The concept of employee participation and involvement has seen a growing interest from different scholars and Human resource management. Many organizations face the challenges of managing and empowering their employees to actively participate in decision making. In this current tumultuous economic environment, organizations require creative and innovative employees who can take initiative, embrace change, stimulate innovation and cope with high uncertainty in the market. Most of the new generation employees want to work in companies that can actively listen and embrace their ideas. To accommodate the demand of the employees, most companies have relinquished their centralized control management with the hope of promoting flexibility and decisiveness as well as subsequent improvement in individual and organizational performance. The concept of employee participation has taken many forms, evolving through the employee participation and involvement decision making concepts into the contemporary empowerment perspective. The idea of empowerment involves the employees being provided with a significant degree of freedom and flexibility to make decisions relating to work without direct involvement of the top management. This new model of management has significantly disagreed with traditional management techniques that have emphasized hierarchy, control and rigidity. Employee’s involvement and participation thus contribute immensely to how organizations make decision and run their businesses. The employee’s participation and involvement affects both the employees and organization positively and negatively. This paper will discuss how employee’s involvement and participation impact the workplace.
Employee Involvement and empowerment
Before discussing the impact of employee participation/involvement in workplace, it is imperative to define the meaning of employee participation. According to Ackers, Wilkinson & Dundon (2006), employee participation is a process in which decisions in an organization are shared among individuals who are other wise hierarchically unequal. Participatory management practices involve subordinate staff and their managers in sharing information, problem solving and decision making endeavors. Furthermore, employee participation is defined more broadly by McCabe and Lewin (2000), as consisting of two elements. First is the expression of grievances or complaints in a work context by employees to the top management of the organization. The second element is the participation of employees in the decision-making processes of the company or organization. Thus employee participation does not only involve decision making processes but the entire welfare of the employees. Most countries provide policies and bylaws to safe guard employees from harassment and exploitation. The trade Unions have for a long time been the voice of employees in many countries (Armstrong, 2001). Most employees voice their concern and mistreatment through their respective trade unions. The trade unions have significantly changed the way employees are treated and participate in daily management of organizations. According to the Industrial Participation Association (IPA), argues that collective voice of employees achieves what the lone voice could never do. Furthermore, IPA argue that representation is the foundation of a partnership that bring together positive result to the business, and it makes the workplace more humane and civilized (Dundon & Grugulis, 2007).
Millward, Bryson & Forth (2000) argued that many companies lacked proper mechanisms to communicate effectively with employees. This had both a conflictual and consensual impact to most companies since employees lacked proper mechanism to express their grievances. Marchington (2004) explains that employee participation could lead to a beneficial impact on productivity, quality and deflect problem that would otherwise explode. Hyman & Thompson explains that the lack of effective mechanism to address workers issue lead to the creation of trade unions. The trade unions were seen as the best agent to provide effective voices as they remained independent of the employer.
According to Millward et al (2000), different agency for workers to express their grievances became more complex and diverse. Millward identified several approaches that workers used to express their grievances including via trade union membership, representation and recognition, indirect or representative participation mechanisms such as consultations; and finally direct employee involvement. According to a survey conducted by the WERS, trade unions have become less powerful and prominent voice channel for workers. This is attributed to the fact that the membership of trade unions has significantly decreased over the years. The report further shows that joint consultation and collective bargaining has also decreased in popularity in many countries. The third strand, which is employee participation/involvement, has become popular around the world. According to Ackers, Wilkinson & Dundon (2006), most companies found it imperative to involve employees to their daily decision making activities and running the organization. Human resource management in most companies discovered that employees become innovative and commit themselves to their work if they are actively involved in decision-making.
Over the years employee participation has impacted the workplace both positively and negatively. It is widely believed that employee involvement may affect employee productivity, job sanctification and employee commitment to the organization. These factors significantly affect the way an organization or company perform their businesses. Wilkinson, Dundon, Marchington, & Ackers, (2004) further explains that employee participation reduces the chances of industrial disputes resulting from poor communication between staff and management. Improvement of decision making processes, increase of creativity, lowers employers’ stress and ensures better use of time and resources. The next section will briefly discuss the impact of employee participation/involvement in workplace.
