Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Political Freedom and Employee Positiveness

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A few years ago during a presentation at a conference I was attending, I noticed what I thought was a pattern in a dataset that was being presented on employee engagement scores by country. The countries that seemed to score higher on employee engagement, in general, were democracies or those that did not have despotic rulers or a history of monarchy, though they may have had a history of colonial occupation since thrown off, such as in India. There were of course exceptions, but in general the brief glance at the data I got seemed to imply that vibrant democratic countries were scoring higher on employee engagement. I tucked that thought away for future reference.

Freedom House produces an annual analysis for each independent country in the world scoring them as Free, Partly Free or Not Free. These ratings (scored 1-7) are based upon how the country performs according to these standards taken from Freedom House’s mission statement:

Freedom is possible only in democratic political systems in which the governments are accountable to their own people; the rule of law prevails; and freedoms of expression, association, and belief, as well as respect for the rights of minorities and women, are guaranteed.”

I was pretty happy to come across this group as it provided an independent and standardized rating by country, regarding the state of freedom in each. In 2006 I did an analysis of fifty-one countries regarding the degree of positiveness of employees in each country, based upon how they responded to employee surveys that their respective employers asked them to complete. That dataset included about 29 million survey items across the countries, and a country positiveness score was produced for each of the 51 countries. So for instance, if a survey had 30 questions and 1000 employees completed that survey that produced 30,000 survey item responses. Rather than looking at a specific index what I was able to do is take a step back and look overall, at the gestalt of where the more favorable responses were coming from and where the least favorable responses were coming from. This avoided item mapping across a large number of different projects with items that really did not match up very well. Since most of the projects were multi-national I was getting a good cross section of differences by country within each survey questionnaire.

With the new data from Freedom House in hand, and the tucked away thought from the presentation at the conference I attended, I wanted to revisit that dataset and see if there was a relationship between employee positiveness and how a country was rated in terms of freedom. My hypothesis was that employees, who felt they had a voice in society and were living in countries rated as more free, would respond more positively when they were given a voice in their respective organizations by being asked to complete an employee survey.

I eagerly loaded the data from Freedom House and was pretty dismayed by the correlations. They were very low and really no relationship was found to support the hypothesis. Then I looked at the data a little closer and found that the reason for no relationship being found was a classic case of range restriction. In this case, perhaps not surprisingly, countries with despotic rulers, to the extreme right or extreme left, were simply not very likely to be places where employee surveys were carried out. So most of the data came from countries identified as being Free as you can see in the table below.

2006 Country Scores Freedom House 2006 n Freedom House % Employee Survey 2006 n Employee Survey %
Free 89 46% 39 76%
Partly Free 55 29% 8 16%
Not Free 40 25% 4 8%
Total 192 100% 51 100%

Bottom line, I was disappointed not to have enough data to test out my hypothesis, but perhaps enlightened a bit by confirming the notion that in places where people are Not Free, where attempts are made to suppress freedom of expression, that attitudes of people, including employees at work are not collected. Employee surveys in countries identified as Not Free or Partly Free are not done at nearly the same rate as in countries that are identified as Free. I can’t help but wonder if more participative companies are more likely to carry out employee surveys than those that are run in a more autocratic fashion paralleling the findings at a country level.

There is a complexity in the data that needs to be mentioned and that is that most of the organizations collecting employee survey data who are in the dataset are western multinationals, either American or European, who may simply not be doing business in the countries that are Not Free and I have no ability to test for that.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm

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