KU Leuven: Involving Employees Makes Companies Innovate

In order to innovate successfully, companies should involve their employees in that process. An HR policy that focuses on employee involvement therefore also benefits innovation. This is evident from an analysis of European data by researchers at KU Leuven.

Researchers from HIVA-KU Leuven set to work with data for 5609 companies from 28 different countries. They found a link between the presence of technologies, such as advanced robots or big data, and employee engagement: companies that empower their employees and involve them more in the implementation of new technologies innovate more. This relationship applies in every European country, in both large and small companies.

Yennef Vereycken, researcher associated with the Work, Organization and Social Dialogue Research Group at KU Leuven explains: “Take, for example, advanced data analysis for the optimization of processes within a company. It has many advantages for the operation of a company. A company is much more likely to use such an analysis with a high employee participation rate: 25 and 45 percent, respectively, compared to companies with average or low employee engagement. ”

Involvement more important than training
The involvement of employees is situated in various areas. Companies with high employee engagement invest heavily in communication, both top-down and bottom-up. These companies also quickly involve employees when introducing innovations. They participate in questions such as ‘Which innovations do we need?’ or ‘Is this innovation feasible for our company?’ “By involving employees early in the process, an organization prevents problems afterwards,” says Vereycken. “Perhaps a certain technology is not entirely suitable for the company, but a few small adjustments can make all the difference. It is much more efficient to detect and implement these adjustments early in the process. ”

Those who feel involved in the implementation of innovations will get away with them faster and will be less inclined to oppose them.

Yennef Vereycken (HIVA)

In addition, employee engagement promotes the adoption of new technologies. “In the debate about innovation and personnel, the emphasis is often on the training of people as the main focus and potential stumbling block,” says Yennef Vereycken. “However, our analysis shows a much wider relationship with employee participation. Anyone who feels involved in the implementation of innovations will get away with it faster and will be less inclined to oppose it. ”

Belgian companies are not doing very well in that respect. Data from 2019 show that 55 percent of employees in our country are only involved once the new technology has already been implemented. Only 15 percent of employees have a say in the phases that precede this.

The study “Human resource practices accompanying industry 4.0 in European manufacturing industry” has been published in Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management.