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Since the 1980s, many UK organisations have undertaken culture- change programmes in the face of turbulent product-market conditions. One major initiative has been the introduction of employee involvement (EI)(Guest, 1995).

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Introduction

Introduction Since the 1980s, many UK organisations have undertaken culture- change programmes in the face of turbulent product-market conditions. One major initiative has been the introduction of employee involvement (EI)(Guest, 1995). Today EI appears to be a widespread management practice (Ramsay, 1996). It may be the most recent attempt by employers to discover more 'participative' methods of managing employees (Marchington, 1995:282). However, the participative authenticity of EI is disputed. Hence, the purposes of this paper are five-fold: first, to identify some of the main forms and dimensions of EI; second, to outline some of the main theories and explanations for the introduction by management of EI initiatives; third, to attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of EI practices in the light of recent cross-sectional and case-study evidence from the UK and relate these findings to EI's 'fit' with traditional joint regulation; fourth, to consider participation and thus EI from an ethical perspective; and finally, fifth, to assess whether EI may be regarded as authentic participation or, as suggested by this paper's title, managerial sophistry. Definitions Any assessment of EI as an authentic or mock form of employee participation (EP) requires an initial definition of the concepts involved. However, there appears to be no commonly agreed definitions for either EI or EP (Marchington, 1992). EP is a wide term. At it widest, it embraces any form of EI in the operations of an organisation beyond the receiving of wages and the following of instructions. At its narrowest, the term describes employee(s) sharing in decision-making with management (Chrysiddes and Kaler, 1996:99). Two underlying objectives for EI have been suggested by Guest and Peccei (1992): first, to generate employee commitment to the organisation; and second, to encourage performance improvement and acceptance of management initiatives for change. ...read more.

Middle

reward/duty schemes * unplanned phasing of stand-alone EI techniques Lack of managerial * team-working/empowerment seen as threat commitment to role * EI seen as 'soft' management * bright idea of managers on promotion fast-track Failure to implement * lack of skills to implement EI initiatives * lack of time due to competing work pressures * priority given to 'hard' performance criteria Employee response to EI As workers are the main targets of EI schemes, it follows that EI is intended to modify or reinforce their attitudes and behaviours as suggested by the secular thesis. The Marchington et. al., (op. cit.) cross-sectional survey of 25 UK-based organisations, suggests that while EI has some impact on attitude, any impact upon behaviour is unclear. However, the evidence shows strong employee support for schemes in operation, and a desire for them to continue (ibid:35-37). In addition, while most survey respondents felt EI had improved since the late 1980s, the majority did not feel that EI had increased their commitment to the organisation (ibid). Business Performance and EI The impact of EI upon business performance is considered by some to be too problematic to evaluate (Marchington et. al., op. cit.; Ramsay, 1996). Methodologically, cross-sectional studies of EI appear unable to clarify causality, while longitudinal studies appear to suffer from the difficulties of treating EI as the independent variable and isolating it from the multi-various extraneous variables that may also affect the dependent variable of business performance. Evidence from the WERS98 study (Cully et. al., 1999) indicates that direct, downward communication forms of EI are widespread with more than 50% of establishments reporting the use of newsletters, management chains and team-briefing. What is perhaps more revealing from the analysis is how few establishments report employing techniques towards the right hand of the 'EP Continuum' discussed earlier, such as workplace committees (17%) ...read more.

Conclusion

Ethically, employees have a moral right to participation. In this context, participation is taken to mean 'sharing in decision-making'. Clearly, with the majority of EI practices to the left-of-centre of the 'EP Continuum', EI provides little opportunity for the sharing of decision-making and in this respect, may be considered a management technique to create a 'feeling of participation' (Heller, et. al., op. cit:176). Therefore, it is vulnerable to charges of 'pseudo-participation', perhaps more so when participation itself is confined or defined by individual level, unsophisticated EI practices. With the exception of those instances in UK industry where management have established co-operative, beneficial partnerships with all stakeholders in the employment relationship, the picture looks bleak. "Industrial democracy...has largely disintegrated...Employees are... left with management-inspired and -controlled involvement as their main, or even sole, source of information, communication and action." (Hyman and Mason, op. cit.:193) Clearly, the balance of power in the employment relationship is now with management, following nearly two decades of attrition against collectivism and worker rights. However, while employers may continue to initiate involvement programmes, this period of counter-mobilisation may be drawing to a close; EI might be vulnerable to the impact of national and international politico-economic dynamics, especially those emanating from the EU which remains committed to employee participation (ibid:195). Until such time as the UK government legislates to restore the balance, EI must be viewed as pseudo-participation and, therefore, as immoral in that it denies employees a path to real influence over the management decisions that profoundly affect their lives in all respects. It would appear that in the UK at least, social democracy and social justice was left in the polling booths of 1979. It is to be hoped that it was rediscovered in those same of booths of 1997 and that the new Labour administration will have the collective will 'to throw the herrings to the gulls'. ...read more.

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