Management Practices and Employee Relations

“Employee involvement and participation programmes are increasingly being driven by management rather than unions’” critically discuss this statement


The face of management and unions has changed drastically over time. Initially, personnel managers focused only on getting the work done. This was achieved through driving or pushing workers to the edge. Using wages and rates, personnel managers enticed worker to do their best. In other instances, personnel managers used the stick i.e. they literally used violence to get employees to put in more effort.

All has changed and today proper treatment of employees is considered the most critical success factor in an organization. This paper considers changes in the management practice and how that has impacted on role of unions as determiners of employee participation and involvement.

Employee Participation

Participation implies being involved or taking part in something. Employee participation has over time been appreciated due to a number of realizations. The most critical realization is the fact that each human person is unique and dignified (Taylor et al, 1996). Consequently, for management, employee participation provides avenue to boost employee ownership, morale and sense of respect in an organization.

A fully functional and happy employee is a great asset to the organization. Such an individual is creative, free and spontaneously innovative. The work place dynamics in modern organization demand that individuals think on their feet in a very flexible and equally dynamic manner. As a result, it is no longer the unions striving to ensure that employees are involved and participate. Contrarily, it is management agenda, as a core strategic option, to ensure employees are involved, participate and own organizational processes (Ryan, 1998).

Modern management tools or models like total quality management put premium on total or complete employee participation (Venkataratnam & Srivanstave, 2004). In actual sense, it is no longer just a question of employee participating. Management is more concerned with employees being empowered i.e. given power to determine the strategic shape of the organizations for which they work.

Changes in Management and In Unionism

During the 1800s, managers operating from an understanding that employees had to be pushed or pulled extrinsically for them to do their best used crude methods of getting things done (Venkataratnam & Srivanstave, 2004).

Managers did not care much about employees, their feelings, their thoughts and their aspirations. What mattered was what the employee had to do and how best he or she was doing it. Focus was on work-studies and time studies with the sole aim of getting as much effort and results as possible from each single employee. Such focus led to mistreatment of employees i.e. they were overworked, they were not given necessary tools, they were abused and nobody in the management seemed to care about employee welfare (Venkataratnam & Srivanstave, 2004).

Consequently, unionism or employees uniting to ask for their rights were the only way of getting the employee’s voice heard. Through collective bargaining, the employees minimized risk of individual victimization. Legalization of trade unions and their activities gave impetus to the union movement. They now had a legal platform to ask for better payment for employees, better treatment of employees, better working conditions, better work tools and of course employee involvement in organizational decision making.

Initially, the only way of getting management to the discussion table was through industrial action. Unions held strikes, picketed, boycotted certain goods or organizations in order to force management to listen to them. Management on the other hand treated unions with suspicion and used every opportunity to undermine their work.

However, by the mid 1900s, both unions and management had begun to realize that there was more to gain from cooperating and fighting each other (Ryan, 1998). In actual sense, it was realized that both parties meet their objectives when they listen to each other. Consequently, union and management cooperation became the new approach to employee management. Although not all was always cozy between management and unions, managers began to appreciate the role of employee participation or involvement in decision-making.

Moreover, to neutralize union influence, managers began to create innovative ways of involving employees without engaging the union (Ryan, 1998). There was something selfish about such a move i.e. managers were seeking to avoid bare-knuckle fights with trade unions through properly veiled offers that worked in their interest.


The shift in management focus led to participation of employees becoming a management agenda just as it was the union’s agenda. Although this shift was brought about by management’s desire to subvert or undermine union activities, it gradually led to realizes of the poignancy of employee empowerment and participation. Changes in the management thought have, over time, emphasized and re-emphasized the role of employee participation and involvement.

In current management thought and practice, it is generally accepted that employees are an asset, they are resourceful, and they are unique and have independent creative thoughts that can benefit the organization. Consequently, management’s focus is more on providing an enabling environment for employee participation. As such, employee participation is more of an agenda of the management more than it is the concern of the unions.

