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05 May 2014

How participatory HRM practices enhance the job quality of vulnerable workers

Mark Smith est professeur en des ressources humaines et doyen du corps professoral à Grenoble Ecole de Management

Employees' participation in corporate decision-making has developed strongly since the 1980s, giving them a new role as potential problem-solvers. 

While the positive impact of these participatory human resource management (HRM) practices, on workers' well being as well as on business performance, have been widely recognized, two issues remained to be explored: To what extent do vulnerable categories of employees have access to these practices? Does their involvement in the firms' decisions improve the quality of their jobs?

This article by Mark Smith is the subject of the 5th GEM LAB Executive Summaries.

From the article

Participatory HRM practices and job quality of vulnerable workers
The International Journal of Human Resource Management
A. Piasna, M.Smith, J. Rose, J. Ruberty, B. Burchell and A. Rafferty, 2013

Using the 2010 European Working Conditions Survey of almost 30 000 employees, this research focuses on the employees' involvement and participation (EIP), highlighting the situation of vulnerable employees - women and less educated.

Taking an individualized approach, the study concentrates on direct communications (consultations during meetings and participations encouraged by supervisor) and task-based participation (setting targets, improving processes).

First observation: vulnerable workers have fewer opportunities for participation in decisions that shape their work environments than non-vulnerable ones. This is especially true for low-educated employees, whose access to participatory HRM practices is by far weaker than that of the better educated, and who are twice as likely to be totally excluded from any participation at all.

Gender differences are less pronounced, but women working part-time appear to have limited access to participation.

Previous studies established links between EIP and greater trust, job satisfaction and employees commitment.

However, job quality is a different aspect, conventionally defined by four dimensions: physical environment, work pressure and intensity quality of working time (working unsocial hours, control over schedules), job prospects (type of contract, job security, career progression).

The perception of job quality is of course affected by industry, country-related and cultural factors.

After taking into account the influence of compositional factors, the results show that employee participation has a positive effect on the quality of jobs, across all its dimensions, for both vulnerable and non-vulnerable employees.

Job prospects are the most significantly improved by the direct participation of employees, regardless of the gender or the level of education. As regards the physical environment, participatory practices make the biggest difference for more educated men.

Interestingly, the effect of EIP on pressure at work is the only correlation factor that is not linear : the intensity of work is weaker for employees who do participate in the firm's decisions than for those who do not, but when their participation broadens, the pressure at work also seems to increase. This might reflect the impact of high performance work systems.

Key points

  • The inclusion of the full range of employees in participatory practices raises potential benefits for all employees' job quality and work environments. This especially applies to informal direct communication.
  • Low education is associated with significantly lower job quality particularly in terms of physical working conditions and job prospects, but is not linked to higher pressure at work.
  • Women's job prospects are consistently inferior to men's, however low education appears to be less of a disadvantage for women than for men.
Mara Saviotti

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