The Value of Collective Forms of Employee Participation

Introduction

Over the years, the workplace has transformed with a whole set of changes being witnessed in different sectors. As much as these sectors may differ, one thing is common: with recent developments, employers now pay attention to their employees rather than just the work that the workers are expected to do. The concept of employee inclusivity among organizations has registered gains. Consequently, the concept of collective participation of employees has been steadily gaining popularity over individual forms of employee participation. However, the effect brought about at the workplace by collective forms of employee participation has created its preference over individual forms of employee participation. This development has had the ultimate effect of making the employees get the feeling of being important and creating room for a better working environment at the workplace. Even though individual contribution is highly valued in organizations, the introduction of collective forms of employee participation has ‘humanized and civilized’ the workplace and harnessed productivity among employees.

How Collective Forms of Employee Participation ‘Humanize and Civilize’ the Workplace

Human resources strategies that support collaborative forms of employee participation enable employees as a group to contribute to decision making on key issues at their place of work (Baron & Kreps 2009). This creates the spirit of democracy in the workplace with the worker being involved in almost all decision-making processes. Democracy has the record of creating an environment where people feel that their wishes and opinions are respected. With democracy, the workplace becomes ‘humanized and civilized’ because it is improved significantly. Since democracy at the workplace allows the views and suggestions of employees at all levels to be considered, the working environment is likely to be adjusted to meet the preferences of the employees. As such, the employees are likely to put in more efforts because they would be working in an environment that has been customized (Argote 2014).

According to Knudsen, Busck & Lind (2011), collective forms of employee participation improve the systems of communication in the organization. It should be noted that good communication is the key to the success of any organization. Involving workers at all levels of the organization ensures that employees at all levels get to know and understand the developments that unfold at the workplace. This is opposed to the individual forms of employee participation, which create long communication channels that slow down the communication process at the workplace. With the long communication channels, information goes through many people who may distort the information being passed across. However, collective employee participation shortens the communication channel (Argote 2014). Collective employee participation ensures that information is exchanged in groups instead of being passed across from one individual to another. In this case, cases of distortion on the information being exchanged are reduced because employees in groups can help each other in interpreting the information. Besides, in case individual employees have ill motives that may make them distort information, their motives can easily be discovered and countered accordingly.

Collective forms of employee participation have also reduced industrial conflicts that characterized many organizations (Martins et al. 2008). In the past, many employers mainly concentrated on having the job done in their organizations without paying much attention to the employees who did the job. Therefore, in many cases, the employers did not care about ensuring that their employees were compensated accordingly. Most of the employees who felt dissatisfied pushed for fair compensation on individual basis. This created a situation where every employee pulled towards a different direction. With each employee tabling different demands, confusion at the workplace prevailed. The situation was bad because employees always resorted to demonstrations and go slows that paralyzed operations at the workplace. However, with collective forms of employee participation such as collective bargaining, employees can work together to harmonize their demands (Husted & Allen 2010). This makes it easier for employers to address employees’ demands because they do not have to deal with a single case at a time. This explains why industrial conflicts have reduced significantly.

In addition, Beirne (2008) notes that collective forms of employee participation also ‘humanize and civilize’ the workplace because they reduce employees’ resistance to change. With time, organizations undergo changes that are necessitated by growth and development. As such, organizations have to make adjustments as far as operations are concerned. However, for changes to be embraced at all levels in the organization, employees have to be a part of the changes. Collective forms of employee participation involve employees in decision making, including those that pertain to changes that have to be made at the workplace. Involving employees in decision making gives them room for airing their views on the various issues affecting the organizations and also allows them to come up with solutions of different problems. When employees are involved in arriving at decisions on the changes that have to be adopted, they support the implementation process as well. Individual forms of employee participation cannot yield the same level of success because employees have to be consulted on individual basis, making it hard for a consensus to be reached.

Collective forms of employee participation generate an improved working environment at the workplace because they create a conducive environment for relationships to flourish (Beirne 2008). Collective forms of employee participation give employees an opportunity to work together in teams and groups. The opportunity natures team players who can coexist harmoniously with others at the workplace. Employees learn to work in teams where rules of working together apply. They learn to take turns in representing fellow employees as well as being represented. By working in groups, employees learn how to negotiate with others. The relationship between the employees and/or the management also improves significantly through collective employee participation processes. Although individual forms of employee participation also provide room for employees to get closer to the employers, or the management, they may not involve many employees. Since collective forms of employee participation improve the relationship of the management and the employees, operations in organizations become smooth.

