The impact of employee participation and involvement initiatives on levels of trust in four manufacturing firms
Theories of high commitment management (HCM) ascribe a central role to high
trust relationships between management and labour if organisations are to
achieve high performance (Legge, 2005; Appelbaum et al, 2000). However, such
relations are difficult to achieve within the capitalist employment relationship,
particularly so within liberal market economies such as the UK (Godard, 2002;
Hall and Soskice, 2001). Employee involvement (EI) and participation initiatives
potentially constitute a principal mechanism through which trust may be
achieved, although wider evidence suggests that desired performance
improvements may only accrue where participation is'meaningful' (Delbridge
and Whitfield, 2001). Conversely, EI can be used to intensify the work process
and achieve tighter control, although whether this is done through managerial
'commission' or 'omission' remains open to debate.
This study sought to explore these questions. The critical realist paradigm was
deemed to be the most appropriate methodological approach, and a'firm-insector'
approach was applied. This facilitated investigation of meso-level, as well
as macro-level, effects on enterpriselevel processes and outcomes. Four
manufacturing plants, drawn from the pharmaceuticals and automotive
components sectors, constituted the units of analysis. It was postulated that the
pharmaceuticals sector might constitute a more conducive environment in which
to cultivate trust. Conversely, it was averred that the encroachment of the
'customer' into the management of the employment relationship within the
components supply business might encourage a control orientation.
In keeping with a general predilection of British management, it was found that
'genuine' trust existed in none of the organisations at the time of the fieldwork
(Thompson, 2003; Claydon, 1998). Management sought to (or had done so)
substitute 'meaningless' EI for collective organisation. However, at two of the
plants, employees reported previous instances where trust had existed.
Significantly, this was not confined to the pharmaceutical sector. This facilitated
identification of the antecedent conditions necessary for trust to develop, namely
a value orientation on the part of senior management, strong organisational
performance, effective trade unionism and participative, 'informal' management