Employee Voice

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Managing the Changing Employment Relationship

Consider the different methods used to give effective voice to employees and critically evaluate the importance of this to the employment relationship

Due Date: 14/01/2011

Word Count: 3216

The development of the different methods used to engage ‘employee voice’ strongly coincides with the timeline that businesses have endured through in the present/ twentieth century. In the UK in particular, the methods implemented could be correlated to the economic and political climate of the country at that moment in time. This essay will look at various methods that have been used in the historical and modern context to give employees ‘voice’ which include Voluntarism, Trade Unions (TU’s) and their decline, the Psychological Contract, European Works Councils and Joint Consultation Committees (JCC’s), Informing and Consulting Directive (ICE 2004) and the High Performance Workplace.

First it is important to look at definitions of voice and why it is so important to the employment relationship. An older definition of employee voice is by Hirschman (1970), who states the idea of employee voice being a form of active dissent due to dissatisfaction. This applies rather well at the time this particular academic was writing, as the political and economic climate of the UK at the time was not the most stable. Research has expanded and built on from this, and a definition that is more applicable to modern day employee voice would be “a whole variety of processes and structures which enable, and at times empower, employees directly and indirectly, to contribute to decision-making” (Boxall and Purcell, 2003:162). This definition implies that the ‘stronger’ the voice of employees, the more efficient and productive they will be in the workplace. The employment relationship at the beginning however was not quite as communicative and well recognised.

Voluntarism was the first approach used by the Governments ‘the absence of statutory regulation’ (Hyman, 2003: 40). This was a system whereby the UK state avoided interaction in relationships between employers and employees. However the approach did not proceed fast enough leading both major political parties to introduce a comprehensive legal framework to compel reforms. During these reforms however there was no attempt to put collective bargaining on a legal footing. The social contract was also introduced around this time by the Wilson/Callaghan governments; in return the unions would control the demands of individuals for increased wages. This policy of ‘laissez-faire’ ultimately failed as unemployment levels increased by 1.3 million people between1974-1979. Although this is not directly concerned with employee’ voice’, it is beginning to show that the employment relationship is starting to be taken seriously by organisations and the government.

The Donovan Report (1968) identified Britain has two systems of industrial relations. The first is the formal system embodied in the official institutions for example, Trade Unions. The other is the informal system created by the actual behaviour of unionist workers, employers associations, of managers, shop stewards and workers.

In the United Kingdom worker representation has traditionally been channelled through recognised Trade Unions. This is a single-channel approach where a recognised union may have a monopoly on worker representation. With the creation of Trade Unions, the notion of employee voice has come to the forefront of academic study. At the beginning, employee voice and its industrials actions were extremely damaging to the UK’s economy, the Winter of Discontent in 1978-1979 is an extreme example, where multiple unions were on strike at the same time.

The Conservative Government Legislation introduced mainly over the 1980’s and early 1990’s was to ‘reduce’ the unions’ voice and power and try to put a restriction on its actions, trying to effectively sever...
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