As someone who is self-employed and works at home, I’ve had very little experience working in an actual office.
Yet, I’m underly fascinated by it. I’ve watched the shenanigans that go on in workplace sitcoms, and I’ve heard my friends discuss their annoying and ridiculous co-workers or their merciless and demanding boss.
It always makes me wonder what it’d be like to work in an office setting, which is why I find myself researching the latest trends and fads in today’s workplace.
Companies look to embrace democracy in the workplace
In looking at the modern workplace, one of the biggest trends I’ve noticed is a growth in workplace democracy, which is companies applying many of the principles of democracy to the office setting.
There are now dozens of examples of democracy in the workplace among well-known firms, as companies look to embrace this type of organization in the workplace.
Naturally, there are democracy advantages, disadvantages, and variations like holacracy when it comes to workplace democracy.
However, despite some flaws, a more democratic workplace has the ability to make employees more engaged in their jobs, which statistics say is lacking in the modern workplace.
As recently as 2008, 25% of employees surveyed by the Workplace Democracy Association likened their place of work to a dictatorship, while more than one-third of people surveyed believed their boss did not take valid criticism well, both of which are way too high, in my opinion.
More recently, a 2013 Gallup poll found that 63% of workers are not engaged in their job, while a study by Blessing White revealed that 72% of workers would consider leaving their current job if it meant having more control of their work, with 44% indicating that they would work for themselves if it meant having more autonomy.
63% of workers are not engaged in their job
To me, these stats scream out for more workplace democracy.
More democracy in the workplace can go a long way towards making workers more engaged in their work so that they feel like what they do at work matters.
This is important because Gallup reports that American companies lose $300 billion annually because of disengaged workers, which is an astronomical loss.
If engaging workers with a more democratic workplace can help curb those losses in productivity, it may be worth trying.
These stats scream out for more workplace democracy
Of course, no two businesses are exactly the same, so what works for one may not work for another.
If you run your own business, you have to ask yourself: does democracy work?
Personally, I believe that the freedom and autonomy I have as a self-employed freelancer is akin to a true workplace democracy, and ultimately that freedom leads to high levels of productivity.
That is why I have come up with 12 ways that you can help transform your office into a more democratic workplace.
1. Be Transparent
Just like democratic governments, companies need to be transparent.
You should not have a secret agenda or secret plans that your employees don’t know about.
Of course, governments will have classified information for the sake of protecting its people, but only in rare instances will that be necessary to have in the work place.
Most of the time, you need to be wiling to share information with your employees, as it’ll help build their trust and make them feel more engaged with the company.
2. Start A Dialogue
Employees will always be shy or intimated to bring stuff to the attention of the people at the top of the company, so it is up to the company’s leaders to start a dialogue with workers at all levels of the company.
In a democratic workplace, those in management positions should be proactive in asking employees at all levels about their concerns, questions, and thoughts.
This goes back to transparency in the sense that you want everything to be out in the open.
If there’s an issue, no matter how big or small, you want it brought to your attention, the way lobbyist groups and grassroots organizations do in democracies.
3. Avoid A Hierarchy
You can’t have a business that places different values on employees.
In a democratic workplace, you have to recognize that no department is more important than any other.
Even if the sales department is the one bringing in all the money, it’s no less important than accounting, human resources, or reception.
Without any of those departments, the business can’t function properly, so always remember that and treat each department fairly and equally.
4. Delegate Responsibilities
Delegating responsibilities is a huge part of democracy, so you’d be wise to do it in your business and do it the right way.
You have to be clear about who is responsible for what tasks so that everyone knows their job and nothing gets through the cracks.
If you delegate properly and give people a chance to shine, you’ll be surprised at what they can accomplish.
Crazy how democracy works sometimes, right?
5. Hold People Responsible
Of course, if you’re delegating responsibilities to others, you have to hold them accountable for what they’ve done if something goes wrong.
In government, when something goes wrong, someone has to take the fall for it, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.
