Organizational Participation: Myth and Reality

Organizational Participation: Myth and Reality

Organizational Participation: Myth and Reality

Organizational Participation: Myth and Reality


Team-working, partnership, quality circles, works councils, industrial democracy, empowerment - are they distinct and innovative arrangements or is it a case of new wine in old bottles? In the post war period we have seen numerous forms of organizational participation sometimes as experiments, sometimes as negotiated expediency, and sometimes as hype. Different ideas have emerged from different parts of the world, in different industries, at different times with different objectives. In this book four experienced international analysts take the longer view and look at the changing forms of - and changing debates around - orgnaizational participation. The review an extensive literature of experiments and practical experiences through a critical evaluation of the available data to reach balanced conclusions about the importance and utility of this concept for organizations now and in the future.


What do we mean by participation? What forms does it take? Why has it been subject to so much interest? This introductory chapter deals with these issues and raises some fundamental questions which will be explored in later chapters at greater length.

The Case(s) for Participation

Three broad arguments support participation: the first is humanistic--that is, that, by contributing to personal growth and job satisfaction, participation will enhance human dignity. the second argument, power-sharing, is that participation will redistribute social power, protect employees' interests, strengthen unions, and extend the benefits of political democracy to the workplace. the third is that participation will promote organizational efficiency (Dachler and Wilpert 1978).


Of the three arguments, the humanistic is most appealing to us. Described at greater length in Chapter 2, the argument is that participation helps satisfy employees' nonpecuniary needs including those for creativity, achievement, and social approval. It contributes to a sense of competence, self-work, and self-actualization. It makes use of the whole person. For employees, having a voice in how they do their work may be as important as how much they are paid for it. As it is sometimes put, 'A worker should not have to leave his or her head at the factory gate or office door.'

Indeed, it is argued, participation is a necessary antecedent to human psychological and social development. For example, experience in organizational participation may lead to greater participation in the community generally (Pateman 1970; Elden 1986). in any case, humanistic demands may become more insistent as employees become better educated and their basic needs for survival are better satisfied.


Advocates of this approach support participation for ideological and moral reasons, arguing that the traditional autocratic relationships are inherently unjust . . .

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