Employee involvement refers to work structures and processes that allow employees to systematically give their input into decisions that effect their own work. Some examples of employee involvement include:
- Continuous Improvement teams
- formal quality of work life programs
- quality control circles
- flatter organizational structures
- labor management problem solving efforts
- employee problem solving task forces and teams
- structured suggestion systems
Depending on your background or specialty, you may refer to it as engagement, voice, participation, democracy, etc. Effective organizations everywhere understand the importance of employee involvement in all levels of work and researcher has found strong links between employee involvement and important work outcomes, which will be described below.
What is employee involvement?
So what exactly is employee involvement and how can organizations benefit from it? Employee involvement can be defined as:
When employees participate directly to help an organization fulfill its mission and meet its objectives by applying their ideas, expertise, and efforts towards problem solving and decision making
More specifically, employee participation can be broken into: representative participation (through unions), direct communication, and upward problem solving. To simplify, we will focus on the latter two categories because, although unions do help ensure that the employee “voice” is heard, this blog article is more about understanding outcomes, tools, and methods. Employee involvement is something that can be present at varying degrees within an organization, and is reinforced by leadership, culture and environment.
Changing an organization from a strict top-down hierarchy to one that engages employees at all levels to make decisions is not an easy thing to do- it involves not only structure and policy changes but also cultural change, which takes time, effort, and expertise. That being said, organizations from every industry are applying the concepts of employee involvement to drive the continual improvement of their processes and performance.
Outcomes & Benefits
To understand the benefits of employee involvement, let’s take a look at what the research has to say. The following outcomes of employee involvement initiatives have been identified through empirical organizational research:
- Increased employee productivity across industries, even for low-skilled employees that do routine tasks (Jones, Kalmi, & Kauhanen, 2010)
- In manufacturing, employee involvement programs are a long term investment, but one that leads to increased plant performance over time (Jones & Kato, 2005)
- Improved organizational decision-making capability (Apostolou, 2000)
- Improved attitude regarding work (Leana, Ahlbrandt, & Murrell, 1992)
- Substantially improved employee well-being (Freeman & Kleiner, 2005)
- Reduced costs through elimination of waste and reduced product cycle times (Apostolou, 2000)
- Leads to employee empowerment, job satisfaction, creativity, commitment, and motivation, as well as intent to stay [secondary effect] (Apostolou, 2000; Light, 2004)
How to “get” employee involvement
In order for an employee involvement process to be effective, three things need to be present:
- Employees need to be given the authority to participate in substantive decisions
- Employees need to have the appropriate decision-making skills
- Incentives to participate (whether implicit or explicit) must be present
Like I said earlier, sustaining an entire employee involvement process is no easy task. It would require the work of highly trained internal or external consultants with expertise in assessment, training, management education, and evaluation. A formal process involves manager and employee training, support from the highest levels, and the application of specific measures to increase employee participation. These can include: quality circles, self-directed/self-managed work teams, gainsharing programs, employee ownership, problem solving teams, and cross-functional task-forces (to name a few!). Look for future blogs to dive deeper into these separate, yet vital, tools of employee involvement.