[We’re pleased to welcome authors John W. Budd of the University of Minnesota, Ryan Lamare of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Andrew R. Timming of the University of Western Australia. Dr. Lamare recently published an article in the ILR Review entitled “Learning About Democracy at Work: Cross-National Evidence on the Effects of Employee Participation in Workplace Decision-Making on Political Participation in Civil Society,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Ryan Lamare reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]
Very early observers of modern work were very concerned that what happens at work doesn’t always stay at work. Adam Smith and Karl Marx, for example, feared that mind-numbing factory work would squash workers’ ability and drive to be active, deliberative members of their community. In recent years, the potential linkage between workplace conditions and political participation has been framed in more positive terms, with researchers hypothesizing that employee empowerment and participation creates outward “spillover” effects leading empowered workers to feel more confident in their abilities to participate in political activities. Although prior research had found some evidence supportive of this link, we perceived a need to analyze the issue on a large scale across diverse institutional environments. So we use data on over 14,000 workers from across 27 European countries. We were also motived by the opportunity to use the richness of the data to test for the possibility of reverse causality and for the moderating effects of electoral systems.
Our baseline results are very clear—pooling across all of the countries, there is a strong positive association between workplace participation and political participation, even after controlling for a wide range of worker and organizational characteristics. One key challenge we confronted, however, is how to analyze possible differences in this finding across certain types of countries. In particular, we believed that the outward spillover of employee participation from the workplace to politics might differ across our sample, but it was unclear how we should categorize these differences, such as by individual countries, or by some other framework. One popular option would have been to use a Varieties of Capitalism framework to differentiate capitalist economies and explore how these differences might shape our findings. While we did test this framework, we believe an innovation of our paper is to move beyond the Varieties of Capitalism perspective to instead focus on varieties of electoral systems because the behavior we are analyzing is an element of the political rather than economic arena. Notably, our overall results are not limited to specific electoral systems, but we do find evidence that electoral system heterogeneity moderates some of our results, where the age of a country’s democracy and the number of political parties within the country affects the strength of the connection between workplace participation and political activities.
Looking back on our research, there wasn’t any particular event that motivated this work. With the broad connections to the concerns of Smith, Marx, and others, in some respects this is a very old but underappreciated topic. But a topic that is also particularly timely and important given the current populist trends that have at least some roots in workers’ feelings of disempowerment. Employment relations research analyzes the workplace well-being and dis-empowerment side while political science research analyzes the political participation side. Our research is timely in connecting the two sides.