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Psychological Safety at Local Union Meetings: A Key to Unlock Meeting Attendance

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We take a psychological view of local union meetings in reference to the problem of chronic low meeting attendance. This view suggests that local meetings are designed to encourage employees to experience safe environments in which they can strive to fulfill psychological needs, examples of which include a need to voice concerns and opinions, a need to participate in decision-making, and a need to be counted as a valued contributor to “our collective effort.” As such, we constructed a model to predict likely meeting attendance informed by literatures on team effectiveness, meeting design, and union participation. Extracting relationships from the cited literature relevant to local meetings, we positioned psychological safety experienced at meetings as a predictor of likely attendance in the next 12 months, with meeting effectiveness as rated by attending employees positioned as a mediator of the relationship. A test of the mediated model based on data collected from employees in 20 unions and 42 locals (N = 132) suggested support for the model, in which the effect of psychological safety on likely attendance was shown to unfold through meeting effectiveness. Future models of local attendance are discussed and an intervention aimed at solving the attendance problem is suggested.
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Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10672-022-09408-3
1 3
Psychological Safety atLocal Union Meetings: AKey
toUnlock Meeting Attendance
StevenMellor1
Accepted: 16 May 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Abstract
We take a psychological view of local union meetings in reference to the problem of
chronic low meeting attendance. This view suggests that local meetings are designed to
encourage employees to experience safe environments in which they can strive to fulfill
psychological needs, examples of which include a need to voice concerns and opinions, a
need to participate in decision-making, and a need to be counted as a valued contributor to
“our collective effort.” As such, we constructed a model to predict likely meeting attend-
ance informed by literatures on team effectiveness, meeting design, and union participa-
tion. Extracting relationships from the cited literature relevant to local meetings, we posi-
tioned psychological safety experienced at meetings as a predictor of likely attendance in
the next 12months, with meeting effectiveness as rated by attending employees positioned
as a mediator of the relationship. A test of the mediated model based on data collected
from employees in 20 unions and 42 locals (N = 132) suggested support for the model, in
which the effect of psychological safety on likely attendance was shown to unfold through
meeting effectiveness. Future models of local attendance are discussed and an intervention
aimed at solving the attendance problem is suggested.
Keywords Psychological safety· Meeting effectiveness· Meeting attendance· Union
employees
The psychological lifeline for American labor union survival is the local union meeting
(see Ezorsky, 2017; Mellor & Holzer, 2018; Stagner, 1981; Tannenbaum & Kahn, 1958,
among many others). Within the context of a union as a voluntary member-driven organi-
zation, local meetings are designed to allow and encourage employees to experience safe
fulfillment of psychological needs, exemplars of which include opportunity to voice con-
cerns and opinions, to participate in decision-making, to seek and receive help from oth-
ers, to provide help to others, to be recognized and accepted as an individual who is “one
of us,” and importantly, to be valued as someone who shares in and contributes to “our
* Steven Mellor
steven.mellor@uconn.edu
1 Department ofPsychological Sciences, University ofConnecticut, 406 Babbidge Road, Storrs,
CT06269-1020, USA
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1 3
collective effort” (Greenhouse, 2019; McAlevey, 2020; Mellor, 2019; Mellor & Holzer,
2018).1 The extent to which local meetings are experienced as safe environments in which
employees can strive to fulfill such needs is an issue that we think bears on and provides
a solution to a problem that threatens union survival: the problem of chronic low meet-
ing attendance (see Monnot etal., 2011; Rosenfeld, 2014; Tetrick etal., 2007; Wiegand &
Bruno, 2018 for like recognition of the issue).
As such, we constructed and tested a prediction model of local union meeting attendance,
a model informed by literatures on team effectiveness featuring psychological safety as a psy-
chological construct, meeting design featuring non-psychological safety constructs, and union
participation in local activities featuring economic-inspired and attitudinal constructs. As a dem-
onstration of the fit of the model, we collected survey data from employees attending local meet-
ings. Consistent with our aim, we used analytic tests to distinguish the model and to suggest an
intervention to address the problem of low meeting attendance. Throughout, we take a decidedly
psychological and mediational point of view, in which, consistent with the cited literature, we
suggest that the relationship between the experience of psychological safety at local meetings
and meeting attendance unfolds through meeting effectiveness as rated by attending employees.
Also throughout, we equate local meetings with meetings in nonunion work environments, in
which, common to both, meetings are attended by employees who meet on a scheduled basis
to coordinate their skills and efforts to effect group outcomes that enhance both self-goals and
organizational-goals (see Mathieu etal., 2018; Salas & Fiore, 2012 for parallel definitions).
Before presenting the literature reviewed to construct our model, we should note that hard
numeric information about local union meeting attendance is hard to come by. Although local
meeting attendance is recorded and archived by unions, the data are considered proprietary (for
understandable reasons). As a numeric illustration of local attendance, we turned to the union par-
ticipation literature. We extracted from the literature American samples of employees eligible to
attend meetings (sample N = 19) and recorded the percent of attendance within various reported
spans of time (commonly, the last 12months). The average attendance of employees across sam-
ples was 26%; the median was 32%. The range of attendance was between 3 and 43%. To cor-
roborate this information, we contacted various union officials via email through posted websites.
Based on a low response rate (15% of 40 sent emails), officials indicated average attendance as
low as 10% and as high as 50%.2
1 These exemplars are among the most frequently discussed needs in the union participation literature
although they are not typically characterized as needs but as “benefits of” or “opportunities afforded by”
union membership (Parks etal., 1995; Tetrick etal., 2007 are two examples). More properly characterized
as psychological needs in the work motivation literature, they are linked to various formal theories of moti-
vation, including expectancy theory (when utilities are properly recast as motive constructs; e.g., Van Eerde
& Thierry, 1996), self-determination theory (see especially competence and relatedness constructs; e.g.,
Deci & Ryan, 2000), prosocial motivation (e.g., Grant & Berry, 2011), collective mindfulness (e.g., Weick
etal., 1999), and internal-instrumental motivation (especially in reference to other-based self-esteem; e.g.,
Schwartz & Wrzesniewski, 2016).
