablers and Obstacles

2014, Student: Daniela Rubio Rius, supervised by Joana Kuntz, Katharina Naswall and Bernard Walker

This research project aims to gain more in depth understanding of the how learning takes place in a transient alliance. A qualitative research approach is used to explore the interaction between collaboration and competition within and between alliance teams while trying to identify key elements that enable or hinder learning and transfer of learning. Previous research has shown that learning ability is strongly related to resilience. However, only few studies have focused on this relationship in the business environments.

Successful Organisational Coping in Response to a Disaster

2011, Student: Jessie Ford, supervised by Nilakant

This project explored the factors that facilitated business recovery following the Christchurch earthquakes, using a series of in-depth interviews. Organisational coping was explored at two levels: systems and structures coping, and human coping responses. Individual coping mechanisms were the greatest contributor to organisational coping, followed by adaptation of internal environment and response to the external environmental. Social resources, at both the individual and organisational levels, were identified as the critical factor enabling coping. Lack of choice and guilt emerged as significant themes in the study

Keep Calm and Carry On? An Investigation of Teacher Burnout in a Post-disaster Context

2012, Student: Amanda Bockett, co-supervised by Joana Kuntz and Katharina Naswall

This investigated teachers' burnout perceptions and workplace attitudes following the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquakes. A sample of 125 Christchurch teachers completed an online survey. Results revealed that schools' ineffective disaster coping responses, especially role overload and role conflict, were associated with increased levels of burnout, and that the relationships between role stressors and turnover intentions were mediated by perceptions of emotional exhaustion. Implications for disaster research and recovery in school settings are discussed.

Workplace Demands and Occupational Stress: Interactive Processes of Decision Authority, Skill Discretion and Core Self-Evaluations

2012, Student: Courtenay Brawley, co-supervised by Joana Kuntz and Katharina Naswall

This study investigates aspects of control in the workplace, as well as personal resilience qualities, in dealing with demands at work, as part of the psychological effects surrounding the Canterbury earthquakes. It explores working conditions and employee stress in two locations differently affected by the earthquakes. The study used an online questionnaire to look at at job demands related to high stress levels, and whether decision authority, skill discretion and core self-evaluations had a moderating effect on this relationship. Significant relationships were found between demands and core self-evaluations with stress, and there was preliminary indication of a moderating effect of both decision authority and skill discretion.

Employee Strain and Absenteeism as a Consequence of the Christchurch Earthquake: A Replication and Extension of Previous Research

2012, Student: Hannah Reilly, co-supervised by Joana Kuntz and Katharina Naswall

This research replicated and extended Byron and Peterson (2002), investigating whether strain associated with the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake was related to absenteeism. In addition, the study explored optimism, co-worker support, event exposure, targeted organisational support and work-related uncertainty as predictors of strain and absenteeism. Results from an online questionnaire survey of 153 employees confirmed that higher levels of event-related strain were related to increased absenteeism. Although the earthquake occurred around a year a half before this study, individuals were still suffering from event-related strain, resulting in ongoing absenteeism, potentially linked with the ongoing aftershocks. Less strain was reported by employees who perceived their organisations to have provided support following the disaster.

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