Having a union rep can boost job quality, research finds

Collective voice’ linked to improved employee well-being

Having a union representative in the workplace can reduce employees’ stress levels, improve their work-life balance, and increase their well-being overall, according to academic research.

The paper, Union representation, collective voice and job quality: an analysis of a survey of union members in the UK finance sector, showed that respondents’ perceptions of job quality were more favourable in organisations where an onsite representative was present.

This is important for employers across all sectors, the report said, as higher job quality can lead to higher productivity, and fewer workers quitting their jobs.

More than 3,000 people, across 174 companies were surveyed for the report. A large proportion of the respondents (41 per cent) worked for large banks, while 13 per cent were from large insurance companies.

Union presence in the finance sector – defined as the proportion of employees whose workplace has a union present – stands at 43.3 per cent, relatively high compared to the general population.

In 2004, 24 per cent of workplaces had a recognised trade union, which fell to 21 per cent in 2011. This is a dramatic decrease from 1980 levels when 64 per cent workplaces recognised an independent union.

The joint project from Warwick Business School, Unite trade union, Royal Holloway, University of London and Cass Business School, is due to be published in the journal Economic and Industrial Democracy.

Professor Kim Hoque, of Warwick Business School, joint author of the report, said: “Having a union representative on site seems to help improve workers job quality; this could be an important finding for companies looking to improve productivity as well as conditions for workers.

“Job quality is not only important to the individual worker, but to the organisation or company as well. Job quality has been closely linked to job satisfaction, which in turn has been identified as an important element of higher productivity. It also leads to fewer workers leaving and lower absenteeism, both of which have an economic benefit to the organisation,” he added.

Although respondents’ perceptions of job content, work-life balance and job stress were more positive where union reps were present, the research found no evidence of an association between onsite representative presence and job security.

“This might be seen as unsurprising given that employer concessions to union demands for greater job security may lead to significant additional labour costs in the event of a downturn, hence employers may be particularly resistant to attempts to influence this,” Hoque said.

Hoque added that previous research had shown that a higher level of collective voice inside an organisation had led to higher levels of job quality, and as such, any future moves to weaken the rights of union representatives inside an organisation could be detrimental.

“By boosting job quality via voice effects, onsite union representatives are contributing indirectly towards a range of socio-economic outcomes including: higher overall individual well-being, higher job satisfaction, higher productivity, fewer workers quitting, lower absenteeism, smoother labour market transitions and higher labour market participation rates,” he said.

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