2 A list of studies and samples included in the analysis is available from the author. Conceivably, the sam-
ple N might have been larger had journal authors not treated local meeting attendance as an item embed-
ded in multiple-item measures of union participation, in which unreported item responses were summed to
yield participation scores. Also, Non-American samples were excluded from the analysis in light of credible
discussions on the cultural distinctiveness of American unions (see Mellor, 2019 for an example discus-
sion). As an additional corroboration of the median attendance shown in the analysis, McKay etal. (2020)
reported in the largest type/group of employees at Time 1 that the percent of meeting attendance was 32%.
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Literature
Psychological Safety
As a psychological construct introduced by Edmondson (1999; Edmondson & Lei, 2014)
to predict “team efficacy and performance,” psychological safety is defined as a shared
belief by individual team members that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. The
definition is meant to suggest a sense of confidence experienced by team members that
the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish any member for speaking up. Not intended
as an explicit team goal, this shared belief is thought to emerge from the experience of
interactions among team members—interactions in which members encourage each other
to engage in conversational turn-taking, to speak roughly in the same proportion, to express
and be open to a diversity of ideas and perspectives (even if discussion takes a critical turn
or challenges team norms), to exchange personal information intended to allow others to
know what feelings are in play and what is being left unsaid, and to exercise a form of
social sensitivity, in which attending to and acting upon what others feel—especially in
regard to being upset, distracted, or left out—is regarded as a normal part of team life. It is
from these kinds of interactions that climate properties are thought to emerge such as inter-
personal trust and mutual respect—properties that provide a safe environment for individu-
als to suggest and explore creative solutions aimed at team goals, to share older and newer
knowledge skills (to learn from each other), and all the while to experience, as stated by
Edmondson (2018), “a comfortable sense of being themselves.”
Uncommon but not rare, psychological safety as a construct has made the leap from
the academic world to the world of application and intervention. As indicated in corpo-
rate periodicals and corporate guidebooks (e.g., Understand team effectiveness, 2017; Van
Bavel & Packer, 2021), psychological safety is widely regarded as an indispensable tool to
diagnose poor team performance and to maximize team effectiveness, outcomes of which
are couched in terms of team success.
The origin story for the crossover begins with Google’s “quest to build the perfect team”
(see Duhigg, 2016; Rozovsky, 2015 for full accounts). In-house researchers at Google set
out to determine what factors made for the most effective teams. They collected data from
180 engineering and sales teams to identify skills, personality types, backgrounds, and
demographics for team effectiveness. Looking for patterns in the data, they found none—
or as stated by one of the lead researchers, “The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem
to matter.3 Returning to square-one, these researchers refocused their attention on how
employees interact at team meetings. Based on this tack, they finally discovered what did
matter: Group dynamics were the key to team effectiveness. Importing new psychological
and non-psychological measures to collect data, including Edmondson’s (1999) measure of
psychological safety, they discovered that “far and away” the best predictor of team effec-
tiveness in the data was psychological safety (Rozovsky, 2015).
This “discovery” inverted and extended Google’s approach to identifying and maximiz-
ing team effectiveness. First, rather than focus on effectiveness as a predictor of team suc-
cess, focus shifted to psychological safety, in which effectiveness was thought to follow
3 Predictors not significantly connected with team effectiveness at Google include co-location of team
members (e.g., sitting together in the same office), consensus-driven decision-making, extroversion of team
members, individual performance of team members, workload size, team seniority, team size, and employ-
ment tenure at Google (Rozovsky, 2015).
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safety (i.e., “safety predicts effectiveness”). Second, with effectiveness as an outcome of
safety, team success was thought to follow effectiveness (i.e., “effectiveness predicts suc-
cess”). This prediction sequence became the center of Google’s intervention strategy to
“build more successful teams.” Confirmed by post-intervention data drawn from Google
records, ratings by Google executives, and employee data, linked success included higher
team productivity (e.g., meeting goals on time; less time on tasks), greater team creativ-
ity (e.g., more willingness to consider and incorporate diverse ideas), more stable teams
(fewer absences for any reason; lower rates of leaving Google), and greater team satis-
faction (a variable that was also shown to “radiate” to other satisfaction targets like cus-
tomer satisfaction) (see Understand team effectiveness, 2017 for a more complete account).
Also, suggested by these stated links—and germane to our study—is implied mediation, in
which the effect of safety on success is thought to unfold through effectiveness.
Non‑Psychological Safety
Constructs overlapping with psychological safety (e.g., “interpersonal dynamics”) can be
found in studies framed in reference to “the science of meetings” (Allen etal., 2015; Rogel-
berg, 2019), with ensuing diagnostic tools (e.g., Hoffman, 2018; Rogelberg, 2019). Con-
ducted in nonunion environments, this research is comprehensive and includes many con-
structs that focus on meeting design variables positioned as predictors of meeting success
(e.g., Allen etal., 2018; Cohen etal., 2011; Leach etal., 2009; Rogelberg etal., 2014). A
sample of such predictors linked to success are meeting composition (only critical person-
nel should be included at meetings; no one who need not be included should be invited),
meeting lateness (chronic lateness to meetings should not be tolerated by attendees; meet-
ings should start and end on times announced in advance of a meeting), meeting agenda
(an agenda with stated meeting goals should be distributed to attendees in advance of a
meeting along with necessary tools and materials), leader preparedness (leaders should be
fully prepared to stick to the meeting agenda, instrumentally guiding attendees to stay on
topic), and meeting summary (meetings should end with decision summaries that include
when and by whom follow-up work can be expected). To be noted is that these and other
design variables show direct links with meeting success, criteria of which include “well-
attended meetings.” Our study interest in meeting design predictors of success aligns with
our aim to show the effect of psychological safety as an independent and applicable predic-
tor of meeting attendance.
