The partnership experiment: changing employee relations in the National Health Service : examining the viability of partnership between management, trade unions and the workforce
SubjectsL431 Health Policy
National Health Service
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AbstractPartnership has enjoyed fresh attention since the 1990s and consequently is a growing yet increasingly fragmented area of research. With the incoming Labour Government in 1997, policy has aimed to replace conflict with co-operation in employee relations. Partnership is an approach to managing the employment relationship based on the search for common ground between management, employees and their representatives and involves the development of long-term relationships built on high levels of trust and respect. Approaches to, and models of, partnership are still at a formative stage with no consensus on how partnership develops effectively. Despite the recognition that to understand partnership fully the study of the processes involved is necessary, little is known about these processes involved. Furthermore, the current body of literature on partnership in a UK context is limited in terms of its theoretical basis. The research set out to identify through which theoretical mechanisms partnership works. Informed by social exchange theory, the study examines the viability of partnership within the NHS and attempts to understand the conditions for its successful development. Two stages of empirical research using a mainly qualitative design were conducted. The first stage of fieldwork involved a preliminary investigation of the introduction of partnership in the National Health Service. The aim of this stage was to trace the introduction of partnership and to understand its antecedents and what had set out to achieve using data from eleven in depth interviews with key players at national, regional and local levels throughout the service. Stage two followed a case study approach and investigated the development of partnership in four NHS Acute Trusts. This stage involved a range of techniques (i.e. semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and documentation) examining the views of fifty five respondents from management and trade union representatives across the four Trusts and used data from 543 questionnaires to investigate employee's experiences of partnership. The study contributes to the partnership literature on the developmental processes of partnerships by utilising social exchange theory to better understand the viability of partnership. In particular, examining partnership from a social exchange perspective enabled a deeper understanding of the decision processes involved when deciding whether to co-operate. The study demonstrates that the theory (and its related concepts) can be helpful in examining the viability of partnership in understanding the mechanisms that lead to its successful development and the maintenance of the relationship over time. In assessing the viability of partnership, the thesis identifies the conditions under which partnership produces its effects and demonstrates how these differed in terms of changes in both the climate and the behaviour and attitudes of participants. In sum, the idea of social exchange would seem to provide an underpinning rationale for partnership. Some support for a new and expanding role for the trade union involving jOint work in developing policies was found. Trade unions appear to have a legitimate role in the relationship which is on the whole accepted by key management and trade union players. However, the union role has a low profile amongst managers and employees and trade unions lacked the organisation needed for partnership to be effective. Moreover, if trade unions are going to reap the potential rewards of partnership there should be a continuing effort to address the problems of capacity and capability (by increasing the numbers and capability of union representatives) in order to raise the profile and acceptance of the union among management and employees. In addition, there is a requirement for adequate training and support to ensure that these representatives have the attitude, skills and confidence to become effective representatives of the workforce.
CitationKinge, Josie (2008) 'The partnership experiment: changing employee relations in the National Health Service : examining the viability of partnership between management, trade unions and the workforce' PhD Thesis. University of Bedfordshire.
PublisherUniversity of Bedfordshire
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Bedfordshire.
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