Employee participation refers to the employee’s opportunity to participate in the company’s decision-making regardless of his/her position. The intensity of employee participation depends on two dimensions: employees’ influence on decisions and the importance of these decisions. Research carried out in other countries shows that employee participation increases employees’ motivation and satisfaction with work, boosts innovation, and the stability of the company.
Despite the fact that the European Union has existed for a long time and is increasingly intervening in the regulation of employee participation, practices of employee participation vary considerably from country to country.
In general, there are three forms of employee representation at the enterprise level in European Union countries: trade unions, works councils and employees’ participation in company’s boards. In some countries where trade unions are very widely spread and cover most of the workforce, trade unions organise the whole process of informing and consulting. In other countries, trade unions co-exist with works councils. Practices in new member states are diverse. The Estonian system, in which the trade union and non-unionised representatives can exist in parallel, is exceptional in Europe.
The situation in Estonia
Our study of employee participation in Estonia shows that the only appreciable factor determining the intensity of participation is the manager’s view on its necessity. The more positive the manager’s views on participation, the better informed the employees and the higher the employees regard their opportunity to participate in the organisation of their work-life.
Employee participation is generally valued in Estonia, although the perceived role of informing and consulting varies from one issue to the other. The benefits of indirect participation are not very well recognised either. The fact that the intensity of employee participation does not depend on the existence of the representatives of employees, but rather on the manager’s interest, shows that both parties need to be involved for participation to be successful.
Both trade unions and non-unionised trustees play insignificant roles as channels of information and consultation. The main channel of participation is the company’s official hierarchy, i.e. the employee’s direct manager. This, however, cannot be considered indirect participation as there is no employee-elected representative. Other frequently mentioned channels of participation are meetings and colleagues, followed by notice boards and electronic channels.