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Many organizations have chosen the Employee Involvement (EI) approach to improve their organizational performance. These organizations have adopted a variety of strategies that range from quality circles, customer specifications, participatory decision making, teamwork, collaboration, re-engineering, review committees, total quality management, quality of work life and many more. These responses are used either singularly or in combination. The key requirement to these strategies is the willingness of managers and their people to change the ways in which their work has traditionally been undertaken.
A common theme throughout these responses from businesses is that of EI. This is, the belief that employee involvement practices (EIP) contribute to business success in this challenging business environment. This response has led to an increased and continuing interest in the forms of inclusive and combined people practices and processes utilized by organizations.
Employee involvement (EI)
Employee participation involves employees exerting a countervailing (opposing) and upward pressure on management. It is also associated with an ‘adversarial model' of workplace relations.
Organizing for high performance:
Employee involvement is creating an environment in which people have an impact on decisions and actions that affect their jobs. Employee involvement is not the goal nor is it a tool, as practiced in many organizations. Rather, employee involvement is a management and leadership philosophy about how people are most enabled to contribute. High performing organizations focus on valuing and investing in their employees - their human capital - and on supporting their people policies to support performance goals. It is important that leaders understand how practices and processes designed to tap the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their employees can lead to greater productivity and performance. Strategic human capital management is a pervasive challenge. Companies that focus on a “service” have the most to gain from shifting their focus from bureaucratic to employee- involved because their employees are the front-line and “know” their customers better than any internal part of the organization. Benefits of involving employees are documented to include:
- Improved, more innovative and efficient work methods and procedures
- Better communication between management and workers from cross- training and teamwork
- Attraction and retention of employees
- Reduced lateness, turnover and absenteeism
- Greater staffing flexibility
- Increased service and product quality
- Higher productivity and output
- Reduced staff support and supervision requirements
- More effective resolution of conflict and reduced number of grievances
- Better decisions
- Expansion of staff skills
- Improved confidence and job satisfaction
- Less resistance to change
Employee involvement is composed of three essential variables, namely:
- Participation in decision making
Nature of employee involvement:
Robbins (1998) defines EI as “a participative process that utilizes the entire capacity of employees, and encourages their increased commitment to organizational success.” Robbins distinguishes between employee participation and EI on the basis that EI is more encompassing and seeks to engage the entire capacity of the individual focused toward organizational success.
“EI is a management process that engages the entire capacity of the individual such that their discretionary work effort is committed to both their success and aligned with that of organizational success.
This definition recognizes that EI programs are initiated by management and therefore an employees' decision to engage in the EI program is a foundation for the program's success, along with the application of discretionary effort by the employee. In essence, it is to motivate people in the workplace to fully commit their discretionary effort toward the organization's goals. It is the effort above what is required to just undertake the prescribed workplace tasks which will result in EI program success. It also recognizes that EI programs have a ‘mutuality' about them that is; both the employee and the organization must perceive a gain from the EI programs. In any EI program, the interface between the employee and the EIP is vital. How the employee sees that interface and then chooses to commit to participate in the EIP, and the degree to which the employee is willing to commit effort once participating in an EI program, is crucial to the success of EIP.
Many factors will influence the way employees see EI programs not the least of which is the resemblance between the EIP, the organizational climate and the business context. EI enables attitudinal reactions in employees to influence organizational performance and suggest EI increases the following attitudes:
- Communication within and across functions
- Willingness to engage in problem solving
- Enhanced acceptance of new work practices
If EI is viewed as a strategy in terms of developing core business competencies, as opposed to the traditional business, markets and product strategies, then the focus of the strategy is driven down to the individual
EI for Management benefit:
EI programs achieve organizational performance through mechanisms involving people in aspects of decision making that have previously been the reserve of management.
The benefits are represented as:
- Provision of a greater sense of ownership for people
- Greater utilization of people's knowledge and skills
- Greater understanding of how their work can be done more effectively
- Greater appreciation of management's perspective, in terms of business
Operation and performance
In addition, the benefits employers gains from EI are generated by those factors listed below which aggregate to result in an overall improvement to organization effectiveness
- Highly motivated workforce
- Better relationships between employees and management
- Acquisition of information that will positively improve costs, efficiency, effectiveness and quality
It is from this belief that EI programs are promoted as providing essential benefits to employees as well as benefits to the organization's performance that in turn reflect a benefit to management benefit. However, for EI to be implemented the employee first must see a benefit that will be a driver, or incentive, to move through the engagement interface. This leads to considering EI from an employee perspective.
EI for Employee benefit:
While the evidence suggests there is a slightly positive correlation between EI and organizational outcomes, this correlation may be due, in part, to the mutual benefit perception of employers and employees. Equity motivational theory also suggests that without sufficient sharing of benefit the employees may eventually reject EI if they perceive the only beneficiary of EI is to be the organization. In this sense, EI programs must establish in employees a belief they have been meaningfully engaged in terms of the essential rewards, for the expected mutual benefits to flow. This again highlights the vital aspect of individual engagement for EI success.
While employers initiate EI programs, employees may well have a different perception of what the EI program is meant to achieve and hence potentially unrealized expectations. It is vital to the sustainability of outcomes and the eventual integration of EI into normal management policies and practices that any mismatch of expectations is resolved. Involvement does not just happen, it is initiated by management action and its existence and continuance must be supported by management commitment and practices
The correlation between EI and business performances has been generally established as slightly positive. However, the mechanism for that correlation is not largely understood. Indeed the strength of that correlation has varying degrees of support. These basic elements of EI are supported in this regard. It is argued that the mechanism for the correlation is based on the employee's perception of EIP in the context of the organization. This perception will influence their choice on the degree to which they participate in EIP. This perception will govern the choice employees make to engage in the EI program and enter a psychological contract with the organization based on the mutuality of benefits. In this view, the exact EIP used is immaterial, so long as it is harmonizing with managements approach; both espoused and applied, and validate people's sense of personal value.