Does A Union Presence Affect Employee Engagement?

Companies - both union and union-free - have posed the question, "does a union presence affect employee engagement?" The answer is complex, and not based on any one individual metric. Instead, a variety of factors affect levels of engagement, and of those, union representation can play a role. Generally speaking, union members may remain with an organization longer than their non-union peers, but are less likely to recommend their place of employment to others as "a good place to work" than union-free employees. To make matters worse, research does suggest that unionized employees are less engaged than non-unionized ones.

Employee engagement can be defined as the emotional commitment that employees have towards the organization they work in and its vision for the future. From an employer's perspective, it is using new measures and initiatives to increase this commitment, thereby ensuring productivity and business success. According to the latest Gallup State of the Global Workplace report, only 15 percent of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs.

Engagement affects employees' perception of compensation. According to Gallup, 29% of union workers and 25% of non-union workers strongly agreed that they are paid appropriately for the work they do, compared to 48% of engaged employees, regardless of union membership.

In a unionized environment, if union representatives perceive the company's employee engagement initiatives and subsequent actions as threatening to their influence, they are less likely to provide unbiased responses. Unions have been know to work to  prevent members from participating in any engagement initiative.

There are three types of employees in any organization: engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged.

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Engaged Employees

Engaged employees are faithful and emotionally invested in the company's goals. They don't work just for the money or next promotion, but for the overall betterment of the organization and it's customers. They often emerge as managers and leaders.

Employees Who Are Not Engaged

Those who aren't engaged (67 percent of the workforce) are tough to identify, as they are usually happy and content in their role. However, they do only what they have been told to do and are not committed to the forward progress of the organization. They can be either a threat or a great opportunity -- because they can change into disengaged or engaged employees, according to their experiences. Many factors can influence an employee's engagement at work, however, most often, low employee commitment stems from discord between employer and employee, manager and worker, and leader and team, meaning a company that actively works to engage workers will fare better with these team members, be they union or union-free.

Actively Disengaged Employees

Around 18 percent of the workforce are actively disengaged employees. These workers complain constantly and create a toxic environment, which affects the morale of others around them. This results in lower employee satisfaction and overall disengagement of the workforce, as well as diminished productivity.

As actively disengaged employees express their dissatisfaction, negative sentiment against the organization may spread. Any opposition from you can be misconstrued as anti-employee action and even make union organizing easy. Before you realize what is happening, there might be union card signing and you will have to deal with union representatives rather than your employees.

Good employee engagement programs focus on a common interest rather than the employer-employee difference prevalent in unionized environments. So, all such initiatives may be met with skepticism and suspicion by unions because they worry that they may become irrelevant if these programs succeed. Many employees understand this; however, since unions were formed originally to protect employee rights, they remain loyal to them.

5 Tips For Creating An Issue-Free Environment

You can enjoy the loyalty of employees and ensure that your company pursues an issue-free environment with a great workplace culture, excellent communication and team cohesiveness by doing the following:

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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