Union Participation
Union participation research has not been silent on introducing variables to predict local
activity by employees, albeit most studies that include meeting attendance do not per se
indicate predictors of attendance. Rather, in these studies, predictors are reserved for union
participation as a global indicator of activity, in which meeting attendance is one of sev-
eral scored and summed activities (e.g., Hammer & Wazeter, 1993; McShane, 1986; Parks
etal., 1995; Wiegand & Bruno, 2018). Also, in these studies, predictors of participation
rely on economic-inspired constructs of questionable psychological relevance, constructs
such as utility, instrumentality, exchange, and cost–benefit (e.g., Flood, 1993; Klanders-
mans, 1984; Lund & Taylor, 2010; Tetrick etal., 2007). Although these constructs show
links to participation, they present participation as evidence of rational self-interest,
with nary a referent to needs or to fulfillment of needs through interactions among local
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employees (for an exception, see Stagner, 1950). Studies that include attitudinal predictors
of participation operate in kind. Predictors such as prounion beliefs and union commitment
show positive links to participation, but how could they not—only an irrational employee
with strong prounion sentiment or strong commitment would not participate (see Monnot
etal., 2011; Tetrick etal., 2007 for relevant studies). Moreover, predictors from this lit-
erature have yet to inspire interventions with participation in mind; rather, the interest has
been thematically theoretical and explanatory.
However, design variable for “successful meeting attendance” abound in this literature,
especially in older studies that suggest “practical recommendations” based on survey and
interview data collected from eligible employees (e.g., Dean, 1954; Kahn & Tannenbaum,
1954; Miller & Young, 1955; Purcell, 1954; Rose, 1952; Rosen & Rosen, 1955; Sayles &
Strauss, 1953; Stagner, 1956; see also Parker & Gruelle, 1999). Example recommendations
we think are yet viable include efforts to extend invitations to employees to attend meet-
ings, especially invitations extended by a local representative (“the local rep”), to perfect
meeting flyers (perhaps now also emails and text messages) distributed/sent in advance of
a meeting that include the meeting agenda and assurances that workplace issues (e.g., “an
unreasonable job demand”) will take priority over national union issues, to communicate
to employees how many employees attended the last meeting and are expected to attend the
next as a bid to suggest the idea of “missing out,” and, as the sine qua non of recommenda-
tions, to plan and conduct “on the clock” short meetings.
Model andHypothesis
In reference to our psychological view of local union meetings as designed to allow and
encourage employees to experience safe fulfillment of psychological needs (exemplars of
which have been indicated), we think psychological safety at meetings positioned as a pre-
dictor of likely meeting attendance is justified. However, in reference to the cited literature
on team effectiveness, equally justified is the prospect that psychological safety indirectly
effects meeting attendance through meeting effectiveness as rated by attending employees.
This prospect positions meeting effectiveness as a mediator of the effect of psychological
safety on meeting attendance (see the hypothesized model depicted in Fig.1).
The mediated relationship is hypothesized as follows:
Hypothesis: In reference to local union meetings, employees who experience more psy-
chological safety at meetings are more likely to attend meetings in the next 12months.
The path from psychological safety to meeting attendance in the next 12months unfolds
as a sequence with meeting effectiveness as a mediator, such that more psychological
safety is associated with higher rated meeting effectiveness, which in turn is associated
with more likely to attend.
Local Union
Meeting
Attendance
[Next 12 months]
Psychological
Safety at Local
Union Meetings
Local Union
Meeting
Effectiveness
Fig. 1 Hypothesized model
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Method
Procedure
Beginning in June 2021 and ending in December 2021, survey data were collected from
American employees. Survey sites included public transportation areas, licensed bingo
halls, farmers’ markets, and union- and civic-sponsored community events.4
With permission obtained at each site, the researchers circulated flyers with the follow-
ing information:
Can you volunteer to take this survey? You can if you are employed in the United
States and not a full-time student. The survey is anonymous—no names. The survey
takes less than 10 minutes to complete. The survey cannot be mailed. $5 is given for
taking the survey. Please ask the researcher for a survey.
Employees who responded to the flyer were given an information sheet, a survey, a pen-
cil, and an unmarked envelope. The researchers collected sealed envelopes, paid partici-
pants, and conducted onsite debriefing.
Sampling
To ensure that sampling resulted in data appropriate to test the hypothesized mediation, the sur-
vey was embedded with eligibility items. We excluded surveys in which responses suggested:
(a) noncurrent union membership and (b) nonattendance of at least one regular scheduled local
meeting in the last 12months. An additional check for careless responses resulted in excluded
surveys if responses indicated the same scale anchor for long strings of consecutive items.
From a pool of 302 returned surveys with no missing data, 132 surveys were counted
as eligible. Eligible surveys included employees from six U.S. States (Connecticut, Mas-
sachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island) and the District of Colum-
bia. Surveys included employees with memberships in 20 unions and 42 locals affiliated
with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-
CIO; e.g., American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME),
American Federation of Teachers (AFT), International Association of Bridge, Structural,
Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers (IW), International Brotherhood of Electri-
cal Workers (IBEW), International Brotherhood of Teamsters(IBT), International Long-
shore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE),
National Education Association (NEA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU),
and United Auto Workers (UAW)).
Measures
Demographics Assessed demographics included age (indicated in years), gender (coded
as either man (0) or woman (1)); ethnic group (coded as either non-ethnic (0, White,
4 Survey sites were selected to include employees who worked in urban and non-urban settings, as well
as employees who worked as professionals and non-professionals. Surveying in public transportation areas
(e.g., truck stops) was intended to include employees who worked in a variety of U.S. States. At every site,
field researchers in teams of two conducted surveying, with one researcher submitting field notes detailing
respondent and setting characteristics.
