Mixed messages on worker consultation


Organisations that involve their employees in business decisions through formal channels report better workplace relationships, improved management decision making and even claim to deliver better quality goods and services, according to research published on November 12 in IRS Employment Review.

But the study also reveals that middle managers and supervisors are seen as a hindrance to employee involvement. Moreover, employers do not believe employee involvement helps to cut absenteeism, improve staff retention or raise productivity and more than half report that there is no direct effect on company profits.

The key findings of the research are based on responses from 52 from human resource managers across the private and public sectors, collectively employing nearly 214,000 people. Findings include:

  • Typical employee involvement mechanisms include team meetings, the company intranet and team briefings.
  • The most commonly cited mechanisms for employee representation were through trade unions and joint consultative committees, mentioned by more than 50 per cent of respondents. Works councils are in use in just one organisation in ten.
  • Although a handful of organisations introduced employee involvement initiatives to circumvent the traditional role of trade unions, almost half the organisations reported that the union had in fact strengthened as a result.
  • 13 per cent of respondents currently have no means by which employers are represented within the organisation.
  • The groups most likely to have proved a minor hindrance to employee involvement are middle managers (35 per cent) and supervisors 28 per cent.

IRS Employment Review managing editor, Mark Crail said:

“Substantial numbers of employers believe employee involvement through various mechanisms can benefit the organisation, which is good news for staff. But the research gives a mixed message; middle managers and supervisors are cited as being a hindrance to employee involvement and this may explain why consultation doesn’t seem to have affected recruitment and retention. Furthermore, 22 per cent of respondents felt that trade unions had proved to be a barrier, possibly because the union feared that it could be undermined by company initiatives.

“But things will have to change for those organisations who don’t have employee representation. UK employers must address the issues raised by the European Directive on Information and Consultation that will force them to introduce formal mechanisms for talking to their workforce in the next few years.

“It will be interesting to watch developments and see whether, ultimately, staff consultation can indeed affect the bottom line and increase profit and productivity.”