Skip to main content

Organizational Democracy

From GOHWP Member Matt Grabowski, IUPUI Doctoral Candidate, USA

 

Democracy is a cornerstone in western society. Many major governments operate utilizing the principles of democracy such that their citizens are encouraged to participate in their government and that the voice of the people can be heard. Though it has its flaws, we consider democracy to be superior to any other form of governance, yet organizations often do not operate by these principles.

 

Even organizations that employ thousands of people are usually governed by just a handful who use their resources as they see fit, even if their actions are not in the best interests of the majority. It seems counterintuitive to believe that people collectively should have control over how they are governed in greater society but not in the businesses they spend nearly one third of their life working. The concept of organizational democracy differs entirely from the typical hierarchical power structure by bringing many of the same principles we use in a democratic society into the organization.

 

Organizational democracy is exactly what it sounds like. It is employing the principle of “one person, one vote” into the workplace to ensure a voice is given to all workers. Organizational democracy is not as simple as just giving everyone a chance to vote on certain topics, this is a system that is built into the structure of the organization that guarantees the power of the majority. Specifically, employees in democratic organizations are tasked to participate in all levels of decision making with equal weight, and this is considered part of their responsibilities to the organization. These decisions range from simple proximal things (e.g. employee PTO or the purchasing new equipment for their department) to large scale decisions (e.g. what products/services will the company offer and how the profits are distributed).

 

A few companies exist using this type of model. The most notable example, Mondragon is worker cooperative federation which is made up of 261 companies and co-operatives (including a university) which collectively employ 74,335 people. The company was founded in Spain over 60 years ago and now operates internationally. As a democratic system, members of the co-operative federation participate in decision making collectively by form of a congress in which the members are elected to their positions to represent their respective co-operative members. While some members of the organization may hold a higher elected position, even lower member still get to participate with their vote being equally weighted.

 

The bulk of the research on organizational democracy is theoretical and comes from outside the field of psychology. Research in sociology and economics seems to focus on the larger impact of democratic organizations within society, but research at the organizational level and the individual level seems limited. Research from applied psychology fields have addressed the effects of culture and structure on democracy in the workplace, attitude and motivational differences of employees in democratic organizations versus non-democratic organizations, and even the effects of democracy on a few behaviors like organizational citizenship behaviors. This leaves ample opportunity for continuing research for I-O, especially on the “I” side such as considerations for hiring, performance appraisal, and training just to name a few topics. Plus, given the broader implications of organizational democracy increasing equality and the general welfare of people, this should be a topic to further explore in the HWP realm as well.

 

In summary, organizational democracy would mean bringing our societal form of governing down to the organizational level. Though this seems like an odd and unusual form of running an organization this organizational structuring exists and there is evidence that it is effective. We in the I-O and HWP fields have only begun to explore this topic and much more research still needs to be done! If democracy is the key to participation and equality, then organizational democracy is the next logical step in our society.

 

Further readings

 

Weber, W. G., Unterrainer, C., & Hoge, T. (2008). Socio-moral atmosphere and prosocial and   democratic value orientations in enterprises with different levels of structurally anchored participation. German Journal of Research in Human Resource Management, 22, 171-194. doi:10.1177/239700220802200205

 

Wegge, J., Jeppesen, H., Weber, W., Pearce, C., Silva, S., Pundt, A., … Piecha, A. (2010). Promoting work motivation in organizations: Should employee involvement in organizational leadership become a new tool in the organizational psychologist’s kit? Journal of Personnel Psychology, 9, 154-171. doi:10.1027/1866-5888/a000025

 

The Sociological Quarterly Volume 57, Issue 1 (the whole issue is on democracy at work)

 

A link to Mondragon’s website

 

Call for SIOP Humanitarian Award Nominations!

Hello, GOHWP members!

SIOP has a call out for nominations for their Humanitarian Award. The GOHWP Executive Board wanted to make sure our members were aware of this, because the June 30 deadline is fast approaching.

SIOP’s Humanitarian Award is designed to recognize humanitarian contributions made by individuals who practice industrial-organizational/work psychology. From the SIOP website, the award can go to individuals for any of the following, or for other humanitarian-related applications of I-O/work psychology.

