Employee Relations: Informing and Involving Employees

Introduction

Employee involvement in organizations has many faces and is also defined in many ways. Some people especially the management believe that the involvement of employees in the organization is meant to solve all the problems occurring in that organization. On the other hand, others are of the opinion that this involvement is meant to reduce resistance to the management and the efforts management makes in reducing or obstructing organizational change. Critics though look at it as complete redundancy and an obstacle to efficiency and execution of high-quality management practices.

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Some scholars have however attempted to portray employee involvement in organizations in a clear and useful and often multidimensional manner. From the works of these scholars, it is evident that employee participation in the activities and running of organizations has always attempted to solve some basic human problems that occur in businesses. These problems include industrial democratic organization and equality, job alienation and work-related and administrative effectiveness. There have been attempts to alleviate the unfathomable ambivalence that people have towards general participation of workers. If people could understand the dynamics of employee participation, they would establish, construct and uphold such systems.

Employee involvement

Employee involvement or EI is administration and leadership attitude that concerns how workers participate in the functioning of the organization. Involvement of employees can be defined as the process of permitting or empowering a person in an organization to think, act and take responsibility overwork and decision–making in independent ways. It is the condition where a person feels self-empowered to control their activities and their future (Heathfield). Empowerment is not essentially what one individual does for another. In organizations, workers tend to think that the authority has to bequeath power to the people who are under them. It is then apparent that this is why people do not act as if they have any power as they are waiting to be given that power to act. Kirkman (1999) adds that empowerment is rather the ability of a person to take it upon themselves to act and control their work in addition to making independent decisions. To be empowered is to give oneself authority.

However, organizations should take responsibility in creating environments that help in promoting ability and yearning in employees to act like they had power. They should remove obstacles which limit this ability. Empowerment is often used to denote employee involvement and participative administration (Heathfield). It is an effort to pool the different ideas of workers which can be useful in achievement of set goals.

As mentioned, employee participation or involvement takes many faces. The varieties of this include downward communication. This defines such practices as company journals and newspapers, reports from employees and often, some briefing sessions among the workers. Secondly, it could take the form of upward problem-solving. This involves establishing suggestion systems, survey of attitude and programs for customer care. Financial EI that include sharing of profits and establishing a system where employees can own shares could also help. Management could also come up with arrangement for bonus for the employees. Additionally, involvement could entail representative participation. This involves consultative meetings and collective bargaining. Employee involvement therefore covers a wide range of issues. This implies that it may be critical to the employee productivity and attitudes that regard the company (Haim 2002).

Grazier gives his opinion about employee involvement in what he calls his key learning points. He says these are the things he wishes he knew when he began working with employee involvement and which should be known by managers and employees. The points assist in changing the approach people have towards work and involvement.

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In any organizational setting, every individual has something to contribute to the organization. They will do so if the environment is right. Managers sometimes place limitations on other workers’ knowledge. They do so more often than not subconsciously. They feel that the solutions they have to the company problems are best and no other scan works. If managers took time to work closely with people, they would realize that their organizations have talent, skills, knowledge and ingenuity that remains unexploited in the employees. Grazier adds that the most unlikely people can come up with brilliant ideas that can become simple solutions to very complicated problems. If workers are given the opportunity to air their opinions, it is likely that their potential will be recognized and they will be positive contributors to the success of their companies. All workers are ‘true reservoirs of knowledge’ (Grazier).

An example that is cited by Grazier is that of a tour he took at a Fortune 500 food company in the UK. He spoke with a machine operator who had worked for the company for 42 years and was due to retire in 6 months. The man discussed a solution for the clearance of bulk food remnants from a regularly clogged hopper, a solution he had never discussed with anyone since, as he said, nobody ever asked for the ideas workers had. The idea worked.

In all organizations, workers are the greatest asset. The human element of performance has always been of more significance than the technical element (Grazier). Most companies spend a great deal of time focusing on the business mechanical features. These include the technology used, financial controls, equipment, administrative structure, inventory and inspection among others. While the principles of motivation have been taught to most of the managers, they are seldom used. The rewards that managers can get are the result of doing extremely well in technical features of work and not the human aspect. However, success or failure can only be traced to motivational issues in any institution and not technical aspects.

Moreover, collaboration can improve decision-making processes in companies significantly. This is one principle that should be used often in participative management and team-based problem-solving. In most instances, managers do the thinking, make the decisions and give the orders. They influence the same culture in the workers who think and make decisions individually. Promotions seem to be based on the ability to make hard independent decisions that nevertheless affect everybody. It therefore follows that most employees have not had any input in the slimming down of their companies or reorganizing decisions that ultimately affect them. Collaboration improves the decisions made by both management and subordinates.

Tannenhaum and Schimidt (1958) developed a model for employee involvement. The model operates in four levels. One is the ‘tell’ level where the leader makes decisions and informs the employees about them expecting that they are what will be followed. Second is the ‘sell’ level where a leader of the company takes a decision and then attempts to communicate it to the employees with an aim to buy their support. The employees have no influence in that decision. Third is the ‘consult’ level. Here, the leader invites employees to pool their ideas and opinions and decisions are made from considering these ideas. The final decision however lies with the leader. Last is the ‘join’ level. The leader and employees take decisions in agreement. Both parties play an equal role in decision-making (Rigdon 1996).