Impact of employee participation/involvement in workplace
The impact of employee participation/involvement is multifaceted and diverse. Determining the most effective employee involvement strategy is determined by specific organizational goals. Different organizations entrust their employees the responsibility to carry out important duty with respect to their qualifications. Some organizations train their employees to accept responsibility and duties delegated to them. According to Webb & Webb (1999), some organizations give their employees rewards and recognition for performing their duty diligently. All these methods improve and strengthen the communication between the employees and the top management of an organization. Some of the impacts of employee participation that will be discussed below include job satisfaction, employee productivity and employee commitment.
Employees’ job satisfaction plays a vital role in the way they carry out their duty and responsibility. Most employees resign from their job since they feel not satisfied with their responsibility or job description. According to Walton (1995), job satisfaction is pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of job experience. Most scholars consider job satisfaction as the discrepancy between what an employee values and what the situation provides. Job satisfaction is viewed by many scholars as the degree of an employee affective orientation toward the work occupied in the organization. Employee participation and job satisfaction has for long time been integrated by Human resource management to enhance productivity and develop human capital (Wood, 1999). Employees feel more pleased and confident when the management trusts their decisions that have effect on the outcome of the business. Through employee participation workers have an opportunity of releasing their ideas, stress and concerns about the business. These ensure that the employees become satisfied with their work and decisions that they make in organization. Kalmi, Pendleton & Poutsma (2005) explain that satisfied employees tend to understand and utilize the opportunities they are provided with by the organization. Through participation employees become productive, creative and committed to their employers. Employees feel that they are appreciated and considered part of the organization. Human Resource Manager at Scotchem argues that it would be impossible to gain significant improvement without a large element of employee involvement. According to Kruse & Blasi (1997), most employees want to do much more than just come to work and perform duties that the management has directed them to do.
Employee involvement creates an environment where the workers can share ideas and innovation with the management. Kruse (2004) explains that organizations that lack proper employee involvement usually face shortage of staff and absenteeism of employees is usually very high. According to research conducted by Ackers, Wilkinson & Dundon (2006) on employee participation in Britain shows that organizations that do not involve their employees in decision making process, have low job satisfaction. The employees are poorly motivated to carry out their duties and have poor innovation. Most of these employees resign and go to look for jobs in other organizations that offer effective employee relation.
Most companies strive to employ and maintain productive employees in their organizations. Productive employees come up with new ideas and strategies to enable the organization survive in this tumultuous economic environment. According to Robinson (2004), productivity is a performance measure that includes both efficiency and effectiveness. Effective and high performing “organizations have a culture that encourages employee involvement hence employees are more willing to get involved in goal setting, decision-making or problem solving activities that results in higher employee performance” (Robinson, 2004, 47). Employee participation encourages modern style of participatory management, satisfaction, raises employee productivity and lowers the employee compensation rates. Furthermore, employee participation encourages job satisfaction, which increases productivity through bringing high quality motivation and working capabilities at times of implementation. Gall (2004) argues that participative climate has more considerable effects on workers’ satisfaction than participation in specific decision. According to Gollan (2002), human resource policies, that encourage employees involvement aim at providing workers with opportunities to have the means to acquire the appropriate skills, incentive to expand discretionary efforts and to have an input in decision making.
Employee involvement has significantly affected the productivity of organizations and companies in general. According to a research conducted by the Worlkplace Representation and Participation Survey (WRPS), companies that have effective employee involvement are 17% likely to perform better than companies that lack employee involvement programs in their organizations. The report further shows that employees who work in companies that have efficient employee involvement are more satisfied with their job compared to other workers. Another research conducted by Dundon & Grugulis (2007) on more than 18 different organizations on impact of employee involvement and company productivity revealed the same result. Several respondents expressed their belief that there was a correlation between employee involvement and performance outcome. For example, ConsultancyCo has an employee involvement mechanism called “strategy days” that provides employees with an input to the future strategic plan of the organization. At these ‘Strategic days’ the company allows employees to come in groups and discuss matters that ranged from market changes, technological changes and report their ideas to a plenary session that takes further action on their findings. The report shows that workers in ConsultancyCo are more satisfied with the management than other companies that have centralized system of making decisions. Another company that has taken the advantage of employee involvement is HiFi Sounds. At HiFi Sounds the management encourages the employees to make suggestions on a whole host of matters including staff recruitment, shop opening and customer care management. Another company that has benefited from this program is Bet.com. Following briefing session between employees and the management, Bet.com decided to implement bets from customers over the phones. The result of that initiative saved the company thousand of pounds. From this statistics it is clear that employee participation in management of company improves productivity and employees’ job satisfaction (Dundon, Wilkinson, Marchington & Ackers, 2004).