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McCall (2001) affirms that inclusive forms of employee participation also reduce the cases of autocracy at the workplace. Traditionally, decision-making was a preserve of the management in organizations. This means that most of the time managers’ decisions were unchallenged. However, with the introduction of the practice of employee participation, employees’ opinions also have to be sort before decisions are made. Employee participation in decision-making ensures that decisions are not just imposed on the employees. Although individual forms of employee participation may also be used, they are not as effective as collective forms of employee participation (Knudsen, Busck & Lind 2011). With collective forms of employee participation, employees have a stronger voice as opposed to when every employee has stand on his/her own. When working in groups, employees can stand against autocratic decisions without fear of victimization. With collective forms of employee participation, it becomes hard for the management to single out employees who are more vocal when it comes to the championing for the employees’ rights.

The Advantage of Collective Employee Participation

Collective forms of employee participation are better than individual ones because they provide more avenues for employees to express themselves. Although individual forms of employee participation also allow employees to express themselves, they may be limited to certain issues such as consultation on issues related their welfare at the workplace. As such, employees may be consulted on their health and safety issues on individual basis. Individual forms of employee participation are also limited by the fact that employees may not be allowed to make decisions on individual basis. Employees may be consulted, but the management retains the privilege of making decisions. Therefore, with individual forms of employee participation, management may still impose decisions on employees even after consulting them.

Thus, the nature of collective employee participation provides a wide range of opportunities. The forms of such participation include but are not limited to representation in the boards of management, work councils charged with specific responsibilities, and collective bargaining (McCall 2001). Although these are just some of the forms of collective employee participation, they cover almost all levels of decision making at the workplace. Collective bargaining may take care of employees even at the lowest level in the organization. If employees at the lowest level cannot be allowed to participate in decision making by virtue of the low positions that they hold, they may air their concerns through collective bargaining. Employees may reach an agreement and take advantage of their numbers to lay down suggestions on terms of service that may result in humanization and civilization of the workplace. Work councils can take care of the middle level management of the organization. On the other hand, representation of employees in the board of management may take care of the employees’ interests at the top management level.

Thus, with collective forms of employee participation, employees can be involved at almost all management levels. The status of the employees is elevated because they get to be involved in making decisions on important matters besides their welfare (Flamholtz & Randle 2011).

Improving Collective Forms of Employee Participation

Although collective forms of employee participation are relatively effective in humanizing and civilizing the workplace, they have a few limitations that have to be addressed. One of the limitations is that employees may take advantage of this opportunity to undermine the authority of the management and the top leaders. Some employees may use it to pursue selfish interests instead of using it for the benefit of the organization. This is possible because collective forms of employee participation give employees more power. This problem can be addressed by clearly spelling out the objectives of collective employee participation (International Labour Office 2008). Employees should understand that they should take care of their places of work for them to receive the same treatment.

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Collective forms of employee participation give employees the power to participate in decision making, a move that may be viewed by managers to be undermining their authority. Since top management positions come with the privilege of exercising power, any move that threatens this privilege may not be taken positively (Schein 2012). Managers at times may use the powers vested on them by their positions to reject the decisions of the subordinates. This may result in disagreements that may impair the relationship between the subordinates and the managers. To curb such situations, the practice should have clear rules and guidelines that recognize and protect the rights of all parties involved. Putting in place the right structures that enable the employees and the managers to see the importance and the objectives of the practice will ensure that both parties embrace the practice.

Conclusion

With the advantages that come with collective employee participation, many organizations have embraced this practice. It should be noted that the easiest way to get the best of the employees is by giving them the best. When the employees’ interests are taken care of, they become motivated to give their best. This explains why most of the organizations that have embraced collective employee participation register improved productivity. Collective forms of employee participation, unlike individual forms of employee participation, bring employees together to work in teams, which creates a friendlier working environment. Collective forms of employee participation have gone a long way to give employees a platform to articulate their thoughts and have their rights addressed, unlike individual forms of employee participation, which are constrained by the lack of collective bargaining. It should also be noted that as much as gains have been registered with collective forms of employee bargaining, there is still room for improvement. Increasing the number of employees involved and covering a wider range of employees’ concerns can go a long way in ‘humanizing and civilizing’ the workplace even further.

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