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Benefits of employee involvement

Lawler agrees with the hypothesis that employee involvement makes a difference in organizations. He says that enabling employee involvement in organizations has now become a project for management. Bartholomew (1996) agrees and adds that the results are that teamwork is now more popular in the workplace. He also says that employee involvement results in better performance in the business. The basic of employee involvement is shifting the power in the making of decisions downward in organizations.

Teams in workplaces are potentially effective ways through which this can be done. Teams are many kinds in organizations. In the movement of decision-making to lower levels in an organization, there are teams that involve unique meetings that are the same as the normal daily work practices. These teams are called by Cappelli and David (1999) parallel organizational structures. In these teams the role of employees is to provide input and recommend actions. They do not have the power to make the final decisions or implement the recommendations they bring to the table (Bartholomew 1996). Parallel structures are used in most of the organizations in the world today. However, the parallel structures differ from one organization to the next. Some use more than one of the same. Nevertheless, parallel structures are used with only a fraction of the employee body in any particular organization. The pattern shows that there is an increase in the use of participation groups among employees.

Noe (1999) is another writer who agrees that employee involvement programs have shown the potential to increase competitiveness in organizations. He however adds that for this to happen, management must provide workers with incentives that will foster participation. Research was carried out by scholars that include Noe and its main aim was to determine the cause of participation in some workers and not in others. Employees have expectations as the research revealed. These expectations have to be fulfilled but workers become disillusioned when the expectations are unrealistic. It is therefore the responsibility of human resource managers to structure strategic approaches that enable invention and implementation of programs for employee involvement (Noe 1999).

Freeman and Kleiner (2000) claim that employee involvement is the mainframe for labor relations in organizations in the US. Many managers believe that EI raises productivity and profits in companies. The two writers however are of the opinion that the assumption that EI improves company performance is equivocal. Research has also confirmed that there are small effects of EI in organizations. Nevertheless, why would organizations value EI so much if it does not impact greatly on productivity?

Managers and employees are said to be the main beneficiaries of employment involvement (Cappelli and Neumark 1999). The impact of EI on productivity is minimal compared to the improvement of worker well-being that results.

Organizational benefits

Cheri Ostroff conducted research on companies of Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) in 1993 (Freeman and Kleiner 2000). He looked into about eight employment involvement practices. The number and use of these practices increased between 1983 and 1993. In 1993, all the companies had some practices while some had all. The practices that had been introduced earlier were used more intensely at this time. The results showed that employment involvement practices needed extensive periods of time in order for the impact to be felt by companies. While in 1993 the practices should have shown some result, the estimated coefficients on employee involvement were revealed to be insignificant.

The research carried out by Cheri therefore reveals that employment involvement possesses a significant non-linear impact on productivity of companies. Companies that use one of the practices of EI may therefore gain nothing or end up losing. However, those that use all the practices gain significantly (Cappelli and Neumark 1999). Hence, research makes the conclusion that EI has little or no effect on productivity. The only positive effect is on deterioration.

Employee benefits

Employees respond that they are very happy when they can influence the decisions of their organizations. The reason is that this affects not only the organization but also their lives. A great proportion of workers look forward to reporting to work every day. They depict more loyalty to the company in which they work and trust in the promises that the organization gives to them and others. They hold the opinion that the programs that have been set by their organizations for dealing with problems are very effective (Cappelli and Neumark 1999).

In addition, employees that are on employee involvement committees confess to being more involved in decision-making than those in companies without these programs. They also point out that they are directly involved in goal setting for the company and their workgroups. They decide the training they need and the way to work with new software and supplies (Cappelli and Neumark 1999).

Another group said that they benefited in being more influential on the job and getting better pay. Most employees have the same opinion that they would lose greatly if the employee involvement programs were eliminated (Freeman and Kleiner 2000).

Examples of UK organizational good practice concerning employee involvement

Results from studies on organizations on employee involvement and the benefits they have on employees and the organizations vary widely. Many companies have been able to integrate employee involvement in their system in the UK. Such companies include Intel, Saturn, Sears, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and United Airlines Inc.

Jacky Simmonds was the person behind the merger that happened between First Choice and Tui. This was after it almost got bought by two companies. Tui is known to be the owner of the Thompson Airways. The result of the merger was a workforce of 48000 employees and a lot of redundancies. Simmonds however saw this as a great opportunity.

Just before the merger, Simmonds spearheaded a meeting that was meant to discuss the challenges the merger would bring on the new organization as concerning people. There was need for harmony of terms and conditions. It would also be necessary to combine two different cultures, determine a location and new structures and define roles for the new workforce.

The strategy Simmonds used was appointment of a support team for implementing the merger. Simmonds says that the team had to be credible as the best only need to be integrated. Consultations with both company employees saw to a new location and a number of significant decisions.