Most scholars argue that employee commitment to the goals of an organization is paramount for successful business. Guest (2001) explains that employee commitment refers to congruence between the goals of the individual employee and the organization whereby the individual identifies with and extends effort on behalf of the goals of the organization. According to Guest & Hoque (1994), most employees commit themselves to decisions and goals that they have taken part in formulation. Employees feel that they have thier own goal and objective; that they have been actively involved in formulation. Employee involvement ensures that workers commit themselves to the responsibility and duties assigned to them. Wagner (1994) explains that employees commit themselves to goals of organization if they are allowed to come up with ideas and strategy for the organization. Workers perform their duty not only because they are supposed to do that, but because they have passion and commitment towards the task. All this can only be achieved if companies can take the initiative and involve employees in decision-making, goal formulation and policy formulation of the company.
According to a research conducted in Britain by Ackers, Wilkinson & Dundon (2006), most employees were found to commit themselves to company goals when they were actively involved in formulation process. The report further shows that employees who were not actively involved in decision-making were less likely to commit themselves to the goals of the company. This clearly shows that employee involvement plays a critical role in daily management and running of organization. Without proper mechanism to commit employees to the goals of the company it would be hard for the organization to successfully meet their target. The issue of employee committing themselves to projects and responsibility has a great effect on company’s efficiency and work output (Yousef, 1998).
Better use of time and resources
Most companies are faced with the challenge of managing their resources and time to get maximum output. According to Wagner (1994), resources encompass employees, physical material and financial capability of the organization. Many managers are provided with minimum resources to reach maximum result for the organization. Managing the minimum resources requires innovation and efficient communication between the employees and the management. This can only be achieved through efficient employee involvement mechanism, which will ensure, that all the employees participate in decision making process. Yousef (2000) explains that employees are responsible for using over 90% of companies’ resources and time. It is imperative for the management to involve the employees to come up with effective use of resources that will enable the organization to save cost of transacting business. According to Vroom (1999), employee participation ensures that the company resources are well utilized to provide maximum profit. According to a research conducted by Dundon, Wilkinson, Marchington & Ackers (2004) on Bet.com Company, employee involvement can significantly reduce the cost of doing business. The company had several sessions with employees on ways they can improve the procedure for taking bets from consumers over the phone. The company saved a lot of money since the employees were able to discover that some customers were able to place bets after the results were known. The employees were able to come up with innovation that stopped customers from placing bets after the result was known.
Less industrial disputes
Hyman & Thompson (2003) explain that employee involvement has significantly reduced industrial dispute in many organizations. This is attributed to better communication between management and employees. Most organizations have given employees freedom to express issues that affect them both in the workplace and at home. Some organizations have gone a step further to provide psychologist to assist workers to deal with work pressure. This has significantly reduced the cases of strike in many organizations around the world. Most organizations have come up with strategy that allows them to communicate directly with employees without involving trade unions. At Weaveco, the management provided model of partnership where management actively constructed a collective voice strategy which was less reliant on the trade unions. This was an attempt by the management to provide communication channel beyond union channels through a disclosure of partnership and teamwork. Weaveco replaced its traditional quarterly union-centered JCC with monthly departmental meetings. Other company that followed the same system includes Southern Shoe EWC. The company came up with a strategy that allowed the management to communicate effectively with the employees directly rather than using the union. The direct meeting with employees resulted in low levels of absenteeism, better staff retention and productivity improvement (Dundon, Wilkinson, Marchington & Ackers, 2004). The next section will briefly discuss the obstacles for effective employee involvement in organization.
Obstacle to effective employee involvement
Many scholars argue that most organizations fear to switch from their traditional autocratic rule to democratic rule. They view democratic rule as a threat to their authority towards employees. Patterson et al (1997) explains that fear of change is a major factor that has prevented most organizations from embracing democratic style of rule. Another factor that has impeded employee involvement is failure to respond to employee recommendation. Failure to respond to employee is another sure way to kill an employee involvement. Towers (1997) explains that if the management cannot acknowledge employee efforts, staff will conclude that the management has no interest in the welfare of employees. The management should take a step to recognize the improvement of employees even if it is small.