Work organisation and innovation in Ireland, Dublin

2013 – Innovations in work organisation have the potential to optimise production processes in companies and improve employees’ overall experience of work. This report explores the links between innovations in work organisation – under the broader label of high performance work practices (HPWPs) – and the potential benefits for both employees and organisations. It draws on empirical evidence from three case studies, carried out in the Republic of Ireland, where workplace innovations have resulted in positive outcomes and where social partners played a significant role in their design and development.

The case studies

The case studies were carried out at the following Irish plants of non-Irish multinationals:

  • Kirchhoff, manufacturing automotive components;
  • Medtronic, a medical equipment manufacturer;
  • SAICA a Food packaging manufacturer.

Each case study firm was facing significant performance challenges around quality and price, which provided an important motivator or ‘burning platform’ that inspired change.

The organisations adopted innovations including lean production, teamworking and cellular manufacturing, combined with much greater employee involvement and empowerment to make decisions, with improved communications between managers and staff. Trade unions negotiated initial bargaining positions, and the case sites provided significant volumes of training for all staff.

Impact on employees and organisation

The major effects on employee behaviour were evident in increased suggestions being put forward and implemented as a result of considerable efforts to involve employees in the change process that the innovations entailed and as an outcome of new ways of working. As managers gave more responsibility to employees, employees became more conscientiousness about quality standards and more engaged with fixing problems.

Organisational benefits included  enhanced  productivity through greater efficiency and involvement of staff in ensuring quality standards. Improved productivity and efficiency also contributed to enhanced production capacity.

Role of social dialogue

In all three case studies, trade union representatives played a significant role in facilitating employee acceptance of the innovations and in implementing the changes.  At site level, trade union representatives were critical to obtaining a perceived ‘fair deal’ for employees through negotiating pay deals and changes to terms and conditions

Social partnership approaches adopted in the Irish case sites were based on ‘competitive solidarity’ rather than beliefs about the intrinsic value of improving employees’ working conditions.

Policy pointers

The report gives recommendations for action, such as:

1. The Irish government should continue to promote HPWPs among employers.

2. The Irish government together with her successor in the presidency of the European Union should promote the diffusion of HPWPs across the European Union and to showcase the innovations that have taken place within workplaces in Ireland to inspire employers in other Member States.

3. Employers, employer associations and trade unions have an important role to play in continuing to raise awareness of benefits of work organisation innovations across Irish enterprises, which can provide win–win benefits for employers and workers.

Reference: Eurofound (2013), Work organisation and innovation in Ireland, Dublin.Author: Annette Cox (see attachement)

Themes: Labour relations, Flexible organization, SME, Smart working, Team working

Sector: Manufacturing;  High Tech, Smart Materials (HTSM)

Source: Research report, Cases