Worker voice in corporate governance – How to bring perspectives from the workforce into the boardroom

Our new research shows that the public believes workers should have a greater say in the running of the companies that they work in

New research published by the High Pay Centre, supported by arbdn Financial Fairness Trust, highlights significant gaps between the public’s priorities for businesses and their perception of company priorities. Around 6 in 10 (58%) felt the top priority for businesses should be delivering better pay and conditions for their workers, but only 18% felt this was actually a top priority for business. Instead, the public believe the top priority for companies is generating higher profits for shareholders (54%) but only 10% believe this should be the top priority.

The representative poll of 1,104 people found that 60% believe that lower and middle level employees have too little say in the running of the companies they work for. The public believe workers should have a greater say and this is supported by around 8 in 10 (79%), including 77% of people who voted Conservative at the last general election in 2019.

There was strong public support for trade unions and worker representation on boards. 50% of respondents said unions stimulate the UK economy by helping workers to achieve a better standard of living, compared to 33% who said they make it harder for businesses to function.

Respondents agreed by large majorities that worker representation on boards would benefit pay and conditions of workers (70%); the performance of the UK economy (59%) investment in training and skills (67%); business decision making (53%); and job satisfaction (73%).

This research raises questions around corporate governance and responsible business practice in the UK. Strengthening workers’ voices in the workplace would not only improve working conditions, but would also serve to improve business decisions. Workers have a direct insight into the operations of the business at the ground level, which offers an invaluable perspective for those making financial decisions in the board room.

The UK has one of the lowest levels of worker participation in company decision making in Europe. The High Pay Centre is calling for policy measures including:

  • Increasing the appointment of worker directors.
  • Incorporating ‘worker voice’ into consideration when considering companies’ bids for public contracts.
  • Formal rights for trade unions and employee forums to be consulted on major business practice and strategic issues.
  • Guaranteeing trade unions reasonable access to workplaces, to inform workers about their employment rights and the benefits of union membership.
  • More detailed guidance in the corporate governance code and the wates principles that set out expectations of Britain’s biggest businesses in respect of how they involve their workforce in decision making.