Funded by: Leverhulme


January 1997 to January 2000


National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR)

PSI researchers:

Background, summary and aims


The Workplace Industrial Relations Survey (WIRS) series has contributed to public discussion on employment relations by providing an extensive and authoritative body of factual information on practice in British workplaces. The Workplace Employee Relations Survey, 1998 represents the fourth survey in the series. On each successive survey at least one volume by the primary research team has been published as well as a plethora of journal articles and research papers by academics in Britain and abroad. The surveys have thus gained an international reputation and formed the model for similar ones in several other countries.

The purpose of this study is to track changes in employee relations over the period of the series using time-series data from all four surveys (1980, 1984, 1990 and 1998). For the 1990s, these data are supplemented by panel data for workplaces interviewed in 1990 and followed up in 1998. Thus, for the 1990s, we are able to establish the contributions of compositional change in the population workplaces and behavioural change within continuing workplaces.

Study Design

The research was carried out through detailed quantitative analysis of the 1998 Workplace Employee Relations Survey and its 1990 predecessor. The WIRS series is the pre-eminent source of large-scale, nationally representative research data on management and employee relations matters in Britain. It features a large statistical sample across all sectors of the economy, with response rates of 80 per cent and face-to-face interviews with managers and employee representatives. The 1998 survey also includes a large and specially designed panel survey of workplaces that were interviewed in 1990. The surveys contain the most detailed information available for quantitative analysis of the ways in which employers take decisions about the distribution of jobs and their terms and conditions.

The research combines detailed tabular analysis of the WIRS datasets with multivariate statistical analysis of the main variables of interest. The authors draw implications for policy and practice for government, employers, employees and their representatives.