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Where informality really matters : patterns of employee involvement and participation (EIP) in a non-union firm

Marchington, Mick and Suter, J (2013) Where informality really matters : patterns of employee involvement and participation (EIP) in a non-union firm. Industrial Relations, 52 (s1). 284–313. ISSN 0019-8676

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Abstract

Industrial relations scholars have long been interested in notions of employee involvement, participation, voice, and industrial democracy but the terminology is so elastic that the types of practices covered are extremely broad. In this article, following a brief discussion that categorizes employee involvement and participation (EIP) in terms of degree, level, and scope, we focus on the relatively dilute formal and informal practices which operate at workplace level in non-union firms. Although researchers now examine direct—as well as representative—forms of EIP, we argue the focus is still on formal systems. This finding is understandable both from a methodological and a theoretical angle, but it leaves a gap in our awareness of how EIP functions at workplace level, and in particular, the role played by line managers in developing informal communication and consultation in non-union firms. In this article, we examine formal and informal EIP within a large non-union firm in the UK hospitality sector; a context characterized by intense product and labor market pressures and limited union presence. Our principal conclusion is that informality takes centre stage in this organization, driven by managerial and worker preferences for informal EIP in the context of close working relations at the customer interface. Moreover, customer pressures and flexible working patterns make it difficult to sustain formal EIP in the context of a capability framework that puts a primacy on managers using informal approaches. However, it is argued that informal EIP needs to be combined with the formal system to operate effectively.