The development of work organisations is aimed at changing the work, managerial and organisational practices of workplaces, thus improving productivity and the quality of working life (QWL). The empirical study of the link between changes in workplace practices and their impact is a challenging task; it has been explored by researchers in the field of organisational development and working life for several decades, and in recent years, the discussion has expanded to also cover innovation research.
The outcomes of workplace development projects have been monitored under the Finnish Workplace Development Programme TYKES (1996-2010) and, more recently, under another national programme, Liideri (2012-) through surveys directed at both management and employees. The simultaneous improvement of productivity and the QWL is also the goal of the Working Life 2020 project coordinated by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.
An article published recently in an international journal examined the effects on productivity and the QWL of changes in practices implemented at workplaces using the results of 163 development projects. A survey was conducted seeking the responses of management and employees of the participating workplaces, both at the start of the project and after its completion. The survey focused on five dimensions: decentralised decision-making, the role of supervisors in supporting employees, skills development for employees, the internal cooperation at the workplace, and the use of external information. The forming of indicators for productivity and the QWL indicator involved five variables each.
The results showed that 73% of management and 41% of the employees perceived a simultaneous improvement in productivity and the QWL. The most effective indicators of simultaneous improvement in productivity and the QWL were autonomous team work (i.e. employees are responsible for own job performance and the development of products and services), development of professional skills and employer-paid in-service training. Management and employees both estimated that there is a link between the development of internal cooperation and the utilisation of external information and improved productivity and the QWL.
A surprising finding was that the role of supervisors in supporting employees and encouraging them to take the initiative and improve their professional skills did not improve during the projects and no link was perceived between these and the improvement of productivity and the QWL by employees. There are several explanations for this. One is, that it is possible that employees of workplaces where decision-making is distributed to a team-level activity do not need extra encouragement to be productive, innovative and satisfied with their job; they inherently want to be in an equal position with their supervisors. In Finland, team work is based on employee autonomy more often than in other European countries. The conclusions suggest that the role of supervisors should be developed more towards shared leadership in order to make the role match better with the autonomous team work approach. Shared leadership can be used to stimulate unique ideas and innovations. New types of roles and cooperation skills are required for both supervisors and employees to make the shared leadership model beneficial.
The article has been published in an international peer-reviewed publication: Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies: Ramstad (2014) Can High-involvement Innovation Practices improve Productivity and the Quality of Working Life simultaneously? Management and Employee Views on Comparison
The author is Tekes’ Senior Adviser, who is an expert in the Liideri programme and a member of the Working Life 2020 project coordinated by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy