Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 4 2005, page 27-44.
Employee involvement in the environmental work of companies has attracted much research. Although the potential of the activated employee resource for organisational change and environmental improvements in companies in general has been demonstrated, the existence of limitations to participation and the appearance of conflicts when companies’ organisations are subject to change have also been shown. In Denmark, research intending to also demonstrate the potential of ‘humanization’ of work and sustainability in companies by participation has failed to turn projects into daily practice. Generally, there are few signs of such organizational processes of change including participation in Danish companies that are usually associated with continuous environmental improvements. The text sets out to explain these paradoxes and unredeemed expectations guided by the theoretical notion of divergent interests operating within a framework of unequal power relations between employees and employers, where change in power relations are dependent on the wider political and economic as well as the internal context.
First, the evolution of employee participation in environmental work in companies is looked at in the historical context of two separate strategies: One management-inspired characterised by Human Resource Management and Employee Involvement (EI) and another more traditional industrial relations-inspired characterised by institutionalized balancing of power and Employee Participation (EP). In spite of the relative strength of the latter in some countries the EI-tendency everywhere seems to outdo the EP-tendency due to the global neoliberal drive, which has also come to dominate environmental policies.
Secondly, the experiences from empirical research are analysed to find the preconditions and barriers to participation with management as well as with employees. It comes out that to ensure intensive participation trust must prevail and a bargain must be made to accomplish the ‘soft’ demands of employees of safety and health, competence-building and influence. Conversely, management has to accept co-determination in organisational matters and to ‘give up a little power’. Without internal organisational embedding of footholds and stronger institutional mechanisms or societal intervention there are, however, few signs and chances of employers giving in on these issues.