I have been thinking some more about the Government proposal for employees to acquire shares in their employer in exchange for signing away some of their employment rights.

Instinct and experience tell me that shared ownership is generally a good thing, it can strengthen the commitment of employees to the goals of the organisation in which they work and it may lead to participation in decision-making which would also increase the motivation. There are plenty of examples in the UK of shared ownership, but they are based on an employment relationship of trust and participation, not one where the assumption from their use is that employers want an easy way to dispose of employees unfairly.

In principle the Government should be commended for coming up with ideas to help employers, help create jobs and of course improve the economy.  What disappoints us is the serially poor quality of those ideas, from the impractical ‘protected conversations’ to this latest proposal for shares in exchange for lesser employment rights.  How many businesses would benefit from these proposals if they are adopted into legislation?   There seems to be some confusion as to who is being motivated here.  Is it employers to hire new staff and so re-start the economy or is it existing staff to work harder, to the same effect.  The problem seems to be that every measure to encourage employers by new methods of losing staff will weaken the engagement and motivation of the employees (unless you motivate by fear, which is not without its place in employment relations, but is hardly a good starting point).  I am reminded of that old “funny” workplace notice – “Beatings of staff will continue until morale improves”.  I thought it was a joke, not future Government policy.

Another concern is the potential of this proposal to create a two-tiered workforce, employees with shares and fewer rights and employees without shares and more rights.  This is bound to affect certain management decisions – managers may select employees on grounds of ease of dismissal rather than performance and ability.

One of the key principles I recall from my studies of Personnel Management (showing my age!) is that work can be intrinsically motivating and enjoyable in itself “because it provides opportunities for achievement and recognition, or because it is felt to be worthwhile or because people become committed to the goals of the organisation.” (Argyle, 1972).  I noted last week the articles about young graduates pushing themselves forward to get work, doing everything from standing in Broad Street with a placard (which worked, by the way!), to persistently contacting employers and seeking work through internships and apprenticeship schemes.  These graduates do not strike me as people who would want to get a new job and then make life difficult for their employer or not work hard enough to secure their job and progress with their career.

So who will employers apparently want to deny access to basic employment rights?  Where has the cry really come from for a method of telling an employee who is not working hard enough what the employer really thinks of him in a ‘protected conversation’ or to buy-out his right to claim unfair dismissal in exchange for shares.

I suggest the Government takes note of Michael Argyle’s findings, which have stood the test of time – “Various kinds of incentive schemes have been devised to make people work hard, but they do not seem to be very satisfactory unless other forms of motivation are aroused as well.