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Work Organization and Employee Involvement in Europe

With the growing importance of a highly-skilled workforce, the need to develop systems of work organization that enhance both employee motivation and well-being is becoming increasingly important for governments and organisations. It is commonly assumed high levels of employee involvement is a particularly successful in this respect. We currently know relatively little about the prevalence of employee involvement across the EU and the factors that encourage it. The extent to which employee involvement leads to joint benefits, as claimed by its advocates, is also controversial. This QWL Research Brief summarises research on the European Working Conditions Survey of 2010 to assess these issues. You can read the full report here.

Patterns of Employee Involvement

  • In the EU27 overall the largest share of the workforce are in organizations that provide very limited opportunities for employees to participate in decision making either with respect to their immediate job task or to wider organizational decisions affecting their work. Whereas 38% of employees were in low involvement organizations, only 27% were in high involvement organizations. A further 35% were in organizations that offered intermediate levels of involvement.
  • There are marked differences between countries in the EU in the control that employees can exercise over their work tasks, their involvement in wider organizational decision making and the likelihood that they work in a high involvement organization.
  • The Nordic countries have the highest level of involvement, while the Southern and South Eastern countries had particularly low levels of involvement. This suggests that it is influenced by a distinctive policy environment.
  • Gender differences in involvement were relatively small, although women tended to have higher control over their immediate job tasks, while men had more say over wider organizational decisions. The pattern between different geographical regions was also very similar for men and women.

Determinants of Employee Involvement

  • There is a strong association between types of work and employee involvement. It is relatively low in conditions of routine machine production, but considerably higher in work dealing with people and particularly in work involving a high use of computer technology. This suggests that it may be particularly well adapted for the type of work required in a knowledge economy.
  • In contrast, the low-skilled are predominantly in low involvement systems (57%).
  • Organisations with a strong human resource capacity, reflected for instance in employee orientated supervisory styles and teamwork practices, appeared to be particularly conducive to higher employee involvement. This is consistent with the view that involvement works most effectively when embedded in a wider organizational culture concerned with employee development.
  • The provision of institutionalized channels for dialogue between employers and employed was also an important support for effective employee influence. Where consultative procedures existed, employees were more likely to be in a high involvement than in a low involvement organisation (36% compared with 27%). The association between the national strength of trade union membership and high involvement organization also pointed to the potential importance of macro-level mechanisms being more developed in countries with strong and relatively centralized trade unions.

Consequences of Employee Involvement

  • There was a strong association between the level of involvement of employees and the opportunities for informal and formal learning at work. This is supportive of one of the major arguments for the presumed benefits of employee involvement for productivity. Nearly 60% of employees in high involvement organizations had received training in the previous twelve months to improve their skills, compared to just over 42% of those in low involvement organizations.
  • Higher involvement was also associated with stronger employee motivation in terms of both commitment to the work task and commitment to the wider organization. Whereas only 32% of those in low involvement organisations always felt that their job gave them the feeling of work well done, the proportion rose to 53% in high involvement organisations. The same pattern is evident for organisational commitment. The proportions of those very satisfied with their working conditions rose from 15% in low involvement to 35% in high involvement organisations, of those feeling at home in the organisation from 56% to 81% and of those considering that the organisation motivates to give best performance from 47% to 76%.
  • There were also clear benefits with respect to employees’ working and employment conditions of being in an organization that provided greater scope for involvement in decision making. Such organizations also provided greater flexibility with respect to working time – control of start and finish times, ability to take time off during work. More generally, employees in high involvement organizations were less likely to think that their health and safety was at risk because of their work. In low involvement organizations 29% of employees thought their health and safety was at risk because of their work, whereas in high involvement organizations the proportion was only 18%.
  • Greater opportunities for involvement in decision making were also associated with higher levels of psychological well-being among employees. This was the case for both men and women. Consistently it was also related to fewer physical symptoms of stress. Further, employees in high involvement organizations were less likely to be absent due to health problems, although this was not the case for organizations with intermediary levels of involvement.
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