Say UNION to almost any US company and you begin to immediately see sweat appearing on the brows of management. But for Volkswagon of Chattanooga, TN, the idea of a union vote was met with open arms by their German leadership team who is accustomed to works councils in Germany.

So, why did the union strike out at VW in Chattanooga? Because the majority of employees (712-626) feel appreciated and valued by an organizational culture that meets their needs and encourages employee involvement. Employees embraced the idea of working with management to provide a superior product to consumers rather than creating the confrontational relationship that put so many US autoworkers out of work in Detroit and throughout the northeast.

Why Do Employees Seek Union Representation?

Historically, employees seek union representation because of

  1. CHANGE – when leaders make sweeping changes without employee involvement, employees often begin to feel unsettled. This feeling can lead to distrust and discontent by employees. If left to fester, employees will seek a resolution that provides stability and certainty – in other words – a union.
  2. Lack of Communication – while all organizations have a grapevine, employees prefer information to come directly from their leaders. They want transparency and open, honest communication – even on subjects that are difficult to hear. In other words – they want mutual TRUST with leaders and to be informed about the vision and direction of the organization.
  3. Unfair treatment by managers – managers who engage in patronage, promote their friends, terminate the employment of people without cause and have poor management skills drive distrust into the organization. And this distrust of management is a leading reason people choose to be unionized.
  4. Unsafe workplace – nothing damages the credibility of an organization more then having a major injury or death. If employees feel management doesn’t care about their well being and are only trying to make as much money as possible; even at their expense, employees will seek union representation.
  5. Poor working conditions – if the workplace is dirty, poorly lit, and simply a nasty place to be, there is a good chance that workers will want to unionize because through the union’s health and safety committees they can lobby for more improvements to the conditions of their work areas as well as the conditions associated with their employment.

While it’s always been sexy to promote on the 6 o’clock news that organizing attempts were for better wages and benefits, the fact is it’s really about the CULTURE! When employees feel victimized or taken advantage of, they seek a way to even the playing field; and one way of doing that is to be represented by a union.

The Organizational Culture Advantage

Before you can evaluate the effectiveness of your culture to create a competitive advantage, you have to understand your employee’s 6 basic needs:

  1. Stability and certainty – employees want to enjoy the comfort of certainty – knowing that if they do a good job there will be other opportunities.
  2. Challenge – employees want to be stimulated by the challenge of their work – they don’t want to be bored.
  3. Recognition – employees want to know their efforts and accomplishments are appreciated.
  4. Belonging – employees want to feel they are part of something bigger than themselves and they want to take pride in that belonging.
  5. Development – employees want to grow and advance, gain new knowledge, skills and abilities.
  6. Contribution – employees want to feel their work has meaning and purpose.

Worried About Meeting Your Employee’s Needs? Test Your Effectiveness:

  • Have I ever seriously breached an employee’s confidence or conducted corrective action counseling in a public forum to make an example of someone?
  • Do I make a habit of playing down my team’s employee relations issues and do I usually look for the easiest (but not necessarily the best) way out of handling an employee’s complaint?
  • Have I clearly communicated to each individual what is expected of them and have I sought their input and advice when making decision affecting them?
  • Do I use pressure tactics, threats or make my employees feel insecure about their jobs to secure high production & productivity rather than using good leadership techniques?
  • Am I fair and consistent in how I apply company guidelines and practices or do I sometimes play favorites and/or cut special “deals”?
  • Is there wage equity within my group and have I been timely and honest with performance feedback?
  • Do I regularly thank my group for the work they do and recognize them for their individual achievements?
  • Am I creating a culture that supports my employees’ needs? If you are, you can create a true competitive advantage.

The UAW’s defeat at Volkswagon last week, for those of us who understand Organizational Culture, wasn’t that stunning because at the end of the day, the majority of employees at VW feel their 6 basic needs are being met by a culture that respects them, involves them and truly values them as their greatest asset. Would your employees feel the same way?

If you have a story about the effects of organizational culture on employees – good or bad – we’d love to hear from you.