How National Employment Systems Shape Employee Involvement -a Decomposition Analysis of Germany, the UK, and Sweden

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
228 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Stefan Kirchner, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Sven Hauff, University Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
From a cross-national comparative perspective, several empirical studies show that employees’ opportunities for involvement in organizations differ significantly across countries (e.g. Dobbin and Boychuk, 1999; Esser and Olsen, 2012; Holman et al. 2009; Holman, 2013; Olsen et al., 2010; Brewster et al., 2014). An explanation for these differences can be found in national institutional conditions which are assumed to shape organizational practices (e.g. Appelbaum and Batt, 1994; Kern and Schumann, 1984; Maurice et al., 1980; Piore and Sabel, 1985; Sorge and Streeck, 1988; Sorge, 1991; Streeck, 1991). In particular, building on Fligstein and Byrkejflot (1996), Dobbin and Boychuk (1999) argue that specific national employment systems govern how work and employment is organized in a given country. However, to date we do not fully understand how national employment systems shape organizational practices in general, nor how they shape employee involvement in particular (Almond and Gonzalez Menendez, 2014; Delbridge et al., 2011; Wood et al., 2014).

Germany, the UK, and Sweden represent core countries in comparative studies on organizational practices and employee involvement (e.g. Amable, 2003; Croucher et al., 2014; Gallie, 2007; Hall and Soskice, 2001; Lorenz and Valeyre, 2005; Maurice et al., 1980). According to recent empirical studies, opportunities for involvement in the workplace are low in Germany, higher in the UK, and highest in Sweden (Eurofound, 2013: 63; similar findings for autonomy by Esser and Olsen, 2012 and job quality types by Holman, 2013). This is surprising because, based on institutional theory, we would expect an opposite ranking for Germany and the UK. Many assume (Gallie, 2007; Frege and Godard, 2014) that national institutional conditions in Germany foster higher job quality, including higher employee involvement levels.

This article investigates general claims that national institutional conditions shape employee involvement across countries. Using a decomposition analysis, we examine how much key domains of national employment systems contribute to differences in employee involvement in Germany, the UK, and Sweden. Drawing on the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), we reveal a puzzling involvement gap for Germany. Our results show that more than 70% of the cross-national differences are explained by simultaneous differences in key domains of national employment systems, namely the management systems, training and education, and employment conditions. Showing that these domains contribute simultaneously and with different weights to cross-national differences, we conclude that the domains’ contributions reflect the specific logics of the national employment systems investigated.