The purpose of this paper is to move beyond the usual analysis of the effects of worker representation. Instead of estimating the impact of the mere presence of works councils on business achievements, the focus is on the performance effects of managerial attitudes vis-à-vis worker representation. More precisely, the authors study whether managerial willingness to cooperate with employee representatives and giving them a (timely) say in company policies translates into better company performance.
After an introduction of the typical Belgian workplace representation, the authors briefly discuss the relevant literature and the sample, leading to several hypotheses. The data are from a survey in Belgium complemented with annual report information. Hypotheses are tested with hierarchical OLS regression. Special attention is given to moderating and mediating effects.
The authors find that especially the timing of involving worker representatives in company decision making has a significant impact on labor productivity. More broadly, the authors reveal that these managerial attitudes matter more in larger establishments.
Although nationwide, representative, and statistically valid, the data set is quite small (142 usable observations), which obstructs the application of refined estimation techniques.
Practical advice should be conditional on country context and size class. In Belgium, smaller enterprises can boost their performance by involving the works council rather late in the process. Probably, this has to do with the powerful position of Belgian unions in works councils. The managerial implications for larger Belgian establishments are very different, however. In these cases, earlier involvement of the works council is advised, as this will enhance the establishment’s performance.
Belgian works councils reflect a specific employee representation system that is rarely studied. More broadly, attitudinal effects are under-researched. The data set is unique, combining subjective with objective data, so reducing the risk of respondents’ bias.
The authors are grateful for the helpful comments of our two anonymous referees Yolanda Grift, Mark Kattenberg, Joep Steegmans, Gerwin van der Laan, Adriaan Kalwij, Suzanne Heijnen, Wolter Hassink, and two anonymous referees. In addition, the authors would like to thank the participants of the 2014 ILPC and EURAM conferences for their suggestions. This paper is part of a larger project on “Effective governance in private organizations,” conducted by a research team from the University of Antwerp, the University of Ghent, and Brussels Free University. The authors gratefully acknowledge the government agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT) of the Flemish Government for financial support.
van den Berg, A., van Witteloostuijn, A., Boone, C. and Van der Brempt, O. (2018), "The performance effects of attitudes of management
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