Shirley Lerner Memorial Lecture
Is embedded employee voice an
essential prerequisite for
John Purcell
Controversies in employee engagement
Psychologists focus on ‘state’ engagement in doing
the job. A focus on the individual
HRM and employment specialists look at behavioural
engagement linked to the organisation or unit
recognising the firm as a social entity
‘Engagement with the organisation rather than the
job may be more meaningful in theory and in
practice (Truss et al 2013)
The need for sophisticated measurement
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What is engagement?
Commitment to job and organisation plus positive
behaviour: the engaged employee
But commitment to what? The job, line manager,
colleagues, customers and the organisation
Commitment and engagement to the job can be
especially important for professionals
Job satisfaction is important
Job satisfaction and organisation commitment
predict levels of engagement (not vice versa)
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The link with employee perceptions of the employment
Perceived organisational support (POS) was the only
significant predictor of both job and organisational
engagement (Saks 2006)
Organisational engagement a strong predictor of all
of the positive outcomes - lower sickness absence,
fewer quits, more cooperative behaviour, advocacy
POS: perceptions that the organisation supports me,
interested in me, allows me to perform and be
developed : psychological well-being
Leading to reciprocation and social exchange
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The antecedents of engagement
POS strongly associated with perceptions of fairness,
justice and trust at the level of the job (and thus the
vital role of line managers) and at the organisational
level (top management)
The emphasis is on processes of managing
relationships both individually and collectively
POS is not about good pay, job security and
development (classic HR) although these help
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‘When employees feel they are being treated fairly
they reciprocate through performance of
organisation citizenship behaviour (OCB)
To be fair procedures should be consistent, free from
bias, ensure accurate information is collected,
mistakes corrected, conforms with ethics and
morality, ensure that opinions of groups affected are
taken into account
Perceived fairness of resource allocation decisions
are especially important
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Four forms of organisational justice: Distributive,
Procedural, Interactional and Informational
Increasingly procedural justice is linked to
interactional, or interpersonal justice as the most
important sources of justice perceptions
‘procedural justice judgements play a major role in
shaping people’s reactions to their personal
experience ... In particular being treated with
respect, helping to provide identity security’
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Informational justice
‘informational justice perceptions are shaped
through accounts and explanations by organisational
authorities about reasons why certain procedures
were chosen and why certain outcomes distributed
in a certain way’
Informational justice is especially important in
positively influencing employee attitudes and
behaviour in change initiatives, especially in difficult
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Trust, like engagement, is a risk since it requires
hope for the future and expectations of leaders that
they are competent, benevolent, have integrity and
are predictable
Trust in the immediate manager is often quite high.
The problem is trust in senior managers
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The most important factors shaping
Employee trust in management
Satisfaction with work and job
Involvement in decision making at work
Climate of relationships between management and
5. Satisfaction with pay
6. Job challenge
7. Sense of achievement from work
Source WERS 2004 analysis.
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Low levels of trust in senior managers
CIPD 2011 employee outlook survey: only a minority
trusted directors/senior managers, and had
confidence in them.
One third of civil servants had confidence ‘in the
decisions made by ... senior managers. 27% felt that
change is managed well’, 32% agreed they had an
opportunity to contribute my views before decisions
are taken that affect me. [about the same in the
private sector ‘consult about important decisions’]
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The latest evidence from WERS 2011
Managers are getting better, slowly.
57% of employees surveyed agreed that their
managers are sincere in attempting to understand
their views (55% in 2004)
43% were satisfied with the amount of involvement
they had in decision taking, but still a minority (40%
in 2004)
It is important. 85% of those satisfied with their
involvement felt proud to work for their organisation
compared to 35% who were dissatisfied
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Trust and collective engagement
Engagement is not just about individuals, it is a
group-led activity as captured in ‘work climate’
‘trust in senior managers and strong employee-line
manager relationships constitute key components of
the “organisational climate” required for
engagement to flourish’ (Rees et al 2013)
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Voice as the critical link with fairness, justice and trust
‘leadership, engaging managers and integrity’ – 3 of
MacLeod and Clarke’s enablers of engagement
Voice was underdeveloped as the 4th enabler
Direct voice focussed on direct communication and
involvement through team briefing, workforce
meetings, problem solving groups, employee surveys
+ informal line manager discussions on task
allocation, change, problem solving: Living
procedural and interactional justice
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Collective voice and informational justice
Senior managers are usually out of the loop in terms
of shop floor voice systems yet they make the key
Collective voice in union partnerships or consultative
committees in union and non-union organisations
means senior managers briefing employee
representatives on major plans, exploring the need
for a decision, explaining the strategic narrative and
working through the consequences and
implementation plans
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Linking direct and strategic voice systems
Where embedded voice practices on the shop floor,
led by front-line managers, co-exist with top level
consultative committees, run by senior managers,
the effect on organisational commitment and
employee engagement is greater than each by
themselves (Purcell and Georgiades 2007)
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Voice is about perceptions of fairness, justice and trust
People will still rate a procedure as fair ‘if they had a
voice, even if they knew that what they said had
little or no influence on the decisions made ... Voice
has a value beyond its ability to shape decision
making processes and outcomes’
Voice is critical for a positive ‘work climate’
supportive of engagement.
Voice is needed at both the team and the strategic
levels and needs to be embedded
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Strategic voice is under-developed in the UK
Unions no longer provide routes to collective voice
with collective bargaining covering 17% of private
sector workforce and membership down to 14% in
No signs of a take-up of consultative committees in
either union or non-union workplaces. ICE
Regulations largely ignored
But good evidence that active consultation can be
effective as judged by managers and employee
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Building better employee voice at the strategic level
Political support is needed to revise the Regulations
and promote consultation. Election 2015?
The EU could be more active in enforcing ICE and
challenging UK Regulations. Recent ‘fitness test’?
Much more union action to promote consultation.
Signs that Unite is more active, TUC more positive?
And what of employers? They often say consultation
is a good thing (but fear the consequences)
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Further reading
Catherine Truss et al Employee Engagement in Theory and
Practice Routledge (in press 2013)
Mark Hall and John Purcell Consultation at Work: Regulation
and Practice OUP 2012
John Purcell and Mark Hall ‘Voice and Participation in the
Modern Workplace: challenges and prospects’ Acas Future of
Workplace Relations Discussion Paper March 2012
John Purcell ‘The limits and possibilities of employee
engagement’ Warwick Papers in Industrial Relations No 96,
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