Unions are no longer concerned about employee involvement but rather fight for less involvement of employees. The concern of unions in the present world is on ensuring employee participation does not just benefit the organization. The unions are not moving towards concerns like how to make sure creative ideas by members adopted by organizations bring commensurate returns for the employees.

“Employment relations in Britain are being shaped by management practices within American multi-national corporations (MNCs) operating in the UK and overseas”. Discuss.


Multi-national corporations (MNCs) have a huge impact on global relations and global business systems. Considering the American multinational corporations operating in Europe, there is no doubt that they bring along American business models. Just as they adapt home country business models to subsidiaries in host countries, they also export labor relation models or systems. Considering the situation in the UK, it is true to a large extent that multinationals from the United States of America are shaping the management of labor relations in Britain.

Operations of MNCs

Multinational corporations often tend to impose the reality of their home countries on the host countries. Each multinational organization coming into a country has a culture, a structural form and given rules, which assumed to be best practices as per home standards. Moreover, the organization is a live to certain norms or certain expectations as informed by reality back at home. When the discussed factors are implemented or realized in the subsidiary organization, they dictate the kind of labor relations that are entrenched.

Moreover, multinational corporations tend to hire expatriates from home countries. Senior positions in subsidiary countries tend to be held by employees from parent company. This is done with the assumption that the expatriates enhance control of parent company on subsidiary. Further, it is assumed that the expatriates deliver best practices desirable for success. What is obvious is that the implied best practices are best models that have been tested and found to work in home countries.

When expatriates run an organization, they impose their reality on business operations. This is informed by the fact that business models in home country are propagated through schools in home country. Additionally, such an expatriate often must have had experience from a given home country. Therefore, in terms of education and work experience, the expatriates are experts in home country models. This implies that what they will do and advocate for in host countries has a definitive influence from home country.

Dominance of American Business Models

America having had global dominance for long both economically and politically has its multinational corporations in most parts of the world. The fact that America has for long been the leading source of multinationals justifies the fact that American business models dominate global business. Actually, even research on globalization and performance of global organization has been widely done by scholars in the United States of America.

Business models are developed relative to prevailing economic and political factors (Scott, 2001). When organizations across the world are compared, certain distinctive features are discernible. Such differences exist because the success factors in given socio-economic and political settings tend to differ. However, considering the international reality, the dominance of certain political entities has influenced perception.

For instance, even though given economic and political factors may favor the success of American organizations; it is perceived that such organizations are successful owing to the business models they establish. The truthfulness of such a perspective is contentious however, what cannot be contended is dominance of American organizations internationally implies dominance of the American business models.

American Labor Models

American organizations are known for certain distinctive features. Considering control, the top management in American organizations or institutions has strong or total control over organizational affairs (Scott, 2001). This means that in the case of subsidiaries, the top management in parent companies still exerts direct and strong influence on their operations. Secondly, in American organizations, participation is taken very seriously (Scott, 2001).

The participation of employees in a free and fair atmosphere is seen as key for the success of the organization. It is for this reason that in the American labor models, human resource input is taken as crucial when considering strategic options for an organization (Scott, 2001). Moreover, formal structures are strongly enforced and recognized as one way of guaranteeing results.

In the case of American subsidiaries, therefore, Americans tend to have tight control over operations to ensure that their business model works (Scott, 2001). They impose their rules and norms on the subsidiary as one way of guaranteeing results. The organizational structures adopted are aimed at ensuring the parent company retains control over the subsidiary. By so doing, the parent company has direct control over the operations of the American MNC and controls everything especially the human resource policy.


As discussed in the foregoing paragraphs, the US business model is a dominant reference point in global business. Employee participation is emphasized in the US business model and formal structures are a key feature of US institutions. There are quite a number of US MNCs operating in the UK. Consequently, given these organizations are directly controlled firmly by the parent companies; they operate as per US business and labor model. Some of these MNCs are the most prestigious employers in the UK. The implication is that the US MNCs are playing an important role in shaping the labor relations in the UK.

“Employment relations can have a positive and negative impact on the economic performance of an economy’. Critically evaluate this statement


It is true that labor relations can have a positive and a negative impact on the economic performance of an economy. The performance of an economy is directly predicated to the labor function. When employers and employees relate well, many positive effects accrue. Poor employee relations tend to have disastrous results at both the micro economic level and macroeconomic level.