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European American) or ethnic (1, African American, Asian, Pacific Islander American,
Latinx American, Middle Eastern, Arabian American)); English as a second language
(coded as either English as a first language (0) or English as a second language (1)); soci-
oeconomic status, in reference to “education level (highest degree), contribution to fam-
ily income, and occupational job status” (response options: lower class (1), lower middle
class (2), middle class (3), upper middle class (4), upper class (5)); and employment status
(coded as either part-time (0, less than 35h a week) or full-time (1, 35h or more a week)).
Ninety-five percent of employees were age 25years or older (the median age was 47;
the range in years was 21 to 75). Fifty-one percent were men employees. Seventeen percent
identified themselves as ethnic. Five percent identified English as a second language. Sixty
percent identified themselves as middle class or lower (the median class was middle class;
no one identified themselves as upper class). Eighty-one percent were full-time employees.
Assessed demographics specific to local unions included length of local membership (indicated in
years); local officer status (response options: member only (0) or officer (1)); local meeting size (response
options: less than 25 members (1), somewhere between 25 and 50 members (2), somewhere between 50
and 100 members (3), over 100 members (4)); and local meeting attendance in the last 12months (calcu-
lated as the percent of regular scheduled meetings attended either in-person or online).5
The average length of membership was 11.60 years (the median length was 7 years; the
range in years was 1 to 46). Twenty percent identified themselves as officers. The median meet-
ing size was somewhere between 25 and 50 members. The average meeting attendance in the
last 12months was 42% (the median attendance was 47%; the range was 13% to 100%).
To estimate the representativeness of the sample with respect to the 2021 population of Ameri-
can union employees, the 2022 January issue of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was
consulted (Union Affiliation, 2022). In doing so, we compared the percentages in the sample for
age group, gender, ethnic group, and employment status with reported national percentages. The
results indicated that employees 25years or older and women employees were oversampled by 3%
or less, + 0.0015, + 0.0288, respectively. The results also indicated that ethnic employees and full-
time employees were undersampled by 9% or less, -0.0641, -0.0921, respectively.
Psychological Safety at Meetings To assess psychological safety at local meetings, we asked
employees to respond to 7 items adapted from versions of the Psychological Safety Scale devel-
oped by Edmondson and her colleagues (Edmondson, 1999; Gavin etal., 2008; Nembhard
& Edmondson, 2006; Tucker etal., 2007; see also Parker & Gruelle, 1999 for related items).
The items focus on the experience of employees at meetings (in-person or online) in the last
12months exempting non-psychological safety (see the Appendix for a list of items).
The items were prefaced with the statement:
“We are interested in a frank and accurate description of how your local meet-
ings were run based on your experiencenot hearsay from others—strictly and
exclusively based on your experience.”
The statement was followed with a response instruction (“Check () one blank”) and an
item stem:
5 It is important to underline that meeting attendance data are specific to regular scheduled local meetings
as distinct from nonregular crisis meetings held in response to an actual or anticipated threat to a union
(e.g., calling for a strike vote, a yes–no vote on negotiable vs. nonnegotiable collective bargaining propos-
als, a straw vote on contract ratification). Crisis meetings are typically better attended due to concerns about
fulfillment of economic needs, concerns that represent bread-and-butter issues for members, and with the
added note that meeting agenda are typically focused on the “crisis” at hand.
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In reference to local meetings I have attended in the last 12 months, the follow-
ing describe what I experienced at these meetings . . .”
An example item is:
“. . . meetings wherein members were at no risk of embarrassing themselves even
when they couldn’t always express themselves clearly.”
Response options were “yes” or “no”.
A principal components analysis was performed on the psychological safety items. The
analysis produced one eigenvalue greater than 1.00, eigenvalue = 4.748, percent of variance
explained = 67.831, item loadings ≥ 0.559. The Cronbach’s α for the items was 0.92.
As a result of these analyses, responses were averaged, yielding continuous psychologi-
cal safety scale scores from 0 (experienced less) to 1.00 (experienced more).
Non‑Psychological Safety at Meetings To assess non-psychological safety at local meet-
ings, we asked employees to respond to 5 items adapted from union and nonunion design
meeting scales, taxonomies, and commentaries (Hoffman, 2018; Lund & Taylor, 2010;
Miller & Young, 1955; Parker & Gruelle, 1999; Rogelberg, 2019; Rose, 1952; Twarog,
2007). The items focus on the experience of employees at meetings (in-person or online)
in the last 12months exempting psychological safety (see the Appendixfor a list of items).
The items were interspersed randomly with the psychological safety items, following
the same preface statement, response instruction, and item stem.
An example item is:
... meetings wherein members did their best to begin and end meetings on time (as scheduled).
Response options were “yes” or “no”.
A principal components analysis was performed on the non-psychological safety
items. The analysis produced one eigenvalue greater than 1.00, eigenvalue = 2.573, per-
cent of variance explained = 52.454, item loadings 0.482. The Cronbach’s α for the
items was 0.72.
As a result of these analyses, responses were averaged, yielding continuous non-psycho-
logical safety scale scores from 0 (experienced less) to 1.00 (experienced more).
Meeting Effectiveness To assess local meeting effectiveness, we asked employees to
respond to 2 items adapted from Hammer and Wazeter’s (1993) Global Scale of Local
Union Effectiveness. The items focus on the experience of employees at meetings (in-per-
son or online) in the last 12months (see the Appendix for a list of items).
Prefaced with a response instruction (“Circle one number”), the items followed the psy-
chological safety and non-psychological safety items.
An example item is:
“Based on how your local meetings were run, how effective do you think they were
in doing the business your local needed to do?”
Responses were based on Likert scaling with 1 to 7 anchors (Not very effective to Very effective).
A principal components analysis was performed on the meeting effectiveness items. The
analysis produced one eigenvalue greater than 1.00, eigenvalue = 1.918, percent of variance
explained = 95.914, item loading = 0.979. The Cronbach’s α for the items was 0.96.
As a result of these analyses, responses were averaged, yielding continuous meeting
effectiveness scale scores from 1 (lower effectiveness) to 7 (higher effectiveness).
