Posted in leadership, team

Employee Participation

The fundamental problem of management is to convince employees that they will benefit by working hard and sharing ideas. One likely outcome is that managers will not trust workers, will not expect workers to contribute ideas, and will not permit workers to innovate when they have ideas. If jobs are narrowly defined and rigid, workers have less opportunity to make suggestions. The methods used for creating employee involvement range from active suggestion systems to self-directed work teams.

Direct Participation –Successful employee involvement requires that workers have substantive involvement, not the superficial ability to make suggestions (but not be listened to) or to make decisions (but not about anything that matters). Employee involvement may pertain to many topics, including how employees do their job, how safe the jobs are, and how pleasant the working conditions are. Not surprisingly, lack of employee empowerment is associated with high failure rates among such programs.

Substantive Participation – Substantive participation in work and workplace decisions includes formal, direct participation schemes, such as work teams – concentrate on the same kinds of issues as consultative arrangements, but workers have more influence. They found that companies whose workers reported more participative cultures had a higher return on investment and sales and a higher return on assets than the industries as a whole.

Representative Participation – Representative forms of participation are important for resolving disputes that occur at a lower level: for example, when a work group feels a suggestion will increase safety, but the supervisor disagrees.

Employee Motivation – New forms of work require new forms of rewarding the cooperation and learning that underlie high-involvement workplaces. In addition, employees must be reassured that their ideas will not lead to layoffs or punishments such as dismissals.  Changes in reward systems have often been neglected by advocates of total quality management. In addition to their regular work, employees must fill in statistical process control (SPC) charts that track when errors occur. With little employee motivation, few of these charts are completed, as they should be. When workers must fill in SPC charts but are not empowered, SPC is little more than a speed-up of the pace of work.

Employee Ownership – Employee ownership occurs in 2 main forms in the U.S – thousands of employee stock ownership plans in which workers own a minority of the company’s shares, and a much smaller number of companies that are majority owned by the work force. Several studies examined the effects of participation on productivity in worker-owned companies. These studies found that participation raises productivity in the worker cooperatives.

Employment Security – Most high-involvement workplaces have implicit or explicit long-term employment contracts with their workers, contracts that stress reciprocal commitments and management’s pledge to minimize the need for layoffs. Workers with job security expect to remain at their jobs for many years and are more likely to forgo short-term gains (for example: shirking) to build a more effective organization.

Guaranteed Individual Rights – Participatory systems usually have rules and procedures to safeguard employee rights.

Sharing Information – Employees who understand management priorities and budgetary constraints can make better decisions concerning training issues, customer service problems, quality, product design, and work process improvements. For this strategy to be effective, workers should receive training in how to interpret and apply the information they receive.

Reference: Levine. Reinventing the Workplace: How Business and Employees Can Both Win


For a list of Sheila’s books, check out



Dr. Sheila Embry is a govie, author, pracademician, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend who loves to read, write, think, and laugh. Many of her blog postings are summaries or excerpts of books that she read and wants to share to encourage others. An author with more than 25 years experience within the legislative and executive branches of the U. S. federal government holding 3 accredited degrees: Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership, Master of Arts in Human Resources Development, and Baccalaureate of Business Administration, she believes in continuing learning both on and off the job. She has been recognized with multiple professional and writing awards for her peer-reviewed, publications. Click the bibliography page above for a listing of all the publications.

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