Workplace democracy is generally understood as the application of democratic practices in all its forms to include voting, debates, participatory decision-making systems, due process and dispute resolutions systems in the workplace.
Put another way, it is about incorporating and practising democratic principles and actions in the workplace. These principles would apply to the working of organisations at the individual level, and where individual organisations submit themselves under a lead organisation; which then represents the interest of all members.
Under this arrangement, it means that there ought to be respect for the decision-making process which is exercised where democratic principles are applied. This means that the process is completed when all members are allowed to participate in the exercise.
This is healthy for the growth and development of any organisation. For where a majority decision is taken after debate, then the integrity of the process is beyond question. Leaders of the trade union movement are in the vanguard of promoting fairness, and it is on this same basis that the call is repeatedly made for the including of workers in decision making process.
It does not however mean that whatever the workers say will always be accepted, or what they require will always be granted. Respecting the process is what is important. The ability to participate and to make an input goes a long way in helping companies to boost their productivity and organizations to grow.
To cry foul or to lay claims of being marginalised where the principles of democracy were observed and the process followed was transparent leaves a lot to be desired when any such charges are made.
It is to be accepted that communication is an important tool that cannot be taken lightly. It is for this reason that trade unions press for the two-way flow of communication in the workplace, so as to ensure that employees can express their opinions and suggestions.
Leaders and management, who acknowledge and understand this, can be credited as acting responsibly and with maturity. This means that they remove their personality from the centre stage, and resort to listening, reasoning and making sound judgments and decisions.
The point must be stressed that strong leaders don’t dictate; they spend time getting employees’ ideas, listening to their concerns, and letting them have a say in decisions that affect them. It even goes further, good leaders should act rationally, and for the benefit of the cause, resist beating their chest and seeing nothing else but the pronoun “I”.
Let’s not forget that no man is an island. No one man owns an organisation, neither does any individual know it all. To be “just and fair” are two principles that every trade union surely subscribe too. There would be no need for a trade union movement, it the membership openly violate these same principles that they espoused.
As hard as it is for some to recognise and accept the fact that change is inevitable, it is difficult to believe that the appropriate response would be to fight change by denouncing the democratic process. If this is the preferred approach, then it is reasonable to conclude that ‘Where there is no vision, the people will perish.’
The view on the practice of democracy is adequately summed up by Linda Adams of Gordon Training International, who wrote:
“Leaders (and ideally all employees) need to learn how to practise democracy. This means they need to know how to listen effectively, how to express their needs without blame, and how to solve problems and conflicts with mutually agreed-on solutions.”
* Dennis De Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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