/epale/en/file/organisation-workOrganisation of work
What is organisation of work and how can it help the process of workplace learning? Ulrik Brandi from the Danish School of Education at Aarhus University and Rosa Lisa Iannone from the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance at the University of Luxembourg shared their thoughts.
Workplace learning through the organisation of work
Researchers and practitioners in workplace learning and training have long argued about the significance of learning in developing enterprises. Unstable environments make learning the business imperative, leading us to take note of the strategies adopted by enterprises to support workplace learning. In this blog post our focus is on workplace learning strategies for competence development and how these can be realised in practice through the organisation of work.
The organisation of work (or work design) is an often omitted – but still highly important – aspect of learning in the workplace. It encompasses the setups, channels and strategies adopted to internally support production, communication, and general performance of the enterprise. When analysing these features, we can identify the coordinated efforts of work that lay the foundation of providing employees with opportunities to develop coherent and informal competences.
The constitution of a productive workplace learning environment
Our message is that lifelong learning environments and work organisation bolster rich and complex work as well as employee-driven and team-driven learning initiatives. The organisation of work directly contributes to employee wellbeing and overall workplace learning performance in the following ways:
- The systematisation of certain aspects of human resources (HR) through HR leadership helps strengthen learning in the workplace. This is especially effective if the systematisation is simple and straightforward, and it emphasises action learning and reflective learning processes, such as performance appraisals and goal-setting.
- Hierarchy and deep distinctions in employee status prevent employees from taking full advantage of the opportunities to develop competences; so too much systematisation may not be ideal.
- Ad-hoc arrangements allow for a greater sense of ownership and belonging, and an easier match between (individual/project/organisational) learning needs and on-demand learning solutions.
- How challenging one’s work is – routine vs. non-routine – plays an important role in the provision and taking of learning opportunities.
- Granting employees decision-making power over their work design, supported by leaderships, positively influences learning in the workplace.
Thus, workplace learning through the organisation of work means striking a balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches to communication, participation and innovation. High-performing workplace learning systems are characterised by teamwork, employee agency and autonomy over one’s own work, coupled with the promotion of non-routine work wherever possible. It increases enterprise flexibility and adaptability, and improves responsiveness to change.
What can be done?
So, what can be done to bolster our knowledge and practice when it comes to workplace learning through the organisation of work? We suggest the following:
- Disseminate relevant best practices, for instance through public-private platforms, such as communities of practice, networks and knowledge hubs (EPALE is a good example).
- Promote policies that strengthen HR leadership, particularly for traditional (e.g. benefits and services) and transformational (e.g. strategic planning and knowledge management) HR practices. This will translate into streamlining administrative HR-related activities, boosting efficiency and giving more room to HR practices that promote creativity, new business partnerships, learning across teams, project work and employee-driven initiatives.
- Diminish bureaucracy. Policymakers have an especially crucial role to play in diminishing bureaucracy by, for example, using online systems for knowledge-sharing that can also lead to cross-analyses internationally and within industries.
- Conduct more research on and dissemination of learning strategies that overcome hierarchy, bureaucracy and status distinction at work. Although these features are very much rooted in culture and industry tradition, empirical studies highlight these as overall negative motivators.
Initiate empirical studies that trace the lineage of work organisation so that historical, socio-cultural and other learning conditions can be taken into account towards the optimisation of today’s workplace learning arrangements.