Critical role of managers in employee information and consultation

In the spring of 2007, the Department of Trade and Industry published the results of a study on the role of information and consultation practices in the workplace. The report notes an overall increase in the coverage of information and consultation methods. It also reveals that the ways in which the policies were implemented was crucial to their success. As the role of management has become more important, policy should also be directed at improving managers’ capability to engage in participative decision making.

In February 2007, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) published the report Embedding the provision of information and consultation in the workplace: A longitudinal analysis of employee outcomes in 1998 and 2004 (752Kb PDF). The report notes an increase in direct consultative practices since 1998 and a decline in indirect consultative practices. The presence and perceived effectiveness of the consultation methods were considered in terms of their influence on employees’ job satisfaction and organisational commitment.

Methodology

The report’s principal aims were:

  • to investigate change in the incidence and application of information and consultation methods (such as ‘Employee involvement and participation’, EIP) between 1998 and 2004 in the UK;
  • to establish whether the depth and breadth of information and consultation methods were linked to employee organisational commitment and job satisfaction;
  • to analyse the links between employees’ perception of managers’ effectiveness at consulting and listening to their views, satisfaction with involvement in decision-making and employees’ levels of commitment and job satisfaction.

The report used data from the nationally-representative Workplace Employee Relations Survey for 2004 (WERS). Data were taken from three of four related surveys, which included the following:

  • the cross-section survey of managers which yielded responses from 2,295 managers responsible for employment relations;
  • the self-completion employee survey that provided 22,451 responses;
  • the panel element of the survey involving 938 interviews from a sample of management respondents from workplaces that took part in the 1998 main management survey.

Regression models, which included controls, were used to test the links between EIP and employee outcomes.

Main study findings

The study identifies a number of main outcomes in relation to the incidence of EIP, its coverage, depth and employees’ perceptions of it.

Incidence of EIP

The panel data show an overall increase in the proportion of workplaces using EIP. Direct forms of EIP showed particularly strong growth. Significant increases were recorded in the use of workgroup briefings, systematic use of management chain or cascading information systems, suggestion schemes and regular meetings with the entire workforce. The use of other communication methods remained stable. Overall, this suggests an increase in the use of management–employee communications.

Coverage of EIP

Neither job satisfaction nor organisational commitment were found to be significantly linked to any single EIP practice. In larger workplaces with 25 or more employees, significant positive associations were found between the presence of combinations of EIP practices (EIP breadth) and organisational commitment.

Depth of EIP

No significant links were found between EIP depth, as measured by the frequency of consultative processes such as team briefings or joint consultative committee (JCC) meetings, and employee outcomes. However, when EIP depth was considered in terms of direct (assessed through the characteristics of team briefings) and indirect EIP (assessed through the characteristics of JCCs), significant associations were found. In larger workplaces, a significant, positive link was evident between the depth of direct EIP and organisational commitment, and a significant negative link was found between the depth of indirect EIP and job satisfaction. No such significant links were found in smaller workplaces where formal EIP practices are less common.

Employee perceptions

Among all workplace sizes, the quality of the EIP processes was important in shaping employees’ commitment and satisfaction scores. The quality of the EIP processes was measured by the following three factors: the effectiveness of managers in seeking employees’ views; how well managers responded to suggestions from employees; and how satisfied employees were with their level of involvement in decision-making processes. Strong positive associations were found for each. Thus, where managers were deemed to be effective in their roles and employees were satisfied with the amount of involvement in decision making, employee satisfaction and commitment scores were higher.

Policy implications

The study findings suggest that the way in which information and consultation methods are put into practice is just as important as the types of practices used. Coupled with the increase in the use of direct methods between 1998 and 2004, the role of management appears to have become increasingly important, especially given that employee outcomes were found to be related to ways in which managers implemented consultation processes. One implication is that policy should be directed at improving managers’ capability and willingness to engage with participative decision making, so that any structures in place are effective and not simply ‘empty shells’.

Duncan Adam, University of Warwick

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