Later, a survey showed that 65% of the workforce was happy with things as they were. Most understood the reasons for the merger. It was recommended that senior managers communicate often with the employees as this was not happening. The new company did not go for redundancies but encouraged voluntary redundancies, part-time work and sabbaticals (A smooth landing).

It is not often though that involving employees will warrant survival in difficult times. It requires some commitment from the people involved. Standard Chartered Bank’s Tim Miller introduced a measure for engagement in 2000. The bank employs a wide definition of involvement that is founded on the Q12 information to mirror the brand and values of the bank. Every year, there is an employee survey. When managers get the scoreboard for their teams, they engage the team in a dialogue regarding the results of the survey. The team then agrees on actions to improve their work.

This plan might not work with other companies. At the bank though, it is a success. This is because they have made engagement essential to the business and there is a clear set of values for the organization. Employees are also committed to learning change and managers are able to balance short-term management and a focus that is long-term (Learning to use the force of engagement). The strategy used by Simmonds saw to the loss of jobs for some of the employees. However, Standard Chartered ensures an improvement in the services provided by its personnel.

This is proof that when employees are given autonomy and sufficient training, they are able to deal with problems that have to do with recovery of service. Consequently, they end up more satisfied that their counterparts who are not empowered. In addition, when employees re able to solve problems without having to consult, satisfaction of customers is quicker. It portrays some responsibility and empathy among the employees.

Conclusion

Managers should aim at creating an environment that empowers employees and enables them to be productive and participative in organizational activities and decision-making. They should also trust in the abilities of their employees and watch over them all the time. Osland (1997) suggest ten principles that help managers to support employee involvement and contribution.

Demonstrating that one values his employees is one factor that shows appreciation for each employee’s unique worth. This helps to motivate even those who are not great performers. Secondly, managers ought to share their leadership vision. This means helping the employees to feel that they are a part of the organization and not just individuals. This can be done by ensuring that employees have free access to the mission, vision and the strategic plans of the company. Third is the sharing of goals and direction. This is helpful as the employees feel that they are part of a positive outcome and are actually responsible for the accomplishment of that outcome.

Another principle suggested by Osland is trusting people. When managers trust the objective employees have as doing the right thing, employees feel empowered to make decisions and choices that will work. Fifth according to Osland (1997) is provision of information for decision-making. Employees have a duty to give people or make available to them the information that they might require in making important decisions that affect them and the organization. This is a measure towards preventing possible decision-making mistakes. Next is delegation of authority and impacting on opportunities and not just giving more work to members of staff. Managers often think that the only work worth delegating is the hard work. Employees would appreciate taking on the important work too such as important meetings, decision-making, projects and interaction with customers. This way, there is an opportunity for the employee to develop their skills and gain useful knowledge. Moreover, the workload for the manager will be less.

The seventh point involves providing feedback frequently. Osland says that this helps employees evaluate their progress. It helps in development of skills and knowledge too. Solving problems without victimizing employees makes the latter seek to do what is right at all times. A problem should be identified and the cause dealt with without making mountains out of molehills. This way, employees will feel free to contribute towards the solution. In addition, managers should listen to employees with an open mind so that they too can learn. Asking questions is not a show of incompetence but rather providing employees with an opportunity to contribute. By demonstrating what they know, workers grow. Lastly, the most important principle is to help employees to feel appreciated and recognized. This is what will establish empowered behavior.

When employees feel they are not appreciated, they don’t produce results. Instead, they hold back the extra effort that could otherwise have been invested in their work. Meeting employees’ basic needs motivates them to participate in organizational activities (Osland 1997).

References

“A smooth landing.” 2009. Web.

Bartholomew, D. 1996. The Statistical Approach to Social Measurement, Academic Press, London.

Cappelli, P. and David N., “Do “High Performance” Work Practices Improve Establishment-Level Outcomes?”, NBER Working Paper 7374,  1999.

Freeman, R. B. and Kleiner, M. M., 2000. “The anatomy and effects of employee involvement.”, Working Paper, Harvard University and the University of Minnesota.

Grazier, P., “Employee involvement.” Web.

Haim, A. B., 2002. “Participation programs in work organizations: past, present, and scenarios for the future”, Greenwood Publishing Group.

Halvorsen, D. L., 2005. “An investigation of employee satisfaction and employee empowerment specific to on-site supervisors n the residential construction industry”, Brigham Young University. Web.

Heathfield, S. M., “Employee empowerment.” Web.

Kirkman, B. L., 1999. “High performance work organizations”, Centre for Creative Leadership.

Lawler, E. E. “Employee involvement makes a difference”. Journal for Quality and Participation, The. Web.

“Learning to use the force of engagement.” People Management magazine, Web.

Noe, R. A. 1999. Employee Training and Development. New York, NY: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.

Osland, A. 1997. “Impact of Total Quality Management Training and Worker Context on Attitudes Toward Supervisor.” The International Journal of Organizational Analysis vol. 5 (3), pp. 291-301.

Rigdon, E. E. 1996. “CFI versus RMSEA: A Comparison of Two Fit Indexes.

The Business Roundtable. 982. “Absenteeism and turnover: A construction industry cost effectiveness project report”, (Report C-6).

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