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Employee Representation and Participation

This area of research explores the changing nature of employee “voice” and workplace representation. The key area of focus concerns the impact of workplace partnership in British industry, exploring outcomes for all the key stakeholders, ie workers, trade unions and employers.

Research Highlight

The research is based upon a study undertaken in a heavy engineering MNC which commenced in 2006 involving Dr. Peter Butler. Prof. Olga Tregaskis (University of East Anglia) and Dr. Linda Glover. Within the study organisation workplace partnership– along with high performance working (HPWS) – was nurtured as part of an organisational change initiative. The project has been assessing experiences at all levels of the hierarchy and offers detailed insights into the problems of sustaining partnership (and HPWS) within the context of a ‘voluntaristic’ system of industrial relations. The challenges should not be underestimated – where there is an absence of regulation to support the reciprocal obligations implied within partnership it has been often claimed there is temptation for managers to withdraw from such pacts as a result of short-term economic exigencies. The work has monitored outcomes for the organisation, trade unions and employees assessing the impact of the strategy on employment relations and on a variety of performance measures (productivity/H&S etc). The project employs a multi-method longitudinal design combining objective performance metrics with observational data, longitudinal survey data and around 200 interviews.

Key findings include:

- In terms of the trade union hierarchy the shift to partnership working has implications for the legitimacy of both senior and sectional stewards.  The former are especially exposed given their greater proximity to management. One implication is the need for such stewards to cultivate and promote their own legitimacy as representative actors.  

- Partnership working as a form of voice is especially exposed in periods of  economic difficulty. However, some formats are more durable than others. The twin influences of trade union power and a ‘value added’ competitive strategy will shape the resilience of such pacts as will trust and managerial skill and political sensitivity.

- Partnership working is closely intertwined with employee involvement.   On the one hand partnership may act as an antecedent for the utilization of employee involvement and wider organizational change (forward synergies). Conversely, our findings also point to reverse synergies – the situation where involvement is used by management to initiate and subsequently bolster workplace cooperation and consensus.

- The implementation of partnership allied to HPWS ­can be associated with subsequent and sustained increased in productivity and safety performance. However, other intermediary variables associated with the implementation process may be critical in mitigating potentially detrimental worker welfare effects arising from work intensification.

- Partnership working allied to HPWS has variegated outcomes for HR professionals. While those in senior positions experience enhanced job satisfaction, ‘service providers’ are subject to work intensification and an absence of recognition.

Selected outputs

Butler, P. and Tregaskis, 0. (2015)  Workplace partnership and legitimacy: a multi-layered analysis of the shop steward experience. Work Employment & Society December 2015 vol. 29 no. 6 895-911 

Butler,P.  Lavelle,J. Gunnigle, P  and O’Sullivan, M. (2015) Skating on thin ICE? A critical evaluation of a decade of research on the British Information and Consultation Regulations (2004) Economic and Industrial Democracy 0143831X15610205, first published on October 27, 2015 as doi:10.1177/0143831X15610205

Glover, L. Tregaskis, O. and Butler, P. (2014) Mutual gains? The workers’ verdict: A longitudinal case study, International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25, 895-914. 

Butler, P. Tregaskis, O. and Glover, L. (2013) ‘Workplace partnership and employee involvement –contradictions and synergies: Evidence from a heavy engineering case study, Economic and Industrial Democracy, 34.1.5-24.

Tregaskis, O. Daniels, K. Glover, L. Butler, P. and Meyer, M. (2013) High performance work practices and firm performance: A longitudinal case study, British Journal of Management, 5. 225-244.


Contact: Dr Peter Butler


Dr Peter Butler
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