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How companies in Britain are meeting their employees' expectations.

Dr. Stephen Harding of International Survey Research, a consultancy specializing in the field of employee opinion surveys, reports on the findings of a survey of workforce attitudes.

The quest for improved quality has rightly become the watchword for organizations seeking to build and maintain competitive advantage for their products and services. The success of their endeavours to enhance quality and to stand out from increasingly challenging competition depends crucially on one key element: the commitment of their labour force. Without such commitment, efforts to improve operating efficiency or productivity are likely to make little impact. Research presented here based on independently conducted surveys among employees reveals how well companies in Britain are doing in harnessing this crucial resources.

Here we compare the results of surveys conducted by International Survey Research (ISR) in companies in Britain with those conducted in similar organizations in other major western European countries, namely, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. In each case the normative database was extensive, comprising between 10,000 and 100,000 employees who were asked to express their opinions on the same set of questions. This norm has been updated annually in order to take account of temporal variations in attitude.

The message of 'Quality Assurance' and 'Total Quality Management' has been well received by British organizations seeking to attain a competitive edge in the 1990s. Over the last few years, partly in response to the British Government's National Quality Campaign started in 1984, many companies have introduced quality improvement programmes, especially in their manufacturing operations, supported by certification schemes such as IS09000 and BS5750.

So what is the evidence of the seriousness of efforts to improve quality? Answers to a question posed relating to commitment to quality indicate that companies in Britain are well-placed. Fig. 1 sets out the answers to this question. The percentage agreeing that their company's commitment to quality 'is apparent in what we do on a day-to-day basis' was higher in Britain than in any of the four other countries compared.

For a company to successfully create a quality ethos and a desire for continuous improvement the relationship established with employees must be highly supportive and productive. Such a working relationship has several facets. These include relationship with management, with other employees, and with external bodies.

Working Relationship Management and Employee

The nature of the relationship between employer and employee in the UK has changed dramatically over the last two decades; the confrontational mentality of the past is long gone. In the period 1990-99 it is likely that the number of workers will increase by about 1 million. Many of the new jobs will be in higher-skilled occupations in managerial, technical and associated fields. These are expected to account for 40 per cent of the UK workforce by 1999. Organisations are needing to change in response to changes in the attitudes and expectations of their employees. Workers in Britain and elsewhere are demanding more of their employers - greater responsibility, challenging work, respect from their supervisors, reasonable working practices. This more professional approach towards the working relationship and this demand for greater involvement, especially among better-qualified employees, requires adaptable management attitudes. Organizations which persist in perpetuating inflexible hierarchical structures, for example, will increasingly find themselves at odds with those espousing values of employee involvement.

Survey Findings

The survey put these expectations to the test, requesting views about receptiveness of supervision towards change, and equitable decision-making by management. In the first case, more than two thirds of employees in Britain and Germany consider that their immediate boss is 'usually receptive to suggestions for change from employees' - the highest figures seen. Moreover, in the same two countries the percentage indicating that they feel 'the decisions company management makes concerning employees are usually fair' is strikingly higher than elsewhere.

A further indicator is the willingness of organizations to manage their employees' performance and investing them as individuals who need to grow and advance with their jobs. This was investigated by asking employees to indicate whether their company 'shows great interest in employee development'. The percentage endorsing this statement is clearly higher in Britain than elsewhere. Successful organizations are increasingly recognizing that the management of their human resources and fulfilment of their business goals are intimately linked. Performance and targets are set and evaluated, not only in terms of production and service offered, but also in terms of individuals' performance in their jobs.

Furthermore, it is crucial to the morale of employees that they feel that their performance is evaluated in an equitable manner. Results from ISR's database indicate that in the UK a clear majority of 60 per cent feel that their performance on the job is evaluated fairly. Employees in Britain are more likely to agree that their company is interested in their development. The results of these questions are shown in Figure 2.
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Author:Stephen Harding, Saint
Publication:Economic Review
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:803
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