Include & influence

MargaretProsser2014.jpgMargaret Prosser on the need for a Code of Practice on employee engagement in the workplace

The Trade Union Bill, which  today concludes its formal Committee stage, is an almost entirely negative piece of legislation, designed to reduce the involvement of unions both at work and, by attacking campaign funds, in the wider society.

Many things are wrong in the world of work and much effort and thought is needed to ensure that today’s arrangements fit today’s workplaces. Command and control, them and us, never worked well and such attitude are becoming less and less helpful. But attacking unions rather than looking at the work environment in the round will only make matters worse.

An amendment I have tabled for the debate calls for a Code of Practice on employee engagement, requiring employers to establish mechanisms and systems that bring the views of both management and the workforce to the discussion table.

The Involvement and Participation Association (IPA) has carried out research into the relationship between employee engagement and productivity. Its report Involvement and Productivity - the Missing Piece of the Puzzle examines evidence from academics, behavioural surveys and employers that illustrate how giving employees a voice in decision-making processes regarding their future leads to higher productivity.

It is not as though we can be complacent about any of this. Productivity in the UK is 17% below our G7 counterparts. The average worker in France and Germany produces in four days what it takes a UK worker to produce in five. We have so much to play for. Evidence in the IPA report shows that only one in three UK workers felt that managers allowed them to influence decisions. Indeed, employers here are less likely than our global competitors to engage with their employees.

There is also ample practical evidence of the beneficial effects of employee engagement. The Royal Mail’s A Great Place to Work programme for example, introduced a number of years ago by its then Chairman Allan Leighton involved workplace listening and learning. This was particularly effective during the uncertainty of privatisation, regularly updating the workforce on issues of concern.

As with productivity, morale is also improved by feelings of inclusion. In day to day to life, we all like being asked for views on how things could proceed. So why not in the workplace? Many workers who have been in employment for a while can have very helpful ideas, based on their knowledge of machinery or systems. It can also save time and money for the company.

So what will the government benches think of my amendment? Well, as it adds something to rather than changes the Bill, it will hopefully be difficult for them to dismiss the proposals out of hand. They cannot say that they don’t want to act like ‘the nanny state’ when they are already poking their noses into other settled arrangements between employer and employee. Equally, they can’t go down the ‘more red tape route’, tying up as they have both unions and employers through their mean minded changes that nobody has asked for.

Baroness Margaret Prosser is a backbench Labour Peer

Published 25th February 2016

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