In Norway there are now thousands of people in the public sector on strike and the parts involved are miles apart. The power of unions in Norway are very strong so they have decided to take people out of work to faster reach an agreement. This is how the Norwegian model work, power is equal. A question came to me when hearing about this, does unions actually improve work in terms of organizational performance and employment practices?
So what is really ‘The Norwegian model” in terms of employment practices? It is basically a high-involvement work system involving absolute cooperation between employer, unions and employees within an organization. In the US they use high performance work systems such as high-involvement and high-commitment, often with successful results especially in the private sector. Companies such as Google are well-known for creating environment for high-involvement and they are without doubt successful and create a lot of value. Public sector organizations, such as hospitals and law enforcement are not concerned about creating monetary value, but they still need high performance to keep all functions working ideally.
I won’t claim that Google by involving their employees is the only reason behind their success, but research has shown that employees that feel involved in how their work is organized will improve their performance, have higher job satisfaction and engagement.
Norway is one of the most productive nations in the world. They have low unemployment and people are very happy (second to Australia worldwide in recent reports). One could assume that in the Norwegian model, where high-involvement and cooperation is the essence, performance in the workplace is high.
I was once told by a friend of my that work in the public sector that when their supervisor didn’t give them the answer they wanted they went straight to the union representative to resolve the matter. Is this cooperation? The same person is also fed up with how people are always sick and absent from work. Morale is generally low it seems. I don’t know the entire situation. This was just a friend and me having a chat so facts could have been exacerbated. Thinking about this situation later and with my interest in organizational performance it made me think.
Union participation in employment relations can be seen as part of a more rigid or bureaucratic HR system as many of the practices are enforced, and these strikes is such a step, but the essence is still high-involvement and cooperation. The public sector might benefit from being more like the private and vice versa. There are much research on that. And maybe If we learn more about how this system actually works we can add to our knowledge about high performance work systems.
I don’t believe the unions are particularly concerned about creating high-involvement work systems at the moment. In the current case not all voices are heard. Some might want to work, some are happy to be home. When this situation is over, can we assume that those that went on strike feel higher job satisfaction and are more productive than before? If the unions speak for the employees, the employees are more involved than ever, right?
This might be a far fetch idea, there are many implications and I might not have all the facts.
Insights on this issue are very welcome.