Work organisation and innovation

Involving employees at the workplace pays off in higher levels of work performance

Research shows that employee involvement can support employers’ objectives to raise levels of work performance and can also enhance the quality of employees’ lives at work.

However, new data from the fifth European Working Conditions Survey shows only about a quarter of employees in Europe (27%) are working in high involvement organisations, casting doubts over the ambitious Europe 2020 strategy aimed at attaining ‘smart’ growth through the development of higher-quality jobs in higher value-added industries and ‘inclusive’ growth in which all citizens have access to high-quality employment opportunities. In the EU27 overall, most of the workforce is in organisations that provide very limited opportunities for employees to participate in decision-making, either in their immediate job or in relation to wider organisational issues affecting their work.

At present, relatively little is known about the prevalence of employee involvement across the EU and the factors that encourage it. The extent to which employee involvement leads to mutual benefits for the employee and employer is also controversial. The report Work organisation and employee involvement in Europe draws on data from Eurofound’s fifth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) of 2010 to investigate these issues and to strengthen the evidence available. It finds:

  • While 38% of employees were in low involvement organisations in 2010, just 27% were working in high involvement organisations, with 35% in organisations that offer intermediate levels of involvement. The broad pattern was very similar for both men and women.
  • The Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) had the highest levels of involvement, while the Southern countries (Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain) and the East-South countries (Bulgaria and Romania) had particularly low levels of involvement.
  • There was also a strong association between the level of employee involvement and the opportunities for informal and formal learning at work. Nearly 60% of employees in high involvement organisations had received training in the previous 12 months compared to just over 42% of those in low involvement organisations.
  • Greater involvement was associated with stronger employee motivation in terms of commitment to the work task and to the wider organisation.
  • More opportunities for involvement in decision-making were associated with higher levels of psychological well-being and fewer physical symptoms of stress.
  • Those reporting that the organisation motivated them to give their best performance rose from 47% in low involvement to 76% in high involvement organisations.

Given the importance of a highly skilled workforce for economic growth, the need to develop systems of work organisation to foster employee motivation and well-being is likely to become increasingly important to the policy agenda. It has been argued that organisations with high levels of employee involvement will be particularly successful in this respect. Eurofound’s previous work on work organisation and innovation drew on empirical evidence from case studies in 13 Member States of the European Union to highlight the positive outcomes that can be achieved through innovations in work organisation.

The report Work organisation and innovation makes the following recommendations:

  • Continue to increase understanding of the nature and impact of HPWPs among policymakers at national and European levels
  • Raise awareness of the role and potential of workplace innovation via EU-level, cross-sectoral and sectoral social dialogue committees, as well as business associations
  • Incorporate measures and benchmarks for the diffusion of HPWPs through the European Employment Strategy to monitor progress on the adoption of practices across EU Member States
  • Enhance support for innovations through building funding eligibility into existing policy programmes and funding aimed at SMEs
  • Take action to support and promote a network of organisations to exchange good practice and undertake crosscountry research in the EU
  • Improve consistency of measures designed to enhance working conditions and labour standards across sectors
  • Develop synergies between European policies on working conditions and public health policies on individual wellbeing outside the workplace
  • Incorporate knowledge of innovative HR practices in qualifications which have pan-European accreditation, e.g. undergraduate management degrees and MBAs.

Eurofound's reports on work organisation, innovation and employee involvement are available on this page in the right side column.