Employee Participation

Arguably the most important element in building a sustainable compliance culture is active employee participation. As discussed in the previous section, employees tend to place a level of enthusiasm on aspects of work that are consistent with their perception of how important that same aspect is to management. In other words, employees will follow management’s lead, and where corporate policy, management systems and leadership styles promote and enable participation, employees are more inclined to take the initiative to actively get involved. When this type of proactive approach is presented, it creates an environment that can motivate employees to readily embrace management’s position and take ownership of their compliance responsibilities. A requisite component of a company’s strategy for a sustainable environmental compliance program is one that emphasizes employee participation. (Gollan and Xu 2015) propose the concept that employee participation very well could become a necessity for companies striving to create a sustainable organization.

The importance of a situational leadership style that utilizes a range of styles can be highlighted here to emphasize how the various styles promote employee’s participation.

Employee participation is critical to growing and sustaining a proactive compliance culture. An organization that can successfully establish active employee participation places the organization in the position where a proactive compliance culture can become a grassroots effort and evolve into the recognized corporate mindset.

Where Implementation Really Takes Place

Businesses that operate in highly regulated environments are inherently faced with the decision on how to best align business needs with regulatory compliance. Business approaches can range from one that operates with a ‘don’t get caught’ mentality and the assumption of avoidant or confrontational relationships with regulators to one that operates compliantly, has developed a constructive relationship with regulators and successfully meet business objectives. Companies that have established sustainable environmental compliance programs have done so by successfully integrating regulatory compliance into their business practices and operational processes throughout all levels of the organization. Operating successfully in highly regulated environments requires the identification of applicable regulatory requirements, flowing those requirements down to the relevant parts of the organization, integrating applicable requirements into work processes and finally implementing the requirements during the performance of work activities. Consistent implementation of regulatory requirements during the performance of work is fundamental to the success of the overall compliance program. A company can have established processes for identifying and flowing down regulatory requirements, but if these regulations are not adequately implemented, the company is placed in noncompliant situation and vulnerable to regulatory violations and penalties.

Here again is an example of just how crucial of a role employee participation plays in a compliance program. Employees tasked with actually implementing regulatory requirements as part of their work assignments can often carry a significant responsibility for ensuring compliance with the requirements is achieved. The employee’s ability to meet these compliance responsibilities are enhanced within a proactive compliance culture where management solicits employee input regarding their work processes and takes deliberate actions to improve them as needed. Work processes that are performed using clear and unambiguous instructions with well-defined roles and responsibilities tend to consistently produce the intended result or product. Organizational leaders and managers help improve their employees’ ability to meet their responsibilities for regulatory compliance when these types of work controls are made available and supported. These types of resources not only make the employee’s job easier, but also provide for consistent results, which in this case is critical since regulatory compliance can be a significant impact on the company’s bottom line.

Companies that proactively integrate environmental compliance into their organization upfront better position themselves to realize a lower long-term cost of compliance as compared to companies that take more of a reactive approach. The cost to implement a regulatory compliance program is obviously dependent on the size of the company and the complexity of the applicable regulations. However, the cost of noncompliance often involves more than simply the dollar amount of an assessed penalty or fine. Impacts of noncompliance that are often overlooked include:

  • • Corporate liability
  • • Personal liability
  • • Damaged corporate reputation
  • • Legal fees
  • • Reduced business opportunities
  • • Costs for cleaning up releases
  • • Loss of employees

These often unanticipated impacts can equate to significant costs and financial burdens for companies. The potential for a company to be impacted by these costs of noncompliance is greatly reduced with an integrated environmental compliance system that recognizes the importance of implementing and meeting regulatory requirements at the work activity level.

Motivated versus Reluctant Implementation

Another significant factor that influences how well employees perform their jobs is their level of motivation. Employers obviously desire employees who are motivated to perform their duties in a manner that meets or even exceeds the expectations for the job. Compliance managers can often face challenges with employee motivation because it is frequently the case that responsibilities for meeting environmental regulatory requirements are added responsibilities to an employee’s core set of job duties. An employee with regulatory compliance responsibilities who is motivated to perform at a high level and strives to ensure regulatory requirements are adequately addressed is an obvious preference over an employee who is less enthused and reluctantly performs these types of additional job tasks.

Thus far this chapter has included somewhat of a top-down discussion regarding conceptual elements of a strategic compliance strategy that can promote and encourage active employee participation (Figure 4.3). The argument can be made

Elements that promote employee participation

FIGURE 4.3 Elements that promote employee participation.

that there is a strong correlation between employee participation and employee motivation in the workplace. Workplace environments which provide the elements supportive of active employee participation also experience positive levels of employee job satisfaction. Companies where employee participation in work decisions is associated with a significant amount of influence on the work itself experienced relatively consistent and positive outcomes relative to productivity and employee satisfaction (Cotton et al. 1988).

The challenge of motivating employees to consistently perform at high levels can be diminished when employees experience higher levels of job satisfaction. Obviously, rewarding performance also adds to employee satisfaction, but there is a contrary side that must also be considered by managers when considering employee motivation. If the employees who perform their compliance duties reluctantly and at substandard levels are rewarded similarly to the motivated high-performing employees, continuance of the reluctant employees’ substandard performance is enabled. The effects of this type of acknowledgment and reward can foster an environment that leads to decreased employee motivation which when left unabated can also contribute to a decreased desire by employees to actively participate in work processes.

There are various other actions that can influence employee motivation and possibly even enable reluctant behavior toward implementation of regulatory requirements. Oftentimes the actions or attitudes being propagated within the organization are unintentional, but can still result in unfavorable results in regard to promoting motivated implementation. Table 4.1 presents a list of management actions and the potential impacts on employee motivation.


Management Actions and Impacts on Employee Motivation

Management Action



Commitment to compliance

Employees feel supported by management

Perceived lack of support by management

Communicates importance of compliance

Employees feel valued in their role

Employees contribution to mission perceived as less valued

Positive perception of compliance relative to corporate mission

Employees feel they are contributing to success of company

Employees compliance role perceived as barrier to corporate mission

Supports integration of compliance into organizational elements

Employees feel supported by management

Employees feel organizationally isolated

Adequate resources prioritized

Increased employee morale, higher employee retention

High workloads and employee burn-out

Employee participation promoted

Increased job satisfaction, employee ownership in work processes

Autocratic environment. No sense of ownership and lower job satisfaction



Employees feel appreciated and valued

Employees feel unappreciated and that their efforts are unrecognized

The discussion in this section is intended to emphasize the connection between active employee participation and the level of employee motivation when implementing regulatory requirements. Both are essential components in creating a sustainable compliance organization, and compliance managers should exercise vigilance in their methods for fostering participation and motivating employees.

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