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Establishments that are most likely to generate a win-win outcome are those that combine a high degree of worker autonomy, a balanced motivational strategy, a comprehensive training and learning strategy, and high levels of direct employee involvement in decision-making, as well as offering managerial support for these practices. To boost the adoption of employee-oriented practices – particularly in relation to autonomy, skills and employee involvement – managers should be offered appropriate support, as they play a key role in the decision to initiate workplace change. They are also crucial to their success, as they must continuously support the workplace practices implemented.
This is among the key findings in a report Cedefop and Eurofund launched in October 2020: “European Company Survey 2019. Workplace practices unlocking employee potential”. The report is written by Gijs van Houten and Giovanni Russo.
The report shows that, although there might be no hard and fast rules that determine whether or not a business is successful, there are some clear patterns in what businesses do that achieve beneficial outcomes for both the employer and their employees. First and foremost, this report shows that businesses that create an environment in which employees are willing and able to share their ideas outperform other businesses. Second, and largely contingent on the first point, businesses in which the responsibility for skills use and skills development is explicitly shared between the employer and their employees fare better.
- Many jobs still offer little autonomy and few challenges: in 36% of EU27 establishments, a small proportion of workers (fewer than one in five) can organise their work autonomously, and in 42%, a similarly small proportion are in a job requiring problem-solving.
- Establishments use non-monetary incentives to motivate employees more frequently than monetary incentives.
- 71% of workers in EU27 establishments have skills matching their job requirements; 16% on average are overskilled, while 13% are underskilled.
- Only 4% of establishments did not provide any training in the year prior to the survey.
- More than two-thirds (70%) of managers think that involving employees in changes to the work organisation gives the establishment a competitive advantage.
- An official structure for employee representation was reported in 29% of establishments; 28% of establishments are members of an employer organisation.
- Among establishments with an employee representation, those where management has a trusting and constructive relationship with the employee representation, and where the employee representation can influence management decision-making, score better on workplace well-being and establishment performance.
Investments in worker well-being
The literature has identified three types of investment in worker well-being that organisations can use as the basis for an exchange within a relational contract (the employment relationship): supporting autonomy, skills utilisation and development, and employee involvement.
Autonomy and skills
Investment in supporting autonomy and skills use involves changes in job design.2 Autonomy is the freedom that a team or an employee has over how they do their work – in particular, deciding when to initiate tasks, the order of tasks, the tools to use and how to use their skills in daily tasks. Problem-solving is linked to the challenges met at work and incorporates workers’ opportunities to draw on their skills to find effective solutions to work-related problems. Autonomy and problem-solving contribute to creating the right motivational state for workers to engage their skill set. Worker autonomy has been found to be positively associated with motivation at work and with employee engagement. At the same time, (successful) problem-solving is key to satisfying the need for mastery.
Task autonomy has been linked to increased worker well-being both theoretically and empirically. Similarly, the ability to draw on one’s own skills in problem-solving has been associated with higher job satisfaction. In contrast, jobs comprising very simple tasks, routinely performed, lacking autonomy and with few or no challenges (problem-solving) may cause workers to feel alienated and dehumanised, triggering forms of workplace resistance.
Jobs allowing for task autonomy and problem-solving thus constitute a form of direct participation, as workers are endowed with a degree of influence over day-to-day task-oriented decision-making. This form of participation is possible where managers acknowledge that workers have the information, the knowledge, the know-how and the motivation to make decisions and act in the interest of the company. Employee involvement has been empirically linked to increased worker well-being. When employees do not have access to knowledge on certain issues, employee involvement (direct or indirect) requires that organisations invest in providing information. Without investment in information sharing, participation cannot take place. Additional investments could be made by means of training, allocating time to participative activities and allocating budget to support such activities. In addition, workers need the skills and knowledge to process and interpret the information thus provided. Training could include the development of soft skills (training in the communication), the development of technical knowledge (when the decision regards a technical choice), or the provision of information on the normative and regulatory framework regulating the employment relationship.
About the report
The report is based on the fourth edition of the European Company Survey (ECS), carried out jointly by Eurofound and Cedefop in 2019. The purpose of the ECS is to map, assess and quantify information on company policies and practices across Europe on a harmonised basis. The survey collected information from 21,869 human resources managers and 3,073 employee representatives in the 27 EU Member States and the United Kingdom. The unit of enquiry for the survey is the establishment: the local unit or site.