Workplace innovation and employee participation: Work organisation - Q2 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

Workplace innovation

Looking for win–win solutions across the EU

The EU has been promoting the idea of modernising work through workplace innovation. The aim is to increase employee motivation, improve working conditions and promote organisational performance. The  European Commission defines workplace innovation as ‘innovations in the way enterprises are structured, the way they manage their human resources, the way internal decision-making and innovation processes are devised, the way relationships with clients or suppliers are organised or the way the work environment and the internal support systems are designed’. Current EU initiatives to promote workplace innovation include the European Workplace Innovation Network, a Europe-wide learning network, launched with the aim of improving the organisations’ performance and the quality of jobs.

Eurofound’s forthcoming overview report of findings from the European Company Survey 2013 will provide a detailed picture of workplace innovation, among other company features, across Europe, and examine what factors appear to support innovation.

Success of employee-driven productivity plan

A project in Finland to improve workers’ productivity by improving the quality of their working life has shown encouraging results. The Productivity from Quality of Work Life project project ran from 2011–2013 in five local authorities, during which time an employee-driven productivity development plan was followed. By implementing the plan the municipalities made productivity gains of €2.7 million, which translated to almost €1,000 per employee a year. The results also suggest a cultural change that improved the quality of the employers’ work life.

Can reducing working hours lead to less sick leave?

In April 2014, a team of council workers in the Swedish city of Gothenburg began a trial of a 30-hour working week. Council leaders want to see whether decreasing work hours will lead to less sick leave and indirectly lower healthcare and social insurance costs. The trial is taking place at an elderly care centre with a largely female workforce and a high rate of sickness absence. Lasting for one year, the trial will be continuously evaluated.

The Gothenburg trial project has also attracted political interest at a national level. The Left Party and the Green Party are both pushing for a reduction in the working week – the Left Party to 30 hours and the Green Party to 35. Meanwhile, car manufacturer Toyota, also based in Gothenburg, introduced a 30-hour working week in 2002 with positive results.

Social partners sign an agreement on telework for 3,000

Nestlé France has said it regards telework as an ‘interesting opportunity’ to modernise the organisation of work in the company. The company, which has 3,000 employees, has been testing teleworking since 2011. On 17 January 2014, the social partners in the company concluded an agreement to extend the option to all employees for an indefinite period. Some more cases on telework have been reported for the first quarter of 2014.

Bank introduces new work-zone based office space

One interesting company initiative on workplace innovation comes from DnB Bank in Lithuania. It is following the lead of Norway’s DnB Bank by planning to provide 700 employees with a three-zone workstation system in its new headquarters currently being built in Vilnius. The three zones are ‘standard’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘silent’. Employees will be able to choose the workstation which best suits their job task: standard, silent for concentrated work, or a teamwork space shared with colleagues. The silent zone will take 8% of space, the teamwork zone up to 20%, and standard workstations will occupy the rest. Each floor will accommodate about 100 employees. In implementing  a new work culture, it is expected that greater use will be made of intelligent technological innovations, cooperation will be bosted and, ultimately, employee performance will be enhanced.

Polish businesses share experiences on workplace innovation

The annual report Responsible Business in Poland 2014: Good Practices (in Polish, 8.31 MB PDF) has been released by the Responsible Business Forum. The report looks at some of the country’s best examples of workplace innovation.

The Plus Idea programme by healthcare group Pelion is a platform for innovative business ideas formulated by the staff. Meanwhile, the International Innovation Forum, set up by retail company The Musketeers Group is a platform for promoting workplace innovation and disseminating good practice.

Employee involvement and participation at work

An important dimension of workplace innovation is the extent to which employees are able to become involved in introducing changes into business. This might include having a say in changes that affect them and their working conditions (for which legal requirements regarding information and consultation are in place). Alternatively, it might entail making better use of their knowledge.

EU workers happy their opinions taken on board

According to the latest Flash Eurobarometer 398 (5.48 MB PDF), at least half the working population in each Member State is satisfied that their opinions are considered when decisions are made about their work. The highest satisfaction rate is recorded in Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, where around 80% of the working population are happy; the lowest is in France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta, all with a satisfaction rate of around 60%. The survey also finds that Europeans are more likely to discuss work-related problems with colleagues (75%) than with managers (64%) or employee representatives (39%).

In addition, 65% of employees across Europe said they had been informed about the state of the company where they worked, while 54% said they had been consulted on changes to their work or their working conditions.

Finland: Business needs more ‘liiders’

Common misconceptions about employee involvement in Finland are discussed in an article by Dr Liisa Välikangas, Professor of innovation management at the department of Management and Organisation at Hanken School of Economics. In a piece written for Tekes, the Finnish funding agency for innovation, she says many supervisors are sceptical of an environment where ‘everyone does whatever they like’. Dr Välikangas argues that the real hindrance to innovation lies in unwillingness to take risks and try something new. To change this, she says, businesses need fewer rules and less control; indeed, to foster enthusiasm, new initiatives and creativity, businesses need ‘Liiders’ – a playful name for an innovative person derived from the English word ‘leader’. Liiders are those people who spread enthusiasm and energy, take pride in doing things their own way and can inspire others to rethink their work.

Another research report for Tekes (in Finnish) stresses the importance of enthusiasm for innovation, cautioning that enthusiasm is almost completely overlooked in the debate on innovation. Enthusiastic employees are a prerequisite for sustainable economic growth, it argues.

UK: Genuine dialogue crucial for employee engagement

A research paper published in the UK, MacLeod and Clarke’s Concept of Employee Engagement (478 KB PDF), concludes that – in order to enable employee engagement – employers need to engage workers in genuine dialogue and involvement, rather than just delivering one-way communication. Published by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which aims to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations, the study looks at the factors that lie behind succesful approaches to engagee staff, and notes that employee engagement seems to have increased since over the last decade.

Conclusions

Findings from the quarter across Europe indicate that companies, social partners, governments and other bodies are actively promoting the modernisation of the workplace. However, the number of reported initiatives is not particularly high, and examples of the more comprehensive initiatives come from countries such Finland where there is already a long-standing tradition of employee involvement, and a generally more employee-centered approach to work-organisation.

This highlights the importance of sharing the good practice that does exist, plus a good understanding of what has worked and why in order to promoting the modernisation of workplaces and so arrive at true win–win solutions.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s network of European correspondents. Further resources on work organisation can be obtained from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and European Company Survey (ECS).

For further information, contact : cau@eurofound.europa.eu

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Add new comment