Municipality of Oss: innovation in workers participation

 

2014 – In the municipality of Oss about 800 people are employed. They are spread across 3 services: city policies, municipal corporations and public affairs. Each of these services is divided into different departments.

 

Social Innovation
The co-determination of the workers has been placed as low as possible in the organization. Managers and employees work out personnel-related matters as much as possible at the departmental level. If they do not reach an agreement then a topic will be transferred to a contact group (which has a preparatory function & is a point of contact for employees of the specific service). The contact group includes employees of the specific service and members of the works council. If necessary, a topic will be transferred to the works council.

 

Approach
Since there was little interest in the works council and in the subcommittees per service, the works council and the city manager decided to change the workers participation. In order to gain more support for decision making, employees need to be more involved in the well-being of departments. One way to achieve this is by placing workers participation as low as possible in the organization. When this change was announced to the managers of the departments, this led to a lot of questions and doubts. They wondered whether all employees felt equally empowered to express themselves in a departmental meeting and/or speak out against their manager. Also, in the new change, the HR advisor, has to decide positively on an department decision concerning a topic. This led to worries that the HR advisor would have too much influence in decision making. However the city manager insisted on pointing out that the purpose of this change is to enthuse employees to be involved in the well-being of their department by engaging them in decision-making. Meanwhile, four years after the change, the contact groups are still in place and the size of the groups has increased from four to six to around 8 people.

 

Method of working
In every service there is a contact group of around six to eight people. Every contact group consists of two people from the works council and four to six people from the specific service. Anyone can apply to join the contact group, it’s members are in it for an indeterminate amount of time. It functions as a point of contact for employees. The contact group is positioned in between the departmental meeting and the works council. Once every month the contact group gathers to discuss issues related to the works council. Accordingly, these issues can be discussed in the departmental meeting. Even though contact groups have been installed, it is the intention that most issues will be discussed and dealt with in the departmental meetings. The initiative to deal with a certain issue lies in the hands of the employees. For instance if they want to develop themselves through training  then they need to address this with their manager. If an issue doesn’t get solved at the departmental level then the contact groups will deal with it and eventually the works council, if necessary. This implies that decisions are taken on the level of impact. The municipality assembled a list of issues in which the right to inform and advise are divided between the departmental meeting (for instance on which competences a department needs), the contact-group (personnel costs, plan for training) and the works council (strategic personnel management).

 

Results
The amount of employees which are involved in workers participation has doubled thanks to the contact groups. Before the change, 13 employees used to be involved, now it’s around 30. Because employees in the departmental meeting now have an advisory role, the process of decision making has become more transparent.

 

Lessons Learned
Involving employees in decision making is harder than expected. Workers participation is not so much of an issue in all departments. Employees are not interested and/or maybe don’t know about its existence. A possible explanation for the difference in interest could be the level of education of employees. Employees with a higher level could be more aware of what is happening at the municipality and thus might quicker use a contact group. Another explanation is that the difference between the works council and the contact groups is for many unclear. Thus employees don’t know where to go for a specific decision.

 

Themes: Labour relations
Sector: Public sector
Source: Cases