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The Comparative Advantage of Non-Union Voice in Britain, 1980–2004


  • We would like to thank participants at the Academy of Management workplace voice symposium Anaheim, 2008; sponsors of the Workplace Employment Relations Survey (Department for Business, Acas, ESRC and PSI), and the UK Data Archive for access to the WERS data; and the Finnish Work Environment Fund (grant No. 108294).
  • JEL: J24; J51; J52; J53; J63


Non-union direct voice has replaced union representative voice as the primary avenue for employee voice in the British private sector. This study explains this development by providing a framework for examining the relationship between employee voice and workplace outcomes. Voice is associated with lower voluntary turnover, especially in the case of union voice. However, union voice is also associated with greater workplace conflict. We argue changes in voice in Britain are not best understood using a simple union/non-union dichotomy. Union effects on workplace outcomes and the incidence of human resource management hinge on whether it coexists at the workplace with non-union voice in what we term a “dual” system. In the first part of the 21st century, these dual voice systems were performing at least as well as non-union only regimes, suggesting that the rise of non-union regimes is attribu` to something other than clear comparative performance advantages over other forms of voice.

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