Employee Involvement

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"Employee involvement" is an ambiguous and elastic concept-one which, if misapplied, can create more problems than opportunities. Viewed unreflectively, it, of course, sounds like "a good thing". But to an employee who hears "additional responsibilities", that trope may not resonate as music to his or her ears (especially if the employee is already freighted with more than enough responsibilities or is hoping to be just "left alone" to do his or her job).

A key distinction that makes employee involvement attractive is one that emphasizes "offered involvement", rather than "required involvement". Employers must exercise great care in their packaging of involvement opportunities, especially in order to minimize the impression of exerted pressure on workers. Requiring involvement can alienate workers just as "the dance police" at parties do, when they pressure couples enjoying a quiet chat to get up and dance just because it is expected.

When considering supporting or increasing employee involvement, it is important to distinguish "responsible involvement" from "responsive involvement": Becoming involved is not synonymous with "accepting responsibility" (or creating it). It could mean only being responsive to a need or situation, without being responsible for it-much as anyone rescuing a lost puppy is being responsive to the puppy and its plight, rather than acknowledging responsibility for having created the plight. Efforts to make employees more involved will seem less threatening if they emphasize employee responsiveness, rather than responsibility.

For example, a company charity drive is likelier to succeed if the employees feel they are choosing to be responsive rather than being pressured to accept responsibility for the well-being of others.

One kind of cleverly conceived involvement is inclusion of employees in the setting of goals, rather than in the allocation of the means to achieve them. This is because goals define tasks and their value far better than choice of means of achieving those goals do. A distinction between "goal involvement" and "means involvement" is closely analogous to the difference between involvement in strategic business or military planning (e.g., the battle planning of a general) and involvement in the logistics and tactics of implementing the "big picture", strategic vision. Allowing pizza parlor employees to design pizzas is far likelier to be experienced by them as involvement than telling them where to deliver them.

"Top-down" vs. "bottom-up" involvement also play an important role in contributions to the success or failure of employee-involvement efforts. Top-down involvement means giving employees enough authority or power to permit them to "call the play", define the tasks or allocate the resources. Bottom-up involvement is more likely to involve little more than minor tweaking of things already decided by those perched at the top of the decision tree.
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