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Meeting Attendance in the Next 12Months To assess local meeting attendance in the
next 12months, we asked employees to respond to an item to indicate how likely they were
to attend regular scheduled meetings (see Flood, 1993; Kahn & Tannenbaum, 1954; Lund
& Taylor, 2010; McShane, 1986; for similar one-item measures in reference to 12months).
The item followed the meeting effectiveness items:
“Based on how your local meetings were run, how likely are you to attend meetings
in the next 12 months?”
Responses were based on Likert scaling with 1 to 7 anchors (Not very likely to Very likely),
yielding continuous meeting attendance in the next 12months item scores from 1 (less likely)
to 7 (more likely).
Controls
To control for sample-specific statistical associations between the demographics and psy-
chological safety at meetings, psychological safety scale scores were regressed onto the
demographics, and in the same analysis, onto non-psychological safety scale scores. From
this analysis, the unstandardized residual psychological safety scores were used to repre-
sent psychological safety (the predictor variable, x) in model tests.
In the same vein, significant zero-order correlations between the demographics and meeting
effectiveness, and between meeting attendance in the next 12months, were used to select covariates
(see Sauer etal., 2013 for an overview of covariate selection). As such, meeting effectiveness scores
were regressed onto gender, officer status, and meeting attendance in the last 12months. In a sepa-
rate analysis, meeting attendance in the next 12months scores were regressed onto gender, mem-
bership years, officer status, and meeting attendance in the last 12months. From these analyses, the
unstandardized residual scores for meeting effectiveness (the mediator variable, m) and for meeting
attendance in the next 12months (the outcome variable, y) were used in model tests (see the tested
model depicted in Fig.2, with covariates listed in grayscale).
Results
Raw score zero-order correlations, means (Ms), and standard deviations (SDs) for all study
variables are presented in Table1.
Descriptive Tests
To discern significant mean differences in demographics in relation to model variables, we per-
formed t-tests, using median splits for non-dichotomous variables to construct demographic sub-
groups. On average, women employees (vs. men employees) were less likely to experience psy-
chological safety at meetings, a difference also seen for employees in which English is a second
language (vs. employees in which English is a first language), ts(130) ≤ -2.733, ps < 0.01. In con-
trast, on average, local officers (vs. member only) were more likely to experience psychological
safety at meetings, a difference also seen for employees who attended a higher percent of meetings
in the last 12months (vs. employees who attended a lower percent), ts(130) ≥ 2.303, ps < 0.01.
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Also, on average, women employees were less likely to indicate higher meeting effec-
tiveness, t(130) = -2.473, p < 0.01. In contrast, on average, local officers and employees
who attended a higher percent of meetings in the last 12months were more likely to indi-
cate higher meeting effectiveness, ts(130) ≥ 4.059, ps < 0.01.
And, on average, women employees were less likely to attend meetings in the next 12months,
t(130) ≥ -3.627, p < 0.01. In contrast, on average, local officers, employees with more membership
years, and employees who attended a higher percent of meetings in the last 12months were more
likely to attend meetings in the next 12months, ts(130) ≥ 2.319, ps < 0.01.6
Preliminary Tests
The zero-order correlation between psychological safety at meetings and meeting attend-
ance in the next 12months was positive and significant (r = 0.49, p < 0.01), as were cor-
relations between psychological safety and meeting effectiveness (r = 0.49, p < 0.01) and
between meeting effectiveness and meeting attendance in the next 12 months (r = 0.72,
p < 0.01), results that are consistent with the Hypothesis.
Also, as a baseline model check for mediation, residual scores for meeting attendance in
the next 12months were regressed onto residual scores for psychological safety at meetings.7
The unstandardized coefficient was positive and significant, B = 1.330, standardized b = 0.315,
standard error (SE) = 0.352, t = 3.778, p < 0.01, R2 = 0.099; F(1, 130) = 14.276, p < 0.01.
Gender
Membership Years
Officer Status
Meeting Attendance
[Last 12 months]
Local Union
Meeting
Attendance
Likert Scale
Psychological
Safety at Local
Union Meetings
Scale
Local Union
Meeting
Effectiveness
Scale
Age
Gender
Ethnic Group
English as 2ndLanguage
Socioeconomic Status
Employment Status
Membership Years
Officer Status
Meeting Size
Meeting Attendance
[Last 12 months]
Non-Psychological Safety
Meeting Scale
Gender
Officer Status
Meeting Attendance
[Last 12 months]
Fig. 2 Tested model
6 Using a median split for non-psychological safety at meetings, on average, employees who experienced
more non-psychological safety (vs. employees who experienced less non-psychological safety) were less
likely to indicate higher meeting effectiveness, t(130) = -2.724, p < .01, and were less likely to attend meet-
ings in the next 12months, t(130) = -3.103, p < .01.
7 Showing that the predictor variable (x) is significantly related to the outcome variable (y) is a prerequisite
for a statistical inference about mediation (see Mathieu etal., 2008 for a discussion and demonstrations).
