Developing a labour relations model of employee engagement in a unionised environment
The concept of employee engagement has gained widespread international attention since the 1990s in response to the emergence of a global economy characterised by intense competition, resulting in increased pressure on businesses to raise quality, reduce costs and increase productivity. In response to this continuous competition, human resources professionals are challenged to develop strategies that increase individual and organisational performance. Employee engagement is embraced as one such strategy. The appeal of employee engagement is that it proposes reciprocal and mutually beneficial employment relationships between employers and employees, which is a key factor for an organisation’s success and its ability to circumvent the traditional trade-offs and tension existing between employer and employees within the human resource and industrial relations domains. A wide range of theoretical models has been developed to determine which approaches have the greatest potential to engender high levels of engagement. However, most models examine the relationship between antecedents and outcomes at an individual level and do not consider the collective context of an organisation where there is an interchange between union and non-union members influenced by collective forms of representation. Understanding engagement in a unionised environment is as important as engagement in an environment without strong union presence due to the interdependence between union and non-union members and their collective perceptions about the organisation. It is further suggested that unionised employees are less engaged than their non-union counterparts, and that the impact of disengagement in companies with a union presence is often more significant since union members’ dissatisfaction can spread to their co-workers leading to overall negative sentiments towards the organisation as a whole. It is within this context that a theoretical framework was developed that considers the collective context of an organisation and has the potential to measure and improve engagement levels in a unionised environment. The theoretical framework provided the basis for the development of the conceptual model that was constructed around the individual and collective relationships between groups in an organisation. The premise of the conceptual model is that engagement-enabling dimensions (antecedents) influence an individual’s psychological experience of work, in turn influencing engagement levels that lead to positive work behaviour. The model, grounded in the theory of engagement and industrial relations, outlines how eight antecedents influence an individual’s psychological experience of work, which, in turn, influence engagement levels and leads to positive individual and business outcomes. The antecedents and outcomes of the model provided the theoretical basis for the development of the measurement model. An exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was used to explore the factorial structure of the model, using the principal component analysis (PCA). In order to establish and confirm that the final measurement model fitted the underlying data satisfactorily, and supported construct validity and reliability, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was performed on the measurement and structural model. Further analysis of the measurement model was conducted to appraise the validity of the hypothesised paths of the model and test the mediation of engagement by making use of the structural equation modelling (SEM) technique. The overall results of the CFA indicated a satisfactory model fit. The results of the SEM indicated positive relationships between job design and engagement, collaborative partnerships and business outcomes, job design and individual and business outcomes, and that engagement mediates the relationship between job design and business outcomes. The originality/value of this paper includes that it builds on existing engagement research and thereby advances the understanding of the construct within a collective context.
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