Inštitut za ekonomsko demokracijo

Democracy at work: benefits and trends

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Although the schools have been teaching children and teenagers to always think critically, share their ideas, participate as much as possible and have their own opinions, these qualities are unfortunately not appreciated at every workplace.

The harsh reality is that many companies are still run solely by the senior management team, and the employees have no other choice than to blindly follow the instructions given, regardless of whether they understand the reason behind the tasks or agree with the direction of the decisions.

The extend at which there is democracy at the workplace can be assessed by the European Participation Index. Stan De Spiegelaere and Sigurt Vitols at the European Trade Union Institute conducted a research and concluded that a positive correlation exists between the above-mentioned indicator and variables such as employment, equality, investment in research and development, labour share, and lack of in-work poverty.

This means that societies with more democracy at work outperform those societies lacking democratic workplaces. Namely, there are more benefits when the employees participate in the companies’ management, the collective bargaining covers the majority of workers and unions are strong. Hence, including a representative that defends employees’ interests could lead to the needed shift of incentives from short-term payouts to long-term benefits and align the goals of the organization and the workers.

Despite the benefits of democracy in the workplace, the European Participation Index had been constantly decreasing. This does not come as a surprise when we take into consideration the decline of trade union activity, the proportion of employees protected by a collective-bargaining agreement, and lower access to employee representation in the last decade.

Unless action is taken to facilitate trade unions and sector-wide collective bargaining, and unless we rethink the steep hierarchies in private organizations, the values taught in schools will leave people conflicted once they grow up, get a job, and become disincentivized in applying critical thinking.



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