Involving Employees in Decision-Making is Essential for an Optimal Work Environment

In my prior article, “The Secret Sauce of Maintaining a Great Place to Work,” there were five ingredients needed for an optimal work environment. One ingredient, “creating an avenue for employees to participate in decision-making on matters that affect their work,” relies heavily upon employer communication between the employer and the employee; communication that is often challenging to accomplish in today’s fast pace business environment.

Employers thrive in a fast-paced environment where the ability to quickly adapt can mean the difference between success and failure. This “need for speed” often makes it difficult for employers to take the time to inform employees about the need for adaptation, let alone involve them in making decisions about how to adapt to needed changes. With this in mind, employers will have to make a decision on the process for determining when to involve their employees in a change to their work environment, and when those adaptations should include input from their employees. Changes that substantially affect the work environment and do not include employee input could cause more damage to the employer/employee relationship than any potential benefit that could come from the changes.

With that said, it is not necessary to involve employees in every decision. In a work relationship where trust has been built, the employee will understand that they cannot be involved in every decision. However, in the absence of involvement, it is imperative that employees be informed of the need for rapid adaptation, and if possible, allow for their input after implementation of any change. This will help to provide employee buy-in and help to increase the chances of success for the rollout. This is especially true if the process significantly affects how your employees perform their work.

How do employers get it wrong?  Employers often see adding work to employees as a necessity in a fast-changing world. Employees see the added work as employers trying to get more work out of employees for the same pay. In essence, employees see a ratio between the amount and type of work they do as a ratio to their pay. If the ratio changes in either quality or quantity then they believe their pay should change accordingly. Much like buying a car, the more features on a car, the more you pay for the car. The added work is the added features. Unfortunately, most leaders see the added work as the market asking for more at a reduced cost.  This is similar to placing a car on sale by throwing in additional features at no cost. Employers believe lowering the price of the car by throwing features will help them sell more cars. In the Market, both are often needed, but both should be balanced.

This dichotomy of views can cost employers significantly with their workforce. Without involving employees in decision making, or providing adequate explanation for the changes, employers can quickly sever the trust they may have established with employees. Employees are likely to believe that they are being taken advantage of, as the pay to value relationship diminishes in their eyes. If the market need prevails, then the employer must communicate to their employees why the market calls for the change without any increase in pay. Communication will work as long as these adaptations are infrequent. Communication alone will not be sufficient if the changes are frequent. If frequent changes are necessary, then employers would be better off waiting to do one implementation with many work changes than to drag out numerous changes over an extended period of time.

If expediency prevents communication and buy-in, then it would be better if the one big change came with even a small compensation adjustment. The pay to work ratio is often overlooked by employers but is the #1 factor in the increase of employee dissatisfaction. If an employer does not create an avenue for employees to participate in making decisions on matters that affect their work, an employer can significantly damage their relationship with their employees and make them vulnerable to union organizing.

Team building, communication and employee buy-in are important ingredients in creating that “secret sauce” that keeps your employees satisfied and keeps unions out of your workplace. If your employees are happy, feel valued, and have input, and you optimize their work environment, you will benefit from a more productive work environment and remain union-free.