Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 1 2009, page 31-48.
Ole Busck, Herman Knudsen, Jens Lind og Tine Herreborg Jørgensen
The article traces recent developments in
employee participation and discusses
how they affect the working environment.
It takes its point of departure in the observation
of a simultaneous growth during the
past few decades of two phenomena. One
is comprised of new forms of management
focusing on human resources, involvement
of employees, job autonomy etc.; the other
is made up of an increase in psychosocial
work environment problems. The latter is witnessed by increasing absenteeism due
to stress and other psychological problems,
increasing numbers of work-related mental
disorders and increased exclusion from the
labour market due to psychosocial problems
The immediate question that arises is whether employee participation no longer can be understood as a means to the democratization of work life as well as increased employee well-being as it traditionally has been. To fi nd the answer, the article focuses on how employee participation has developed over time – regarding forms, functions and rationales. Furthermore, the literature on how employee participation affects the quality of working life and employee wellbeing is reviewed. Special attention is given to recent research fi ndings indicating that new forms of employee involvement may actually increase psychosocial strain at work. At a more general level, the question arises as to whether employee participation, including the employees’ infl uence on their own working conditions, is still capable of ensuring the quality of the working environment, as traditionally assumed and to a large degree refl ected in the literature on participation and the regulation of working conditions and health and safety.
The article also asks whether the infl uential paradigm for understanding the relation between the employee’s job control, psychological job demands and the mental health of employees, based on R. Karasek’s and T. Theorell’s demand-control model, has lost its power of explanation. Has the context of work, by virtue of socio-cultural processes of change and new forms of management and organisation etc., changed so much that it no longer applies that increased job control through infl uence and skill discretion compensates for the strain caused by high job demands? This question
begs closer scrutiny.
Based on resent research evidence, the analysis leads to the proposition that the growing psychosocial strain in modern working life in important ways may be related to what could be termed ‘the transformation of participation’. By this is meant that participation based on the mutual recognition of a social compromise between management and labour, often based on collective rights, has lost ground to a type of participation, or rather involvement, based on the mutual recognition of the companies’ needs and aims.