Workplace innovation – a way to improve the working conditions

Workplace innovation has been recently defined as social innovation in organizations, as “the implementation of new and combined interventions in the fields of work organization, human resource management and supportive technologies” (Pot, 2011, p. 404). Other authors use relatively synonymous terms, such as organizational innovation (Armbruster et al., 2008; Lam, 2011; Mako, 2013; OECD, 2005) or high performance work practices (HPWPs) (Cox et al., 2012).

Workplace innovation includes aspects regarding work organization (job autonomy, self-managed teams, flexible working, integration of technology etc.), organizational structure and systems (transfer of decision-making to employees, fairness and equality, supporting employee initiative etc.), learning and development (high involvement innovation, staff learning and development, shared knowledge and experience etc.), workplace partnership (social dialogue, representative participation, involvement in change, openness and communication, integrating tacit and strategic knowledge etc.).

Unfortunately, workplace innovation is an underused resource for European private or public enterprises: the data showed that only 47% of European workers are involved in improving work organization or work processes in their department or enterprise, only 47% are consulted before targets for their work are set and of all workers, only 40% can influence the decisions that are important for their work. More, there are great differences between countries in the control that employees can exercise over their work tasks and their participation in organizational decision-making: the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) had the highest levels of involvement, while the Southern countries (Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain) and the East-South countries (Bulgaria and Romania) had particularly low levels (Totterdill et al., 2014).

Field researches conducted by Cox et al. (2012) in 13 European companies showed that employee motivation was improved by the workplace innovations which provided job enrichment, greater responsibilities and autonomy, skill variety and development, enhanced training, increased trust and organizational support,  enhanced job security,  opportunities for suggestions or challenge; but HPWPs that improved autonomy, task variety, flexibility and decision-making authority also increased job strain through increasing work pressure, workloads and work pace, despite efforts made by management to implement health and safety measures.

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