Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

Information society, work, and the generation of new forms of social exclusion: Cultural change and employers' participation

Modern technological infrastructure supported by new organisation forms opens up opportunities for intensive information exchange by giving employees access to all available information but it seldom produces the expected results. New techno-organisational structures alone cannot create an environment to foster continuous exchange of information and knowledge, they must be based on a supportive business culture. Companies increasingly introduce programmes of cultural strength as an important part of their renewal strategies.

The new techno-organisational structures cannot function on the basis of distrust among organisation members. But one can have serious doubts about whether isolated cultural change programmes will be able to stimulate closer co-operation and information exchange. It is more important to create places and an environment in which trust can develop. The important elements of 'structural trust' include giving workers more autonomy in decision-making; integrating them into digital networks; allowing them access to relevant information; providing incentives for creative and innovative behaviour; establishing places for informal meetings; and providing training for employees, enabling them to take up new tasks and functions and to use modern ICT in a productive and intelligent way. It is likely that such an environment can motivate and stimulate intensive information and knowledge as employees exchange together with continuous interaction may create social capital, which can become the basis of more trusting relationships.

The dimension of participation is an important aspect of organisation culture, since companies’ techno-organisational restructuring activities have to build on delegating responsibility to individual workers or work groups. Particularly the fact that it is difficult to implement and continuously update modern ICT without support from employees forces companies to give employees more participation rights. But employee involvement in processes of organisational changes is important as well, as they have the best knowledge about efficient work practices.

There are thus inherent forces that promote employee participation in company restructuring processes. Our empirical findings show that many companies have realised the importance of involving their employees in processes of introducing and developing modern ICTs. However, we found rather big regional differences. It is important that companies throughout Europe become aware of the need for and benefits of employee participation in techno-organisational restructuring processes. Policy makers can support worker participation in restructuring processes by integrating the participation aspect into their 'benchmarking' and 'demonstration activities'.

Employee participation should be seen neither as an alternative to the traditional forms of formal representation - trade unions or shop stewards - nor as a tool for gaining more power. It should be accepted as form of participation in its own right. The fact that union representatives in our case studies were only seldom involved in processes of ICT implementation may support such a view. Increasing employee participation nevertheless indicates that changes have taken place and that the traditional institutions of employee representation need to adapt themselves to the new situation. There is a need to clarify the functions of different forms of representation and participation in techno-organisational restructuring processes, and to develop ideas of how to integrate the various participation levels.

Reported by

University of Tampere
4 Tullikatu 6
33014 Tampere
See on map