Workplace democracy is the application of democracy in all its forms (including voting systems, debates, democratic structuring, due process, adversarial process, systems of appeal, and so on) to the workplace.
It usually involves or requires more use of lateral methods such as arbitration when workplace disputes arise.
Associated with ideologies
These methods are often seen as associated with trade unions or syndicalism (or more lately eco-syndicalism and eco-socialism), or anarcho-syndicalism.
Most unions have democratic structures at least for selecting the leader, and sometimes these are seen as providing the only democratic aspects of work. However, unions are not everywhere, and not every workplace that lacks a union lacks democracy, and not every workplace that has a union necessarily has a democratic way to resolve disputes.
However, some unions have historically been more committed to it than others. The Industrial Workers of the World pioneered the archetypal workplace democracy model, the in which recallable delegates were elected by workers, and other norms of grassroots democracy were applied. This is still used in some organizations, notably Semco and in the software industry.
The best known and most studied example of a successfully democratic national labor union in the United States are the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, known throughout the labor movement as the UE. An independent trade Union, the UE was built from the bottom-up, and takes pride in its motto that "The Members Run This Union!".
The Binary Economics movement also advocates workplace democracy and the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, which is a method by which workers can buy their way into their corporations.
Limits of management
Many organizations began by the 1960s to realize that tight control by too few people was creating groupthink, turnover in staff and a loss of morale among qualified people helpless to appeal what they saw as misguided, uninformed, or poorly thought out decisions. Often employees who publicly criticise such poor decision making of their higher management are penalized or even fired from their jobs on some false pretext or other. The comic strip Dilbert has become popular satirizing this type of oblivious management, the icon for which is the Pointy Haired Boss, a nameless and clueless social climber. The Dilbert Principle has been accepted as fact by some.
Much management philosophy has focused on trying to limit manager power, differentiate leadership versus management, and so on. Henry Mintzberg, Peter Drucker and Donella Meadows were three very notable theorists addressing these concerns in the 1980s. Mintzberg and Drucker studied how executives spent their time, Meadows how change and leverage to resist it existed at all levels in all kinds of organizations.
Adhocracy, functional leadership models, and reengineering were all attempts to detect and remove administrative incompetence. Business process and quality management methods in general remove managerial flexibility that is often perceived as masking managerial mistakes, but also preventing transparency and facilitating fraud, as in the case of Enron. Had managers been more accountable to employees, it is argued, owners and employees would not have been defrauded.
Semler and Semco
Semler, in his own book Maverick, explained how he took his family firm in Brazil, a light manufacturing concern called Semco, and transformed it into a strictly democratic firm where managers were interviewed and then elected by workers, where all decisions were subject to democratic review, debate and vote, and where every worker was expected to justify themselves to their peers. This radical approach to total quality management got him and the company a great deal of attention. Semler argued that handing the company over to the workers was the only way to free time for himself to go build up the customer, government and other relationships required to make the company grow. By literally giving up the fight to hold any control of internals, Semler was able to focus on marketing, positioning, and offer his advice (as a paid, elected, spokesman, though his position as major shareholder was not so negotiable) as if he were, effectively, an outside management consultant. Decentralisation of management functions, he claimed, gave him a combination of insider information and outsider credibility, plus the legitimacy of truly speaking for his workers in the same sense as an elected political leader.
The book ends with twenty pages of cartoons that constitute Semco's only employee manual. They explain such things as the company's attitudes to women and their advancement, managers and their role, sales and operations, technology, and read somewhat like the rationale of a nonprofit or political party.
Nicholson's analysis was more academic and conventional and focused on many other detailed problems of human behaviour and dispute resolution, which he claimed Semler had resolved.
Venezuela has instituted worker-run "co-management" initiatives in which workers' councils are the cornerstone of the management of a plant or factory. In experimental co-managed enterprises, such as the state-owned Alcasa factory, workers develop budgets and elect both managers and departmental delegates who work together with strategists on technical issues related to production.
Advantages and disadvantages
- Please help Cultivate.Coop by expanding this section.
- News, analysis, and resources about workplace democracy
- Workplace Democracy Association
- Quotes and other writings on workplace democracy (Chomsky, Wheatley, et al.)
- Articles by David Ellerman on workplace democracy
This page originally adapted from the Wikipedia page: 
- "Why Workplace Democracy Can Be Good Business"; Renuka Rayasam; 2008. http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2008/04/24/why-workplace-democracy-can-be-good-business.html