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Table 1 Zero-order correlations (rs), means, and standard deviations
Diagonal entries are scale reliabilities (αs). Age: in years; Gender: man = 0, woman = 1; Ethnic group: non-ethnic = 0, ethnic = 1; English [as a] second [language]: no = 0,
yes = 1; Socioeconomic status: lower (lower class) = 1, higher (upper class) = 5; Employment status: part-time = 0, full-time = 1; [local] Membership years: in years; [local]
Officer status: member only = 0, officer = 1; [local] Meeting size: smaller (less than 25) = 1, larger (over 100) = 4; [local meeting] Attendance [in] last 12 mo[nth]s: percent
of regular scheduled meetings attended; Non-psychological safety [at local meetings], Psychological safety [at local meetings]: experienced less = 0; experienced more = 1;
[local] Meeting effectiveness: not very effective = 1, very effective = 7; [local meeting] Attendance [in] next 12 mo[nth]s: not very likely = 1, very likely = 7. *p < .05. **p < .01
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1. Age
2. Gender .23**
3. Ethnic group -.15 -.24**
4. English second -.12 -.03 .35**
5. Socioeconomic status .41** .14 -.16 -.10
6. Employment status -.18* -.38** .11 .03 .02
7. Membership years .58** -.12 -.13 -.09 .16 .16
8. Officer status .07 -.26** -.16 .05 -.02 .05 .25**
9. Meeting size -.03 -.12 -.04 -.15 -.03 -.02 .16 -.07
10. Attendance [last 12 mos.] .10 -.27** .10 -.12 .00 .12 .16 .28** .10
11. Non-psychological safety .03 -.08 -.02 .09 .19* -.10 .01 -.25** .16 -.13 .72
12. Psychological safety -.17* -.32** -.05 -.18* -.06 .04 .07 .27** -.01 .38** -.27** .92
13. Meeting effectiveness -.06 -.25** -.01 -.10 .07 .08 .14 .39** .06 .33** -.11 .49** .96
14. Attendance [next 12 mos.] .04 -.24** .04 -.06 .03 .08 .22* .38** .12 .63** -.14 .49** .72**
M46.77 .49 .17 .05 3.02 .81 11.60 .20 1.80 .42 .80 .58 4.64 5.04
SD 13.77 .50 .37 .23 .70 .39 11.31 .40 .81 .31 .22 .40 1.49 1.80
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Model Tests
To test the hypothesized mediation, we ran a series of customized regression-based anal-
yses derived from PROCESS 4.0 written for SPSS by Hayes (2022). In each regression
model, we used 10,000 bootstrap (Boot) samples to generate Boot 95% confidence intervals
(CIs) for direct and indirect effects.8
Sequential Analysis We first tested a model that estimated the direct paths to and from model
variables in each instance, the two hypothesized direct effects (psychological safety meeting
effectiveness, meeting effectiveness meeting attendance in the next 12months), and the non-
hypothesized direct effect (psychological safety meeting attendance in the next 12months).
This all-inclusive analysis included the hypothesized indirect effect of psychological safety on
meeting attendance in the next 12months through meeting effectiveness (psychological safety
meeting effectiveness meeting attendance in the next 12months).
The results of this analysis are presented in Table2. As shown, the direct effects were
significant (i.e., the CIs did not include zero), with the exception of the path from psy-
chological safety to meeting attendance in the next 12months, direct effect = 0.4170, Boot
SE = 0.2898, Boot CI [-0.1563, 0.9903]. This nonsignificant path indicates that when the
path from psychological safety to meeting effectiveness and the path from meeting effec-
tiveness to meeting attendance in the next 12months are included in the model, the effect
of psychological safety on meeting attendance in the next 12 months is nonsignificant.
Also, as shown, the indirect effect of psychological safety on meeting attendance in the
next 12 months through meeting effectiveness was significant, indirect effect = 0.9126,
Boot SE = 0.2305, Boot CI [0.4866, 1.3906].
Based on the results of this analysis, we tested a model that estimated the hypothesized
direct effects and the hypothesized indirect effect only (i.e., the psychological safety
meeting attendance in the next 12months path was fixed to zero). The results of this fully-
focused analysis (see Table2) indicated that the direct effects were significant, as was the
indirect effect of psychological safety on meeting attendance in the next 12months through
meeting effectiveness, indirect effect = 0.9600, Boot SE = 0.2392, Boot CI [0.5244, 1.4461].
Summary of Model Tests The results of the preliminary analysis and the sequential analyses
provide support for the hypothesized mediation. Consistent with the Hypothesis, employees
who experienced more psychological safety at meetings are more likely to attend meetings
in the next 12months, but the path from psychological safety to meeting attendance unfolds
through meeting effectiveness, such that more psychological safety is associated with higher
indicated meeting effectiveness, which in turn is associated with more likely to attend.
Supplemental Analyses
To illustrate the distinctiveness of the hypothesized sequence, we ran a residual regres-
sion analysis with non-psychological safety scale scores regressed onto demographics plus
8 The logic of a PROCESS analysis is not to be confused with the logic of a Baron-Kenny analysis (see
Hayes, 2022). When PROCESS is used for an inference about mediation, significant indirect effects are
interpreted as showing how covariation unfolds in relation to three or more variables rather than how covar-
iation represents a causal chain.
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psychological safety scale scores. Using these residual scores, we reran the all-inclusive
analysis and the fully-focused analysis with non-psychological safety as the predictor var-
iable (x). The results of these analyses indicated no significant direct or indirect effects
involving non-psychological safety (i.e., the CIs included zero).9
Discussion
Overall Summary
Our view that local union meetings provide employees an opportunity to experience safe envi-
ronments in which they are encouraged to fulfill psychological needs through interactions with
other employees can be suggested as linked to the problem of low meeting attendance. Our
model results are unequivocal. As hypothesized, employees who experienced more psychologi-
cal safety at meetings are more likely to attend meetings in the next 12months, a relationship that
unfolds through meeting effectiveness as rated by employees attending meetings. That the rela-
tionship unfolds through effectiveness should surprise no one, in that effectiveness as a mediator
is implied in the literature on team effectiveness in nonunion environments. Also, in reference to
the confirmed effect, it should be noted that the effect is independent of the experience of non-
psychological safety at meetings, and that the link between non-psychological safety and likely
meeting attendance as mediated by effectiveness is not seen in our data.
