Is your workplace a democracy or a dictatorship?

“We all want to live in a democratic country. None of us would accept living under totalitarian rule. So why do we accept that many workplaces are run like dictatorships?”

Traci Fenton is the founder and CEO of WorldBlu, an organization that helps workplaces around the world become more democratic and less based on “command and control”.

WorldBlu also publishes an annual list of the world’s most democratic workplaces. The 2010 list was announced in Las Vegas in June and we were there for the event, where some of the companies that made the list presented. It was incredibly inspiring to hear from companies like Davita and Zappos how they practice democracy.

From our standpoint it’s also interesting to see that democratic workplaces are also invariably happy workplaces. We are much happier at work when we feel that we are part of creating the future of the company, rather than just footsoldiers who must always follow orders.

Traci gave a great talk at our annual conference on happiness at work in Copenhagen in 2009. Click on the video above to watch Traci’s entire talk (17 minutes). In it she:

  • Shows why democratic companies are happier and more successful
  • Gives some great examples of democratic workplaces around the world
  • Outlines the 10 principles of organizational democracy

If you’d like to put your organization on the path to democracy, you can become a member – and eventually even apply to be on the WorldBlu list.

Your take

Is your workplace a democracy or a dictatorship? Are you in on vital information and important decisions or are you kept in the dark? Do you even want democracy in the workplace, or is it easier when a few people make all of the decisions? Please write a comment, I’d love to know your take.

11 thoughts on “Is your workplace a democracy or a dictatorship?”

  1. While I’m currently in medical school, I can only hope that one day I am fortunate enough to work in a democratic workplace. I feel that having a certain degree of freedom really encourages innovation and a happy disposition. If workers feel they are being supported, not held down or “kept in check” then they will likely work much harder.

  2. Democratic work places are probably much happier places to be, but are they still viable businesses and making profit? If companies don’t make money, they’ll end up laying off people. Every work place I’ve ever been in, has been predominantly a dictatorship.

  3. I would not call my company a dictatorship but the current project that I am on definitely is. It seems that managers have no concern for lower level employees and continually blame them for all problems (even though the manager may be the cause). While I am allowed to participate in information sharing, my input is ignored. Lastly, the managers expect everything to be done in their method. Trying to be innovative or question their approach is not allowed. It is certainly not an enjoyable environment and I am doing everything in my power to find a company that enforces a democratic culture.

  4. Alas, most managers and employers, even they have higher educational background forsake democracy in their workplace. They may listen to their employees and workers, but they are not really attending on what they have heard. This situation arises when managers forget the heart of management – that is the directing function or “leadership”. When we trust our subordinates, they learn how to become trustworthy.

  5. This post reminds me of a book I read recently, The Leaderful Fieldbook. This book puts forth a revolutionary no boss theory. It proposes that the only possible way to lead ourselves out of trouble in management is to become mutual and to share leadership. Even though a bit Utopian, I would love see this theory being put in to practice at my workplace. How good it would be to have my boss working as an equal to me. My points being tabled and considered as much as his. This would be fun. would be like true democracy at work.

  6. Democracy is two wolves and one sheep voting to decide what to have for lunch. Democracy has been an unfavorable and disagreeable philosophy since the time of Plato and Aristotle. Even our founders rejected the idea of democracy for the much preferred constitutional republic. What many confuse democracy is for a program of sound leadership, taking many of the tenets of our republic to the workplace. Accountability and personal liberty are much more preferable than democracy – if you do the job you are rewarded, if you don’t you are fired. Democracies are unions, governments and the like – everyone is the same with similar, distasteful outcomes.

  7. I work in a place where often things (including items that are normally inconsequential in other environments) are voted on and consensus must be achieved to move forward. It’s the classic “Design by Committee” syndrome. Things take longer to develop or critical decisions sometimes never are made or are made too late. Worse, products don’t always work well or met their intended outcome. So no, I don’t think that applying straight democracy to practice is the workplace works.

    What does work is having a culture where people feel comfortable bringing up concerns. If employees don’t feel safe enough to address problems with management then ‘wounds’ fester, resentment builds, and productivity languishes. Management can’t solve all problems, but being willing to listen and appear willing to help develop solutions does a lot to inspire loyalty in staff.

  8. Most workplaces are dictatorships. One person or a few control the rest through power and fear. If yours isnt then you are just lucky that you have a more enlightened boss, next time you may not be so lucky.Bosses are actualy promoted because they are able to control others through fear. Its harder to do this as a women hence less women managers.

    This is such an important point because what is the point of living in a democracy when in the place where it really matters it is a dictatorship. I have seen some terrible things happening in the workplace because of this.

  9. Jaqueline Anderson’s comment is so spot on. I find it most ironic that we live in so called “democracies” ( at least here in Canada or the US) yet in practice what we see and feel is a hollow shell or a dictatorial sham, as we are being controlled and just live with illusions of choice / freedom but nothing more. At the workplace there is no democracy, it is based on command and control mechanisms ( that would make even Communists proud lol), if you are a non unionized blue collar or white collar workers you know what I am talking about and this will apply. The only place in the world where employers ( despite their relentless drive for greater profits) must reconcile their interests with that of the employees ( and where workplace democracy actually exists to attain benefits and rights) is Western Europe and Scandinavia. Over there tripartite arrangements are made between the state/ employers and employees to seek out solutions that are based on “compromise” and that work for everyone involved . Unlike here, where ” confrontation” is key and dictatorial power politics holds sway, over there what you get is just much more work life balance, less work related unhappiness and much more labour productivity ( since people are not treated just as voiceless functional robots as in North America). With hindsight it has become clear North America’s focus on individualism and might is right at the workplace or othwerwise, comes as great social cost. Hope people start gaining awareness and waking up and challenging the status quo.

  10. Democracy is just another word for dictatorship because it’s always conditioned & controlled by an authority, workplace or government. Freedom & happiness in the workplace is also an illusion because money & profit are the rule. It’s one of the reasons why greed, control & fear exist.
    Having leaders of any kind will always lead to control & fear, especially where money is concerned. And we call this living?
    I may be wrong in all this, but it’s what I see at my work on a daily basis.

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