Partnership in British workplaces : four case studies in the development of trust
In the last 10 years, the debate on the idea of 'partnership' at work has been reignited, and has come to dominate British industrial relations. But what I call 'the 1990s version' is still only an emerging phenomenon. Progress in the debate is exacerbated firstly by confusion over a precise and workable definition, secondly by predictable ideological hand-wringing and point-scoring, but most significantly, by a lack of clear and independently-assessed case studies of verifiable partnership organisations. In this thesis I aim to set out a standard definition of partnership that does justice to the word (suggesting, as it does, an enduring and committed pact for mutual gain between more or less equal participants). I derive this primarily from the literature on another much-maligned concept: trust. My theoretically robust and practical definition provides for a coherent set of observable principles and practices which, I argue, ought to be present for an organisation to be accorded 'partnership' status. It is to be hoped that this may draw a line under the ongoing debate on defining partnership. Moreover, using trust to formulate the definition of partnership renders the latter concept attractive to every school of industrial relations thinking, from unitarists to Marxists, and offers several testable research hypotheses. It also contributes to restoring the much-neglected quality of trust to a position of central significance in employment relations theory. To address the lack of genuine fieldwork evidence of partnership, I present the findings from four post-implementation qualitative case studies. Each comprises a narrative of the partnership and the development of relationships based on trust. I identify, from respondents' own accounts of events, where partnership has influenced trust levels, and vice versa. In my conclusions I address the advantages and disadvantages, pitfalls and benefits, of trust-based employment relationships using partnership. Finally, I speculate on what might be the fate of this, the latest British programme to manage "pluralism's problems".