The world of work has significantly changed over the last 20 years with rapid technological development and globalisation. While change may be unavoidable, its direction and the way it is brought about are not. There is mounting evidence of ill health among workers affected by change, so it is vital that unions can influence it. Change cuts across traditional boundaries between “health and safety” and “industrial relations”, so it is important for Prospect to work together.
- What is organisational change?
- examples of change
- the impact of change
- what your employer must do
- what you can do
What is organisational change?
In the broadest sense, organisational change is about reshaping businesses, for instance through restructuring, relocation and “downsizing”. These typically involve redundancy, job reapplication and outsourcing, prompting a growing perception of greater job insecurity.
Organisational change should be considered within the broader context of globalisation and, closer to home, in terms of what it means to us as UK workers and trade unionists: its impact on our jobs, our dignity, our health and our cohesion.
The global market has created a culture of intense competition, with organisations changing their structures and their practices in an effort to keep up. Deregulation has enabled a rapid increase in mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, often involving foreign corporations with their own brand of industrial relations.
In both the private and public sectors, organisations have flattened, reducing their hierarchies by replacing supervisory roles with information technology.
In the UK, new work arrangements and employment practices include:
- non-standard forms of contract, such as temporary, short-term and on-call contracts;
- employers demanding greater flexibility in working practices, such as remote or home-based work made possible by ICT
- employers creating ways of extracting more effort and higher performance, for example performance-related pay and bonus initiatives. So too are some of the team-based forms of work organisation, such as self-managed teams, where control and decision-making are devolved. This has not been matched by training and development. The skills shortage remains high on the political agenda;
- a growth in alternative forms of employee engagement, exploiting the new communication techniques and individual bargaining arrangements for pay and conditions.
- Restructuring, such as changes to key personnel, roles and responsibilities and the structure of teams or departments.
- Downsizing, which may be accompanied by outsourcing, multi-skilling or flexible working, de-layering (reducing a hierarchy) or increased automation.
- Changing administrative arrangements, such as working hours, methods of training and relocation.
The impact of change
For most people, the notion of lifetime job security has long gone. Many employees now on new forms of employment contract, having been subject to privatisation or outsourcing. These include individual contracts, replacing collective with personal bargaining.
Work intensification arises when job losses and automation mean increasing workloads and added pressures for the staff who remain. Any 'survivor' knows, it's not just the changes in staffing levels, it's also the loss of expertise, experience and corporate memory, not to mention the departure of our colleagues and friends. For many, working excessive hours has become the norm, typically without compensation (time-off in lieu or overtime) and social support.
Monitoring and surveillance
More than half of British employees report that a computerised system logs or records their work. Nearly a quarter say this information is used to check their performance. Again, the tendency is to work excessive hours. But another impact is on worker autonomy as employees feel increasingly 'controlled' by their employer.
'Flexible' work practices and patterns
Technology has enabled employers to introduce greater “flexibility” in working practices, such as remote or home-based work. However, for many employees this has meant working in greater isolation with little management consideration of the impact of lone working.
Unions regard flexibility as referring to working hours that can be freely chosen. This is positive for employees who have a say, within boundaries, over their working hours as it enables them to reconcile work and non-work activities. Irregular or variable working patterns are mostly negative for people's wellbeing, especially if employee autonomy is low.
Change can spill over into private life with the potential for work-life conflict and adverse effects on wellbeing. There are also factors such as increased drinking or smoking during periods of stress that result in a higher risk of illness.
What your employer must do
UK health and safety law places duties on employers and workers to promote and ensure health, safety and wellbeing at work. Most of the responsibility lies with the employer but employees also have responsibilities. The law expects people creating and working with danger to cooperate and collaborate to manage risk.
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires Employers to protect the health and safety of their staff and other people, such as contractors, customers and members of the public, who may be affected by their work.
The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations are intended to enable workers to participate in employers’ promotion of health and safety. It spells out employer duties to provide information and to consult; and empowers recognised trade union “safety reps” to access to information and contact with the employer so they may cooperate.
Employers must disclose information if it will have an effect on workers’ health or safety – including plans for change, such as new technologies or ways of working – so that the workforce can have a say in shaping that change.
Your employer must consult in good time. Good time is not defined. However, it means allowing time before decisions are made for reps to receive, digest and understand the proposals, explain and consider them with their constituents and get back to their employer with an informed response.
A good employer will take note and discuss their response, so that health and safety risk control measures are jointly developed and agreed. After all, they are then far more likely to be adopted and followed.
It is worth making sure your employer knows their consultation duties. Ignorance is no excuse and may undermine the health and safety of you and your members and the proactivity of the Union.
What you can do
- Find out whether your employer has a change management policy. If not ask for one to be developed and put in place.
- Health and safety reps can use their rights to be consulted under Regulation 4A of the SRSC Regulations.
- Ensure your employer brings primary preventive measures to stress management and uses the stress competency framework in line management training. This should ensure a stress risk assessment approach is used and understood.
- Gather evidence. Find out company records on:
- working hours;
- staff turnover;
- staff attendance;
- accidents and ill health; and
- staff surveys.