Research carried out by The University of Western Australia in collaboration with the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois has revealed the key to a vibrant democracy may be as simple as giving employees a voice in the workplace.
The researchers found workers who felt empowered over decisions that affect them at work were more likely to engage in politics outside of work.
Using a sample of more than 14,000 workers across 27 countries, the study showed employees whose bosses gave them some discretion over their work tasks were significantly more likely to engage in political behaviour such as voting in elections, belonging to a political party, signing petitions, boycotting products and contacting politicians.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Andrew Timming from the UWA Business School said in contrast, employees who had little or no control over their work were more likely to be politically apathetic outside the workplace.
“Our research indicates that a simple and effective way to instil a love of democracy is to practice what we preach in the workplace,” Associate Professor Timming said.
“It shows that treating workers like soldiers whose only job is to execute management’s orders without questioning them can have dangerous consequences.
“Authoritarian managers often stifle debate, silence critics, and devalue the views and opinions of their subordinates. Outside work, those people feel demoralised and are less likely to become involved in local, regional or national politics.”
On the other hand, Associate Professor Timming said giving workers a voice was an easy and effective management technique.
“It is as simple as allowing staff to decide where to hold the staff Christmas party, or perhaps something more complicated like organising production around self-managed teams,” he said.
“Employee ownership encourages worker participation in decision-making and helps empower workers and make them feel listened to at work. They then take this appreciation for the political process and bring it into their communities.
“Perhaps a more efficient way to spread democracy is not from the top-down, but rather through the bottom-up. By promoting participative management practices abroad, we could be sowing the seeds for non-violent change toward freer and more democratic societies.”
The research has been published in Sage
Jess Reid (UWA Media and PR Advisor) (+61 8) 6488 6876