However, when running a company, it’s important not to embarrass a person who came up a little short.
You can hold them responsible, but unlike in politics, that does not have to happen publicly.
6. Recognize Individual Achievements
If you want your employees to feel engaged and part of something special, don’t be afraid to recognize and praise individuals who do great things.
Even if it’s a small mention at a weekly meeting, people appreciate when their work is recognized.
Moreover, pointing out someone who has done a great job may just inspire others to work hard so they can be recognized too.
This is an experience I rarely have working for myself, but I’m assuming it feels good to have someone recognize your hard work.
7. Give Employees Freedom
Freedom goes hand in hand with democracy, so give your employees a little bit of freedom.
If they want their hours to be a little more flexible so they don’t have to be in at 9 and leave at 5 every day, let them.
If they want to work at home some days, let them. It might not even be such a bad idea to give them the option to take an afternoon off once a week, even if it means they work fewer hours.
One thing I’ve learned as a freelancer is that the hours you work are not as important as the job getting done.
As long as the job gets done, don’t be afraid to give your employees a little bit of freedom.
8. Constantly Evaluate Yourself
Democracies generally have a system of checks and balances, so to accomplish this in a business, you have to constantly be evaluating how you conduct business.
You need to always look at your methods of doing business and find ways to make adjustments.
You have to be willing to change and willing to challenge your assumptions; this is how democracies grow and improve.
To do this, you have to ask for input from employees who are going through the motions on a daily basis.
9. Have Leadership At All Levels
Not that I need to tell any business owner this, but leadership is of the utmost importance, but not just at the top; it’s important at all levels of a company.
Just like a democracy has a President, Governors, Mayors, and so on, a company needs leadership from top to bottom to keep things running smoothly.
These people don’t necessary need a ton of power, but just having somewhere to take charge whenever necessary is important.
10. Avoid Strict Policies
The laws in a democracy are often up for interpretation, which can makes things complicated, but also allows for freedom and autonomy.
In a business, it is best to stay away from strict policies that are black and white, because let’s face it, the world we live in is gray.
You need to have principles that you adhere to, but make sure they are flexible so that you can make decisions on a case-by-case basis, by taking into account what makes sense and not what the policy states.
11. Forgive Failure
As I mentioned earlier, you have to hold people responsible for their mistakes, but don’t do it publicly, and always do it quickly and move on from it.
Forgive the cliche, but you have to be able to forgive failure, because failure equals growth.
If you give your employees a chance to fail, they’ll grow from it and be better in the future.
Having this kind of trust in your employees, not to mention a willingness to forgive them for mistakes, will make them feel a kinship with the company and make them more engaged in their job.
12. Encourage Input From Everyone
This may have been mentioned a time or two already, but it bears repeating: encourage input from all of your employees.
Everyone has a different perspective, and to make the best choices in business, you have to be willing to look at things from all angles.
Asking for input from employees throughout your company is akin to ordinary citizens writing letters to politicians.
People who go to work every day can sometimes see things that those in charge can’t, which is why in a democratic workplace, you want input from everyone.
Establishing Workplace Democracy
When trying to establish a workplace democracy for the purpose of making your workers more engaged with their job, the most important thing to remember is that employees are people, and they like to be treated as such.
They want certain freedoms, they want to have their voice heard, and they want to feel like they are part of something, and that the company needs them.
People need to be heard when they have something to say, they deserve to be recognized when they succeed, and they need to be forgiven when they fail.
If you can take this approach with your employees, you’ll be able to create a wonderful workplace democracy that will work out for everyone involved.
In addition to creating a workplace democracy, you can help your business by signing up for CakeHR’s free trial so you can have all of your HR needs taken care of for you, giving you more free time to focus on more important matters.
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Bryan Zarpentine is a freelance writer and editor with credentials all over the Internet, primarily at CakeHR, where he is a regular contributor. He is interested in researching and writing about a diverse array of topics and providing a unique perspective on the world.
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