Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Does Informal Participation Increase Job Satisfaction in Public Organizations? A Study on Civil Servants in Beijing, China

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Does Informal Participation Increase Job Satisfaction in Public Organizations? A Study on Civil Servants in Beijing, China

Article excerpt

Introduction

Employee participation, which is defined as the involvement of employees in information processing, decision making, and problem solving (Wagner, 1994), has been an important topic in management research. Though it has been studied under different labels such as employee empowerment, industrial democracy, and participative decision making, it generally describes joint decision making or influence/power sharing in organizations. Employee participation faces some unique institutional and cultural challenges in public organizations. Bureaucracy has been the dominant form of government organizations for thousands of years in some countries such as China and is still the dominant form in almost all countries. The strict hierarchical control is the key mechanism to achieve efficiency. Employee participation may disrupt the hierarchical chain of command and thus may increase the likelihood of conflicts between employees and supervisors, causing the loss of efficiency (Harrison & Freeman, 2004). In addition, the rigid hierarchical structure fosters a bureaucratic culture of over-conformity (Claver, Llopis, Gasco, Molina, & Conca, 1999; Merton, 1940). The emphasis of conforming to rules and regulations and the corresponding strict control have always been salient features of the civil service system (Benveniste, 1987; Bozeman & Straussman, 1990). Therefore, the bureaucratic culture encourages adherence to orders and rules rather than participation in decision making.

Despite the above barriers in implementation, scholars have been arguing for employee participation in government agencies (Waldo, 1977). A growing literature shows that employee participation in public organizations contributes to job satisfaction (Benoliel & Somech, 2010; Fernandez & Moldogaziev, 2013a; Kim, 2002; Lee, Cayer, & Lan, 2006; Wright & Kim, 2004), high performance (Benoliel & Somech, 2010; Fernandez & Moldogaziev, 2011, 2013a), employee retention (Grissom, 2012), innovation (Fernandez & Moldogaziev, 2013b; Fernandez & Pitts, 2011; Somech, 2006), and employee commitment (Cheung & Wu, 2011; Nyhan, 2000). However, the findings of participation's effects are not conclusive. Wagner (1994) found through a meta-analysis of literature that the effects of participation on performance and satisfaction are so small that they hardly have any practical significance. Somech (2006) found that participation contributes to innovation but not to performance.

One possible explanation to the inconclusive or even conflicting findings is that employee participation has various forms and each form may produce different effects (Cotton, Vollrath, Froggatt, & Lengnick-Hall, 1988; Koopman & Wierdsma, 1998). Cotton et al. (1988) summarized six forms of participation: participation in work decisions, consultative participation, short-term participation, informal participation, employee ownership, and representative participation. The current literature often fails to account for the effects of different forms of participation. For example, scholars often ignore the fact that the base of legitimization of employee participation may vary from formal, explicitly recorded rules to informal, nonstatutory behaviors (Koopman & Wierdsma, 1998). The failure to make clear distinctions between different forms of participation may obscure their effects and lead to conflicting findings (Smylie, Lazarus, & Brownlee-Conyers, 1996). In addition, due to the limited research, we still lack a comprehensive understanding of variables that may moderate the effects of participation.

This article attempts to fill in the above gap by studying one type of employee participation--informal participation--and its impacts on civil servants'job satisfaction. Informal participation can be defined as the involvement of employees in information processing, decision making, and problem solving when these practices are not required by laws, contracts, or management policies (Koopman & Wierdsma, 1998; Wagner, 1994). …

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