Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Exploring Employee Participation and Work Environment in Hotels: Case Studies from Denmark and New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Exploring Employee Participation and Work Environment in Hotels: Case Studies from Denmark and New Zealand

Article excerpt


It is well described in the literature that employee participation is closely linked to the quality of work environment (QWE) or related concepts, such as employee well-being or job satisfaction. Whilst the brunt of research suggests that participation plays a positive role in the work environment, there are also findings that indicate a negative association. It was with this in mind that this comparative study of Danish and New Zealand workplaces in the hotel sector was undertaken as part of a wider project including workplaces from a range of sectors (Knudsen & Markey, 2014). Our aim was to investigate the nature of the relationship between employee participation and work environment quality through case studies in a number of workplaces. The study analysed both direct and representative forms of participation.

The field of comparative employment relations is generally underdeveloped (Barry & Wilkinson, 2011). One of the most common approaches is through comparison of employment relations themes across different countries; some consider a number of themes (Bean, 1985; Eaton, 2000), but the "extent of comparison ... is patchy or underdeveloped" (Barry & Wilkinson, 2011: 3) and the themes broad and necessarily selective. Other comparisons focus on single issues, such as trade unions, but these are normally institutionally based (Fairbrother & Yates, 2003; Frege & Kelly, 2004; Verma & Kochan, 2004; Frege, 2007). Very few comparative studies focus on non-institutional themes at the organisational, rather than general level, through case studies that allow detailed analysis.

The rationale for these national case study comparisons was founded on important similarities, but contrasting systems of employee participation. New Zealand and Denmark are of similar size and industry structure. Some critical contributors to the work environment, notably work/life balance and occupational health and safety (OHS) problems, including stress, have recently been major policy concerns in both countries. However, the range and depth of representative employee participation is greater in Denmark than New Zealand, and a comparison allows consideration of the possible impact of this variable.

The article is structured as follows. First, it presents a review of the literature on employee participation, followed by a brief section on how participation interacts with work environment quality. The next section deals with main features of industrial relations in New Zealand and Denmark respectively, with a special view on the hotel sector. This is followed by a section on methodology, which also includes a brief description of the four case hotels. Subsequently, the findings of the study are presented; this includes data regarding participation and work environment, and then associations between the two datasets are explored. Finally, the conclusion highlights the main findings and discusses these against relevant parts of the literature. Our main focus is to establish whether various forms of participation impact positively or negatively on the quality of the work environment.

Employee participation

The concept 'employee participation' is a generic term covering a diversity of practices. These include suggestion schemes, team briefings, job autonomy, staff meetings, works councils, trade union representation, collective bargaining, and employee representation at board level. What binds them together are basically two shared characteristics:

a) participation provides opportunities that enable employees to influence decision-making in organisations, and

b) participation is played out in a decision-making context dominated by management prerogative (Knudsen, 1995; Wall & Lischeron, 1977).

As formulated by Pateman (1970: 68): "The whole point about industrial participation is that it involves a modification, to greater or lesser degree, of the orthodox authority structure, namely one where decision making is the 'prerogative' of management, in which workers play no part. …

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