Impacts of Labor Relations on the Economy

The government in whatsoever country is a primary employer. Government objectives are only realizable if the people in the civil service perform their duties optimally. People will only perform optimally if they feel they are valued and their employer understands them. Therefore, for a government to perform its functions to the satisfaction of all stakeholders, the employees in the public service have to be well taken care of. When civil servants are doing their job aptly and diligently, it raises the people’s trust in the present government. Largely, a trusted government provides a stable macro-environment within which the economy can grow.

Cordial industrial relations help towards motivating the employees (Taylor et al, 1996). Very critically, employees work best when they are comfortable with the employer. When employees feel their employer is fair and just, they will do their best knowing it is a fair deal. When employees are paid what is commensurate to their efforts, they will work hard in appreciation for employers good will. When employees are working without qualms, whether in the public sector or private sector, the aggregate productivity in an economy is increased. It is only through productivity growth or increase that an economy grows. It basically means that the output per input has increase necessarily increasing return on capital employed.

When labor relations are sour, either party in the relationship will seek ways for redress. In the case of employees, when all methods of solving industrial disputes seem not to work, strikes, picketing and disobedience tend to be the final solution. In many cases, strikes turn violent leading to many losses. In some instances, property is lost, lives are lost and general trust is lost. Costs of violent industrial action are high and affect an economy very negatively. If violent protests or action is the common issue in a country, investors will shy away. Those who have invested in the economy may seek to divest or liquidate their firms leading to huge economic losses.

Poor industrial relations also increase rate of unemployment in a nation. For instance, employers may shy from hiring if they know unions will be on their neck with unreasonable demands. Secondly, if employees continue to sabotage an organization due to poor relations, there is every likelihood of such an organization going under. In case organizations go under or are forced to downsize, the ultimate looser is the employee (Holley et al, 2008).

The effects of unemployment on an economy are well documented. Unemployment increases level of dependence in a nation. For instance, when people are laid off due to a company that has gone under or closed due to poor labor relations, the number of people relying on welfare in a country increases. Moreover, there is a direct correlation between high unemployment rates and high crime rates or insecurity in a country. Dependency and insecurity are two ingredients that can fuel poverty in an area. Those who are dependent do not contribute constructively to the economy while insecurity makes it hard for investors who could help do away with the dependency from coming in with investments.

When employee-employer relations are cordial, there will be no cases of sabotage, go slows or lockouts. Instead, two mutual parties are working together for each other’s good (Holley et al, 2008). When this happens in an economy, resources are not wasted on arbitration processes, court cases, paying or compensating victims of sour industrial relations or hiring and firing. Poor industrial relations increase employee turnover in the form of transfers, resignations or summary dismissals (Holley et al, 2008).

The cost of employee recruitment and selection is higher on the long run when compared to the cost of retaining a loyal hardworking employee. Moreover, high employee turnovers imply an organization constantly loosing the skilled and experienced employees. Such a scenario implies that the best talents in the economy are not being given a chance to contribute innovatively towards the success of the organization.


The economy and the labor market are directly linked. The labor market is only stable when organizations are stable and on course towards set objectives. Then relations in the organizations are sour, the organizations do not achieve their objectives. When organizations are not achieving their objectives, the labor market becomes turbulent and the shock waves are felt in terms of negative impacts on the economy.


Holley, W., Jennings, K., M., & Wolters, R., S., 2008. The Labor Relations Process. Cengage Learning: Mason.

Ryan, J., 1998. Giving People a Chance to Sparkle. People Management. Issue, pp. 40-42.

Scott, W., R., 2001. Institutions and Organizations. 2nd eds. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Taylor, S., Beechler, S., and Napier, N., 1996. Towards An Integrative Model of International Human Resource Management. Academy of Management Review, 21 (4), pp. 959-985.

Venkataratnam. C., & Srivanstave, B., 2004. Personnel Management. Tata Mc-Graw Hill Education: New Delhi.

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