Democracy in the Workplace: Too Much or Not Enough

Sorry ladies. Women’s month got knocked off the front pages by the Local Government Elections this year. For those who supported the smaller parties, there was hope that this would be the year of breakthrough. Mixed results there. For ruling-party supporters, perhaps this would be the year of service delivery?

But for everyone, whatever our motive for voting, whatever our dreams or hopes, this was an opportunity not to be missed. In this country, our vote does count; democracy is at work in spite of a great deal said to the contrary.

The truth is, democracy is a strange beast.

Those in power think it’s cumbersome and they would rather do without, while the powerless are frustrated at how slow it works and that, sometimes, it doesn’t.

Yet it is this very tension between the powerful and the powerless that keeps us (relatively) honest, fuels the fires of creativity and raises the possibility of alternative solutions.

The workplace is no different. Democracy (of a sort) is a recent phenomenon. It started with the unions protecting their jobs and wanting more pay. Now the workers want a say in everything.

We have to motivate and engage employees and consult with them in an endless cycle of committees and forums. Here, too, those in power think democracy cumbersome, and the powerless think there isn’t enough of it.

In business, however, we don’t have the luxury of five-year terms. Shareholders want results every quarter if not sooner, while customers won’t wait that long. They want to know when and why, and they want to know now. Employees, too, have their eyes on the horizon, constantly scouting for a better place to work, a better boss and better opportunities.

Our customers, shareholders and employees will vote with their feet in an instant, and we don’t have the IEC to police the process. There is nothing fair in it.

What do our customers want? How can I keep my employees engaged and focused, imagining and creating the future of the business and the future (if your sights are high enough) of the world.

At the very least, listen and communicate. Communicating and listening are perhaps the most powerful and most underutilised business tools.

The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel and misrepresentation. — C. Northcote Parkinson (British naval historian)

It’s why my people-management training and consulting company is called Simply Communicate.

What do you think?

Visit to find out more, or Facebook: @simplycommunicateZA

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About Ian Webster

I have been running my own consultancy (Simply Communicate) for five years – training and consulting in all things people management and development. Prior to that I was 16 years in corporate HR in a unionised environment becoming Training Manager and Human Resources Manager. I have a Degree in Theology and a post-graduate diploma in Human Resources Management.

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