Participation practice essay
The following post is an essay researched and written in anticipation of an exam question for the module Motivation & Performance in pursuit of the Organizational Psychology Master's qualification within the University of London International Programmes (Birkbeck College_. Excerpts may be be used with the citation:
Aylsworth, J. (2010). Participation and employee involvement: Key linkages, evidence and the path to performance. (url) Accessed: (Month year).
Exam essay question:
"One of the goals of employee involvement programmes is to increase the commitment of employees to the organization on the assumption that a committed employee will be more highly motivated and more productive. How convincing is the evidence for this?"
Participation and Employee Involvement:
Key Linkages, Evidence and the Path to Performance
Linkages between participation and employee involvement with motivation are at the heart of the human relations (HR)/organizational citizenship (OC) route to performance. We will address the question in three parts. Part 1 will attempt to disentangle some of the key terms. Part 2 will look at the evidence for key linkages. Part 3 will consider a cognitive path to performance. We will conclude that “to understand even one form of participation will require consideration of antecedents, consequences, mediating processes and contextual contingencies” (Locke & Schweiger, 1979).
Part 1: Key definitions
Motivation and performance are problematic variables – because the former must be inferred (Pinder, 2008) from behavior, and the latter suffers from the “criterion problem,” (Austin & Villanova, 1992), e.g. which facet(s) of performance to measure.
Nevertheless, we understand “work motivation” to mean “a set of energetic forces that originates both within as well as beyond an individual’s being to initiate work-related behavior and to determine its form, direction, intensity and duration” (Pinder, 2008).
Job performance can be thought of as “the total expected value to an organization of the discrete behaviorial episodes that an individual carries out over a standard period of time” (Motowidlo, 2003).
Commitment refers to “organizational commitment,” (OC) and we prefer Meyer & Paunonen et al’s (1989) distinction between “affective” and “continuance” commitment, the former equating with attitude and the latter subsuming calculative and normative facets outlined in other models. We take issue with Mowday and Porter et al’s (1982) organizational commitment because they include a behavioral facet. They describe commitment as a “willingness” to exert effort. “Willingness,” like “motivation” resides within the individual and must be inferred from behavior. Thus it is not behavior; it is an attitude.
OC is proposed to be the outcome of participation, which can be either direct or indirect – and can be viewed from either the HR perspective or an economic one. The former is essentially the happy worker thesis – i.e. that a satisfied employee will be a more productive employee. The latter assumes that performance will be linked to having a financial stake in organizational outcomes.
Finally, “satisfaction,” is a variable that “generally continues to be loosely but not carefully thought of and measured as an affective state” (Brief & Weiss, 2002).
Part 2: The evidence
Overall, the evidence is weak for a sweeping claim that any of the variables presented thus far leads to performance. Let’s look:
Satisfaction.The evidence is fairly conclusive that participation does lead to satisfaction (Conway et al, 2006), but the correlation between satisfaction and performance is about only 0.15 (Iaffaldano & Muchinsky, 1985). (Note: The M&P module subject guide [Conway et al 2006] reads “0.14,” but a check of Iaffaldano & Muchinsky (1985) actually reports “0.17.”)
Organizational Commitment. Mowday and Porter et al (1982) found only limited positive results for an association between commitment and job performance. Meyer & Paunonen et al (1989) found a significant relationship between attitudinal commitment and performance, yet their study was small in scale. Meyer et al (2002), in a meta-analysis, concluded that affective commitment is the facet that best predicts attitudes and behavior – but still, the association was only about 0.15.
Participation. Sweeping claims aside, there are nuggets to be mined in the details if we are willing to dig for them. For example, Levine and D’Andrea Tyson (1990) found that participation usually leads to small short-term, context-dependent improvements – and sometimes to significant long-lasting improvement. Coming from labor economists, their work is important because it suggests that the economic and HR views of participation need not be mutually exclusive.
Meta-analysis wars. However, the real meat of this issue can be addressed by looking at Cotton & Vollrath (1998) versus Wagner (1994). Cotton and Vollrath (1998) intentionally used narrative analysis instead of meta-analysis to look at participative decision making (PDM) divided into six clusters. PDM is a multi-form, multi-dimensional concept that must be evaluated by form to assess its effectiveness accurately. They drew two important conclusions:
– Informal participation and employee ownership were effective in terms of both performance and satisfaction, but short-term participation was ineffective on both criteria.
– Direct participation was more effective than indirect, and long-term was more effective than short-term.
Wagner (1994) responded by meta-analyzing Cotton and Vollrath’s six clusters, though he excluded some of the studies for methodological reasons. For informal participation, he found a correlation of 0.34 ± 0.4 for satisfaction and 0.21 ± .09 for performance. (Correlations were across all correlations). For employee ownership, he did not report for performance – but found a correlation of 0.16 ± 0.11 for satisfaction. (Only multi-source correlations were used).
His conclusion: The relationships between participation and performance were statistically significant but too small to be of practical value. However, he did concede that his definition of participation may have been too narrow – and cited Abelson’s (1985) view that small episodic effects could become strong over time.
Part 3: A cognitive path?
Latham (2007) cites his own work in stating that the benefit of participation comes through a cognitive rather than a motivational path and that goals, self-efficacy and task strategy are mediating variables.
He says that Wagner (1994) corroborates this, but we were unable to confirm that within the Wagner reference, finding no mention of a cognitive path. Latham's other supporting reference, Locke, Alavi and Wagner (1997), is a book chapter and could not be located by this writer. However, Cotton & Vollrath (1998) add credibility to the cognitive path view, citing Locke & Schweiger (1979), who say that the path from participation to performance appears to involve a combination of motivational and cognitive processes.
We have tried to disentangle some of the key concepts of employee involvement and participation, looked at the evidence and have considered a cognitive path to performance. We conclude with a quote from Locke & Schweiger (1979): “To understand in depth even one form of participation will require consideration of antecedents, consequences, mediating processes and contextual contingencies.”
If we ask whether participation or employee involvement programs lead to performance, it seems that the answer will always have to be some version of the following:
It just depends…
Exam performance: This essay was not used under exam conditions. An earlier draft of it was submitted as a practice exam essay for tutor review. That version was evaluated as a likely pass but with suggested improvements. The version above reflects incorporation of those recommendation, but how this draft would have been marked as an exam answer is unknown.