In this blog Carolina Marin-Cadavid, Knowledge Exchange Associate from the University of Strathclyde, reflects on the results from the project: Fair work for engagement innovation and productivity. This study was led by Patricia Findlay from the Scottish Centre for Employment Research (SCER) at Strathclyde Business School. 

Coming to the end of this project, we have engaged both practitioners and policy makers from different industries and institutions to disseminate and discuss the findings and impact of the study.  

Our team from Strathclyde Business School and ESRC PrOPEL Hub shared findings with stakeholders and business leaders at Glasgow’s Trades Hall on 7 September. For business colleagues who were unable attend, we also held a webinar to disseminate our findings. You can watch the video here.

Why does fair work matter in Scotland? 

In 2016, the Fair Work Framework launched an inspirational agenda in which people in Scotland will have a working life with fair work embedded as a driver of well-being by 2025. Fair work is described in the Fair Work Convention (2020) as: “effective voice, security, respect, opportunity and fulfilment.” This provides a basis for understanding the labour market and to make decisions at the workplace that support the development of a fairer economy and society. 

Despite this vision, different issues have exacerbated the lack of productivity and innovation in UK businesses which are affecting fair conditions within workplaces. According to Findlay (2020) this can be explained by the following reasons: 

  • Labour productivity has been slow to grow and compares poorly with EU and other competitors.
  • There are limited opportunities for the employees to participate, lead and innovate in their workplace.
  • There is a focus on traditional innovation and R&D. Innovation should also be triggered by human resources managers.

Furthermore, the results of a survey conducted by the CIPD (2021) showed other important statistics:

  • 37% of employees are not able to fully deploy their skills. 
  • 43% of UK employees report having little or no autonomy in job tasks. Low levels of control and autonomy are associated with lower engagement, wellbeing, and innovation performance.

Fieldwork and relevant results 

This study conducted a large-scale survey in which 30 companies participated. The researchers gathered 3665 employee responses, completed 126 interviews with CEOs, HR managers, line managers and other stakeholders and provided multiple feedback sessions with organisations and partners. 

The results revealed that when balancing job demands and resources, it is possible to increase work engagement, performance, and innovation. At the same time, exhaustion is reduced by maintaining the well-being of employees. 

What mechanisms can be used by companies to increase work engagement, well-being, extra-role behaviour and innovative work behaviour?

This research provides important insights into five tools that can be adopted by organisations and policy makers to increase work engagement and well-being:

  1. Job resources: autonomy, feedback, peer social support, and line manager support
  2. Reducing job demands: job pressures, time pressures, multiple role demands.
  3. Job crafting: autonomy, needs, motivation to seek efficiencies, seek out challenges, seek out resources. 
  4. Team climate: share information effectively, minority views listened to, team members build on other’s ideas.
  5. People management: opportunities to learn, skills utilisation, career development, effective voice, dignity, and respect. 

Reflections of the discussion with practitioners and policy makers

The research results have been disseminated amongst different stakeholders through face-to-face and online meetings. The topics and concepts in which stakeholders had more interest were: 

  • Covid-19 showed the importance of generating practices for engagement and well-being in the long-term.  
  • Practitioners expressed their concern about how excessive job demands impact exhaustion and undermine innovative work behaviours. It was discussed that job demands are not always negative. These operate differently across places and organisations. 
  • Practitioners were surprised that communication did not appear in the results. However, feedback is a popular practice of job crafting that was used frequently by the practitioners to engage their employees. Feedback is an outcome of communication and has a strong influence on employees’ engagement. 
  • Some employers expressed they were struggling to get ideas from their employees. It was recommended to establish a routine. Routine is important because new practices can be embedded in employees’ jobs. These practices should be led by the managers. 
  • It was suggested that companies invested in practices that employees can embed in their day-to day routines. Once practices are implemented, they will not be changed very quickly. Sticking to practices generates consistency. However, these can be easily destroyed if there is not trust or consistency to build them in a long term. 
  • Practitioners expressed they got benefits from implementing more flexible process systems in their organisation. A company received more feedback from their employees when this process was optional.
  • Finding time to drive and develop employees’ ideas was recommended to generate engagement and innovation.

Challenges as an opportunity to work with PrOPEL Hub

In the discussion held by the researchers with the practitioners and policy makers, the following main challenges were mentioned: 

  • Despite implementing more flexible practices during COVID-19, employees in manufacturing companies continued experiencing exhaustion. They also mentioned that there were challenges to engaging people in collaborative work.
  • The Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise raised their concern about the increasing cost for doing business and the restricted budgets to access resources. They would like to explore how they can boost work fairness in businesses under the current circumstances. 

In the discussions with the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise, it was highlighted that the results of this research offer strategies and practices in which companies can expand their resources with low investment

To conclude job quality and fair work matters and needs to be addressed by both policy makers and organisations. By promoting innovative work behaviours at the workplace and investing in HRM practice, innovation can be achieved at higher levels in the UK, bringing us up-to-speed with the EU.