Table 2 Regression results: sequential analyses
Psychological safety [at local meetings]; [local] Meeting effectiveness; [local] Meeting attendance [next 12
months]. Standardized indirect effect in the All-Inclusive Analysis, b = .2159; in the Fully-Focused Analysis,
b = .2271
Path BBoot SE Boot 95% CI
All-Inclusive Analysis
Direct effects
Psychological safety Meeting effectiveness 1.4041 .3439 [.7236, 2.0845]
Meeting effectiveness Meeting attendance .6499 .0696 [.5123, .7876]
Psychological safety Meeting attendance .4170 .2898 [-.1563, .9930]
Indirect effect
Psychological safety Meeting effectiveness
Meeting attendance .9126 .2305 [.4866, 1.3906]
Fully-Focused Analysis
Direct effects
Psychological safety Meeting effectiveness 1.4041 .3439 [.7236, 2.0845]
Meeting effectiveness Meeting attendance .6837 .0658 [.5536, .8138]
Indirect effect
Psychological safety Meeting effectiveness
Meeting attendance .9600 .2392 [.5244, 1.4461]
9 To explore the moderating effects of membership years on the hypothesized model paths, we adjusted and
expanded the fully-focused analysis with the psychological safety meeting effectiveness path conditional
on membership years, and in the same analysis, the meeting effectiveness meeting attendance path con-
ditional on membership years. The results of this analysis indicated no significant moderator effects (i.e.,
the CIs included zero).
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Also, that a mediated relationship is shown in relation to psychological safety at meet-
ings but not in relation to non-psychological safety at meetings should surprise no one,
least of all us. First, consider in reference to the link between effectiveness and attendance
how work meetings in nonunion environments differ from local meetings. To wit, at work
meetings, attendance is likely mandatory whether or not meetings are rated as effective by
attendees. Not so with respect to local meetings; they are without exception nonmandatory.
If local meetings are rated as ineffective by attending employees, no one would expect any-
thing but low attendance. This mandatory versus nonmandatory basis of meeting attend-
ance, spliced with the link between effectiveness and attendance, puts the role of meeting
effectiveness in sharp relief. Second, consider the nature of meeting outcomes stemming
from local meetings. A distinctive truism of local meetings is that meeting outcomes are
group outcomes (e.g., approval of a wage adjustment); they apply equally to and benefit
all eligible employees whether or not they attend meetings. This truism begs the question:
Then, why attend? Our answer to this question is rooted in the experience of employees
at local meetings in reference to how they interact. Above and beyond group benefits to
be had, we think individual benefits are to be had—benefits that are associated with ful-
fillment of psychological needs. Our data are clear on this. To the extent that employees
experience psychological safety at meetings conducive to such fulfillment—independent of
non-psychological safety at meetings—more psychological safety is linked to higher rated
effectiveness, and in turn, such rated effectiveness is linked to more likely to attend.
Literature Contributions
Centered on our interest in solving the problem of low local meeting attendance, our study
contributes to the cited literature in several ways. Foremost, our importation and adaptation
of constructs from the cited literature on team and meeting success featuring group dynam-
ics represents a first attempt to bridge literatures in nonunion and union environments. As
seen in our model, we adapted constructs from these literatures to predict likely meeting
attendance. In doing so, we showed the expansiveness of the constructs for prediction of
meeting success in union environments. In particular, psychological safety as a construct is
given a boost by our work in regard to external validity. Without hesitation, we can confi-
dently state that applications of adapted constructs featuring group dynamics are now open
for prediction of meeting success in union environments.
The union participation literature also is a direct beneficiary of our crossover work.
Having taken a decidedly psychological view, we think the participation literature has been
mired in economic-inspired and attitudinal constructs with explanatory merit but bereft
of insight drawn from attention to how employees interact at local meetings—insight that
we think once shown in relation to prediction can be used as an intervention resource to
address and solve the problem of low attendance. Moreover, the inclusion of psychological
safety as a predictor of likely meeting attendance represents an important correction to the
oft cited view of why employees attend (or do not attend). Put in simple terms in reference
to our model results, we doubt that employees attend meetings solely for economic and
attitudinal reasons grounded in rational self-interest. To be included are psychological rea-
sons grounded in fulfillment of psychological needs. In our boldest (and we hope clearest)
statement, we think that psychological safety entered into the prediction equation in regard
to meeting attendance not only addresses an untapped need-based psychological connec-
tion between employees and unions but also provides an additive answer to the question of
“Then, why attend.”
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Study Limitations
Our study is not without caveats and limitations, all of which we think can be addressed
in future studies. As a caveat, our study is intended as a demonstration of how covariation
unfolds in regard to the sequence of variables indicated in our model. It is not intended as
a demonstration of causality. Such a demonstration would, at minimum, require measure-
ment of local meeting attendance at two points in time (e.g., the last 12months and the next
12months; see Mathieu etal., 2008 for example data). Also, as a first attempt to introduce
psychological safety at local meetings as a predictor of likely meeting attendance, we made
no attempt to rule out other predictors. Doing so would be wide of our study aim. But we
do encourage researchers who have interest in making causal claims to collect data using
time-lapsed measurement designs, with only one caveat. Because of the proprietary nature
of local attendance data, we anticipate that these data are hard won (difficult to obtain), a
reality that we think provides perspective on the value of our data.
Mediation can also be misinterpreted as part of a causal chain (see Hayes, 2022 for
a thorough discussion). No such chain is implied by our model tests. We openly invite
researchers to expand our model in future studies in reference to both predictors and medi-
ators. Based on the idea that there is no “true predictor” or “true mediator” in regard to
variation in local meeting attendance, we view psychological safety at meetings as joining
a set of known predictors linked to participation such as instrumentality and union com-
mitment. As for mediators, easily envisioned are multiple intervening variables such as
emotional investment in the union movement and sense of civic duty applied to unions
(see Rose, 1952; Tetrick etal., 2007 for discussions). Moderators of the shown mediation
are especially welcomed in future studies. As seen in our data, women employees are less
likely to experience psychological safety at meetings and are more likely to rate meeting
effectiveness lower. Also evident in our data, employees in which English is a second lan-
guage are less likely to experience psychological safety at meetings. We think both of these
demographics represent important markers of conditional differences to be explored in
future studies.
Also, in reference to our sample size, and based on our broad but limited sampling of
any one union, the generality of our model results requires replication with larger samples
and, under ideal conditions, data collection that represents an entire union. In this vein,
a suggested side benefit of our results is their use as a means to justify a request for col-
laborative research directed at a union, in which researchers and local reps work together to
collect anonymous in-house local attendance data in pursuit of a common goal: to forge a
solution to the problem of low meeting attendance.
