Employers realising its good to talk


New European laws are changing the way employers are communicating with their workers and creating a culture of greater openness and information, a new study has concluded.

Research by specialist journal IRS Employment Review has found employers are doing more to inform and consult staff about the running of their business.

The survey of 160 organisations, together employing more than 500,000 people, found that, since this time last year, employers have stepped up the extent to which they are prepared to consult employees on business issues.

And two-thirds of those polled now had a works council or similar permanent consultative body in place – nearly one in four of which has been set up in the past two years.

These changes were largely a response to the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations, which took effect for employers of 150 or more people on 6 April this year.

The regulations will be extended to employers of 100 or more in April 2007 and of 50 or more in April 2008.

In addition to formal consultative committees, employers are also more likely now to inform and consult their employees directly, with new technology helping the process along.

Email updates are now used by 84 per cent of companies, along with notice boards (85 per cent) and intranets (71 per cent).

These new methods of communication were now more commonly used than newsletters or journals (67 per cent), said the research.

The study found employers were most likely to inform employees about financial performance and prospects, changes to services or products and health and safety.

They were most likely to consult employees on pay, terms and conditions, changes to employment levels or status and health and safety.

IRS Employment Review managing editor Mark Crail said: "The ICE Regulations have prompted a rethink by employers about how they inform and consult their employees – and about the issues on which they are prepared to share their plans.

"Over the past 12 months, we have seen more employers consulting on their business's financial performance as well as on directly employment-related issues such as terms and conditions. However, companies that do this are still in the minority," he added.

"The regulations seem to have prompted a revival in the fortunes of the works council, and as the law is extended to cover smaller employees, we are likely to see this continue," he continued.

"The challenge to employers is to use these forums to engage employees and harness their knowledge of the way their companies operate at the front line to improve business performance," he concluded.