For measuring psychosocial work factors for works councils, the authors used the comprehensive and validated German version of COPSOQ. The great advantage of this questionnaire is the identification of different aspects of stress and strain and providing a comprehensive data setting enabling comparison of different professions. Due to the fact that work councils have complex tasks, the authors analysed the responsibilities of this specific profession. According to the assignment of job classifications KdB92 of the German Federal Statistical Office, the participation rights, intermediate functions and partly managerial tasks there are many comparable responsibilities to employees working in administration (leadership roles). Due to the fact that volunteer work councils represent the interests of employees in addition to their daily mostly mentally work, the authors decided to use the profession of employees working in administration in a non-leadership role as a further reference group.
The analysis of psychosocial workload of work councils and reference groups revealed new and interesting information. Due to the outcomes there is a general trend of psychosocial stress and strain among the analysed professions. This is not surprising, as the consequences of this trend is a part of the self-image of "Human being in profession".
A major finding is, by analysing the trend in detail it is to see that work councils proceed similarly to employees working in administration in a leadership role and confirm so the selection of reference professions. The authors confirmed presumed findings by comprehensive outcomes of psychosocial factors at work, for example the significantly higher scores in the study group for “emotional demands”, “work-privacy conflict” or “role conflicts” which are typical for this group as employee representatives and have been demonstrated in many other national and international surveys [3
The second major finding of this research is that this study enables comparison between occupational groups and work councils and furthermore the determination of specific demands and deviations to reference groups. So there is a difference in psychosocial stress and strain within the profession of employees’ representatives. As one outcome, the perception of quality of leadership differs between volunteer and full-time work councils.
Volunteer work councils, being integrated in the workflow as “normal” employees, are organized in the subordination structure and perceive leadership of their disciplinary superiors positively. Full-time work councils form the opposite. They elect the chairman for a certain time and are subordinated on his decisions, but it is to say that there is no comparable setting to normal employees. It seems that the lack of framework of organisation leads to indication of disadvantageous values. Interesting is the outcome of the scales “mobbing” and “social support”. In both scales work councils are significant disadvantageous. Volunteer work councils state exceptional high strain on “mobbing” compared to full-time work councils but indicate to have a relatively positive social relations. This could be explained due to the integration of volunteer work councils into the working process. They are still “one of the employees”, while full-time work councils are not involved in the daily work, explaining the values of “social support”. The time volunteer work councils have to act as employees’ representatives, other workers have to take over their tasks and this leads to negative emotions, explaining the values of “mobbing”.
On a general level, the study also revealed a phenomenon we did not expect, namely the exceptionally high value for “job insecurity” because works councils are subject to the special protection of § 78 WCA (BetrVG), which means that they can only be dismissed by summary termination, § 15 EPA (KSchG). The summary termination must also be approved by the works council or – if the council does not agree - confirmed by the labour court. Due to the fact that the election period is four years, this limited period of protection may lead to a fear of reprisals and loss of employment after membership of the works council expires. Secondly, the work transition from representation back to “normal” work could be perceived as a disadvantage and might be an additional reason. Also workers who are afraid of losing their job might put themselves in a prime position for election.
The study results confirm the often reported high demands on works councils. The changing process of organised decentralisation poses new challenges for works councils in the system of industrial relations. Decentralisation leads to a loss of power for unions, because non-organised decentralisation leads to the use of derogations for a rising number of companies. This means a weakening of the protection through organised collective bargaining and shifts responsibilities from the level of collective bargaining to the level of plant bargaining, meaning to the profession of works councils. This leads to increasing emotional demands, high work-privacy conflicts and role conflicts in this complex, so called “triadic relationship” [3
], p. 25.
The study results reveal positive findings on the scales: influence at work, degree of freedom, social relations, development and commitment. These findings were expected due to the fact that § 80 WCA empowers works council members. They can claim information and in managerial, technical and human resource decisions the management has to consult works councils. So works councils do have a significant influence on work, widespread social relations, are responsible for development and being elected to represent employee interests creates high commitment to the workplace by the necessary high degree of freedom (granted by WCA) to fulfil their tasks.
Strengths and limitations
The major strength of this research is a comprehensive survey addressing the psychosocial workload within the profession of works councils. The extensive theoretical approach and design of this validated and psychometrically tested comprehensive questionnaire was used for the quantitative investigation of the psychosocial work factors in works councils. With more than 300 participants, this database is sufficient for an initial evaluation of their specific working situation. The results enable initial insights into the psychosocial workplace situation of this specific group to identify exact stress and strain factors. Furthermore, the outcome provides a comprehensive data setting for further research.
In line with Theorell et al. [27
], the authors are conscious of limitations and shortcomings of researches performed by self-reported questionnaires. So the use of just a single data source is a general limitation. Furthermore, the collection of personal statements and reports on potential risk factors could lead to a “common method bias”. The cross-linking of different survey approaches and data settings on psychosocial workload would lead to advantages. Kompier calls this a “multi-source” assessment [35
], which has been performed in some studies. So for example researches, matching “subjective” data sources by the use of COPSOQ and “objective” source by medical examination [33
]. However, these multi-source studies require much greater resources and different assessment methods (such as a personal examination performed by a physician).
In the field of psychosocial factors, many aspects can only be assessed by subjective methods, asking the employees directly. We agree with Kompier that works councils are professionals on their job and are aware of the opportunities and threats for this occupation. The question of “objective” and “subjective” measurement is not the main dichotomy or quality criteria in measurement. The main point is whether the reliability, validity and quality of the questionnaire′s design, psychometric testing and adequate statistical analysis of the results are fulfilled.
It has to be said as a proviso that the authors were not able to measure a response rate and that the COPSOQ database is built on collected data from surveys performed by the research institute with other organisations, so participants may not be representative of works councils and the working population in general. Furthermore, the meaning and relationship of the person performing the research to the participants is important. So the rate of participation correlates strongly to both, the level of activation and motivation. As the survey was sent out by the administrative centres of trade union IG Metal to work council committees, this could lead to some bias:
At first, it could be assumed that the administrative centers contacted closer related committees. Due to the fact that there is no necessary relationship between both, only committees’ closer to trade unions could have attended. Being focussed on trade union, this group also could attend more often on training courses. As participation was voluntarily, it could be that primary these work councils attended, who suffer from psychosocial stress and strain. Additionally it is to say that, due to the setting of the survey, a partly selected and small sample is compared to relatively extensive groups. Taking these facts into account and adding the missing response rate, there is no claim for representativeness. But focussing the outcomes of this research and comparing the results to the present knowledge about work councils, their specific role in industrial relations and about their burdens [12
], it is to say that there are matching results regarding general trends and workload.