Suggested Intervention
As indicated, interventions featuring psychological safety or attention to interpersonal
dynamics abound in nonunion environments, in which targeted are work teams with
enhanced meeting success in mind. These interventions include standard assessment tools
showing how assessment is delivered to attendees, how feedback is gathered from attend-
ees, and how implementation is driven through involvement by attendees. Moreover, the nuts
and bolts of these interventions are available in the public domain, features of which can
be extracted from online documents or popular press books (see Hoffman, 2018; Rogelberg,
2019; Rozovsky, 2015; Understand team effectiveness, 2017 for prepared material).
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To target local unions with enhanced meeting attendance in mind, herewith is a sug-
gested intervention outlined for a union environment.
First, we suggest that the local reps meet to work out an announcement to be distributed
before a meeting. The announcement should indicate an agenda item stated in bold print that
“the local will conduct an assessment to discern how employees would like to see their meet-
ings run, with attention to enhancing the experience of employees at meetings.” At this meet-
ing, we suggest that the local reps preselect a local employee who is known and respected to
introduce an invited guest (an outside researcher) who will administer an anonymous survey
to be filled out voluntarily, a survey that is intended for “you to indicate how you would
like to see your meetings run.” Using the foregoing statement beginning with “indicate”
as the stem for the survey items, we suggest that all 12 items be used from our study (the
7 psychological safety items interspersed with the 5 non-psychological safety items), with
yes–no response options (Likert scaling could also be used). Before the survey is distributed,
it should be indicated and underlined that survey results will be reported at the next meeting
using average item responses rather than individual responses, and that the interpretation of
the results will be opened to the floor for discussion by those attending.
Next, we suggest an announcement be distributed by the local reps before the next meeting
reminding employees that “a substantial part of the meeting agenda will be devoted to the results
of the survey taken at the prior meeting about how employees would like to see their meetings
run.” Importantly, the announcement should stress that all eligible employees are encouraged to
attend the meeting whether or not they attended the last meeting and whether or not they vol-
unteered to take the survey. At this meeting, “the researcher” should be absent, having reported
the average responses to items (without descriptive tests) in a written document submitted to
the local reps and distributed by the reps to employees before the meeting. This meeting should
include only eligible employees—a closed-door meeting that also excludes non-local officials
(perhaps to be briefed later). The key to this meeting is the creation of an open and informal
atmosphere of discussion without concern that the conversation should be limited to one meet-
ing. If a second meeting on survey results seems to be in order, it should be called. It is entirely
possible that some locals during this phrase of intervention may take several meetings to “air
out” and “settle issues” as related to how “we would like to see our meetings run.”
We envision variants of the intervention as outlined and we invite suggestions and
refinements from all involved parties, including feedback on how meeting announcements
are best constructed to generate interest and how surveys are best distributed to include the
faintest voices. Also, as an addendum to the intervention, it should be noted that formal
recommendations are not recommended. As indicated, psychological safety is not intended
as an explicit team goal. Rather, by opening discussion about how all employees can expect
to experience a safe environment at meetings, we expect that emergent are enriched cli-
mate properties of mutual respect for psychological needs and a renewed sense of trust that
“ours is a collective effort to serve and fulfill the needs of all members.”
Final Note
On the relationships indicated in our model, we do not take the point of view that we have
isolated the predictor or the sequence by which the experience of employees at local union
meetings is linked to meeting attendance. We consider our model as a work-in-progress,
in which a suggested path to attendance may yet be altered or reconfigured in reference
to future modeling. In relation to our interest in strengthening the psychological lifeline
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between employees and unions, and in relation to our interest in developing interventions,
we encourage researchers and local reps to view our model as a starting point to take in the
psychological experience of employees at meetings and to consider associations between
psychological safety and local attendance.
Appendix
Scale Items
In reference to local meetings I have attended in the last 12months, the following
describe what I experienced at these meetings...
Psychological Safety atLocal Union Meetings
... meetings wherein members were at no risk of embarrassing themselves even when they
couldn’t always express themselves clearly.
... meetings wherein members couldn’t get away with shouting down other members
who expressed opinions that varied from the norm.
... meetings wherein members freely asked other members for help in dealing with work
issues.
... meetings wherein members who wished to speak up could do so even when they
didn’t know the exact rules about when to speak.
... meetings wherein members were given respect for sharing personal information that
helped other members understand “where they were coming from.”
... meetings wherein members were accepted for who they are no matter how much—or
in what way—they differed from other members.
... meetings wherein “turn-taking” in speaking up was taken seriously as opposed to
only “the same few members” speaking up.
Non‑Psychological Safety atLocal Union Meetings
... meetings wherein members did their best to begin and end meetings on time (as
scheduled).
... meetings wherein speaking up about local, state, or national politics was frowned upon.
... meetings wherein attention to national union business was kept at a minimum in favor
of attention to “on the job issues.”
... meetings wherein members were personally invited to attend meetings by their union
reps.
... meetings wherein members did their best to stick to items on the agenda.
Local Union Meeting Effectiveness
Based on how your local meetings were run, how effective do you think they were in
doing the business your local needed to do?
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Based on how your local meetings were run, how effective do you think they were in
serving the needs of local members?
Acknowledgements As a team project from beginning to end, the “we” indicated in the article reflects the
shared insight and work of many students, notably Sophia Lindsay and Kathleen Romania. Also, we thank
Carrie Bulger for her generous comments on our work.
Declarations
Conflict of Interest The author declares no conflict of interest.
Ethical Standards All procedures used in the study involving participants are in accordance with the ethical
standards of the author’s institution and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.
Informed Consent Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in the study in the form
of an information sheet.
The data for the study are available at https:// doi. org/ 10. 7910/ DVN/ PUNEN5.
Financial support for the study was provided by the author’s university department.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License,
which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long
as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Com-
mons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article
are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the
material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not
permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly
from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/.
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