Spanning the Boundaries of Work: Workplace Participation, Political Efficacy, and Political Involvement

Article excerpt

Workplace participation has seen increased attention in the past decades (e.g., Cheney et al., 1998; Deetz, 1992, 1995; Harrison, 1994; McLagan & Nel, 1995; Seibold & Shea, 2001; Stohl & Cheney, 2001). However, organizational communication research on workplace participation has been largely confined within the organizational boundaries. In fact, workplace in general has been understudied with regard to its impact on political behavior (Mutz & Mondak, 2006; Putnam, 2000). In spite of Cheney's (1995) call for attention to "the relationship between participation inside and outside the workplace" (p. 187), scant empirical research has attended to this boundary-spanning dimension of workplace participation (Cheney et al., 1998). Grounded in the political spillover theory (Pateman, 1970), this study intends to empirically examine the association of workplace participation and political involvement.

Drawing on classical democratic theories by Mill (1910), Cole (1919), and Dahl (1956), Pateman (1970) proposes that workplace functions as a significant training ground for adult socialization and development of important political skills, and that participatory workplace practices lead to participatory democratic practices in the social political process outside workplace. Pateman suggests internal political efficacy (IPE) as the mediating factor in the association between participation at work and in politics. Since the 1970s, empirical efforts mainly by political scientists (e.g., Elden, 1981; Greenberg, 1986; Mason, 1982; Milbraith & Goel, 1971; Peterson, 1992; Sheppard & Herrick, 1972; R. Sobel, 1993) have focused on the direct association of workplace participation either with IPE or political participation. The mediating effect of IPE has rarely been tested (Greenberg, Grunberg, & Daniel, 1996). One of the objectives of this study is to examine the mediating effect of IPE in the association between participation at work and in politics.

Additionally, the conceptualization of workplace participation since Pateman (1970) has mainly been about job autonomy and work decision involvement. Such an instrumental definition of workplace overlooks the social dimension of work as a community, in which socialization among employees goes beyond contractual relationships and authority structures. Tapping into the socialization at work as a community may further our understanding about the association between participation at work and in politics. In this study, we propose work community participation as an additional dimension to the traditional definition of workplace participation and explore its association with political involvement.

The findings of this study will not only contribute to the development of the political spillover theory but also offer empirical evidence to the discussion over the role of corporations in today's society. Deetz (1992) argues that today's corporations are the new public sphere, where social goods are appropriated and policy decisions made. This study holds the potential to offer empirical evidence with regard to whether microsocial work practices, such as individual job autonomy and socialization in work communities, have far reaching effects on democratic political processes outside the workplace.

The paper will first introduce the political spillover theory, discuss the limitations existing in current empirical research and propose our hypotheses. It will then report an empirical study that we conducted using telephone-survey interviews based on a regional probability sample. Finally, the paper will discuss the results, implications, and limitations of the study and offer directions for future research.

The Political Spillover Theory

Various classical democratic theorists, such as Rousseau (1968), Mill (1910), and Cole (1919), point to the educative effects of nonpolitical social institutions in cultivating people's participation in a democratic political system. …


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