Most HR managers constantly question what their colleagues are up to and
Personnel Today helps feed that hunger for knowledge.
But it remains a disappointment that academic research into work-based
activity finds such limited take-up. We live in the fourth biggest economy in
the world, but our funding of social science research is pathetic. How else can
we give changes in management behaviour a British context? We must listen to
new ideas that take us beyond mere fashion.
In the recent Involvement and Participation bulletin, Professor John Purcell
from the University of Bath Employment Research Centre summarised work done on
high commitment management. His comments were based on an employee relations
survey that shows management practices that intensify mutual satisfaction of
the psychological contract – producing trust, fairness and honoured promises –
are the most successful practices for increasing productivity.
From a union perspective, the results were extremely interesting. If people
are given skills, encouraged to use them and asked for their views as to what
happens next at work, they produce more. If they work in teams across
departments on projects, they produce more.
Perhaps the most interesting of Purcell’s observations, though, was that
these consultative processes make managers less satisfied with performance than
where there are low levels of high-commitment management processes. Managers in
lower achieving sites appear more satisfied with lower levels of performance.
The conclusion is that high-performance plants are managed by people who know
that much more can be achieved.
One of the frustrations of key workers in industry is the same sense of
wasted effort. They know great companies with great products could be even more
successful. These days, the democratic workforce has much to say about the
content of work and how to improve it, not simply focusing on what it can take
out of it.
It was, therefore, distressing to realise that only 14 per cent of plants
use high-commitment management techniques extensively, according to the survey.
It is also distressing to have witnessed the instinctive reaction of many
employers to the EU directive on consultation. This will allow a six-year delay
before British workers get effective rights to know what is going on in their
Many British firms do not need the EU to tell them how to communicate and
consult, but a significant number do. If we debated these issues in Britain as
the IPA bulletin does – making key research findings available to practitioners
– we might get the busy, under-resourced HR departments of Britain to
understand that decent practices are available to all and that they actually
By John Lloyd, National officer, the Amalgamated Engineering and