  1. Applying the practice and science of I-O psychology towards significant and sustained humanitarian initiatives, including the development of policy.
  2. Promoting prosocial I-O psychology through work with international non-governmental organizations and multilateral agencies, including the development of internal capacity in these organizations.
  3. Notable and sustained contributions to theory and/or practice in the area of humanitarian work psychology (deliberate and organized efforts to enhance human welfare and development).
  4. Significant impact on the field of I-O psychology through a focus on social responsibility and reduction of human suffering through organizational actions.
  5. Contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through I-O Psychology (e.g., poverty reduction, food security, health and well-being, equitable quality education, gender equality, sustainable energy, decent work, sustainable industrialization/innovation, inclusivity and justice within society, sustainable consumption/production, fighting climate change, creation of global partnerships for sustainable development).

The award does come with a cash prize, though in the spirit of the award, SIOP will instead make a donation of $1500 USD to the charity or foundation of the recipient’s choice, if the recipient so chooses.

Full details can be found on the SIOP web page, and we encourage our members to apply!

HWP in Graduate Research Methods

By Morrie Mullins

 

One of the things I’ve found is that there are really no boundaries for where HWP-related themes can fit in a graduate curriculum.  In this blog post, I’ll offer one example that came to me somewhat fortuitously as part of a broader lit review effort.

 

A year or so ago, an undergraduate student (who has gone on to be an I-O graduate student with a focus in HWP-related issues) was helping me with a lit review and stumbled across an article by Yao-Jen Chang, Rui-Hua Liao, Tsen-Yung Wang, and Yao-Sheng Chang titled, “Action research as a bridge between two worlds: Helping the NGOs and humanitarian agencies adapt technology to their needs.”  NGOs?  Humanitarian agencies?  And RESEARCH?  Sign me up!

 

It’s actually an interesting paper, dealing with how to incorporate various information systems in an NGO that “provides supported employment.”  The team involved in the project was highly interdisciplinary, including IT professionals, social scientists, and engineers, and used a set of techniques called “action research” to gather both quantitative and qualitative data about the domain being studied.

 

There is a LOT of detail in the article about their approach to the project, but a lot of it should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever had an I-O internship or done any consulting.  Their first stage involved diagnosing the problem using a series of interviews and focus groups, coming up with a preliminary set of findings, and designing an intervention.  They then moved on to another key stage of the research, where team members volunteered to go out and actually do some of the jobs they were studying, to get a sense of what the work was like.  Based on both the interview/focus group data and the direct observations made through working in the jobs being studied, the researchers came up with an action plan.  This derived from the needs and problems observed as the data were collected through various modalities.

 

One of the things that I find it’s important to keep in mind, when training graduate students on research methodology, is that there is a lot of “research design” that they’ve heard four or five times in the past.  I don’t have to go back over between- versus within-groups designs.  All those classic experimentalist designs are great and important, but most of the students I’m training are going out into the world to become practitioners, so they need other types of research skills.

 

What I LOVE about the “action research” article is that it puts research into the context of solving workplace problems – which is exactly what I-O/work psychology does, when it’s working well.  We are applied problem solvers, and we should be talking about methods that work well for approaching and resolving problems in the real world – not just in labs.  (Not that there’s anything involved in lab research, mind you.  All research has a place…)

 

Even in their second semester, my students see the way action research connects to what we do in I-O.  I generally hear comments like, “This sounds like some of what we did when we did job analyses” – which is exactly correct.  The way I was trained on job analysis involved a lot of detailed data-gathering and direct observation of workers on the job.  I didn’t get to step in and do their work like an action researcher would, but I was around them enough that I’d like to think I could have.**

 

Then you’ve got the HWP aspect, where we get to talk about NGOs and how to help them.  We get to talk about the importance of not assuming that you know what the job is like, and the willingness to get your (metaphorical and literal) hands dirty in order to really understand it.  We get to talk about how key it is to volunteer your time with non-profits if you want to get a sense of how they “live” their mission – because otherwise, you will have a hard time really understanding their problems.

 

The full citation for the article is below.  If you have other HWP-related papers you use to teach research methods, or really, any course, we’d love to hear about them!

 

 

Chang, Y.-J., Liao, R.-H., Wang, T.-Y., & Chang, Y.-S. (2010). Action research as a bridge between two worlds: Helping the NGOs and humanitarian agencies adapt technology to their needs.  Systemic Practice and Action Research, 23, 191-202. doi 10.1007/s11213-009-9154-8

 

 

** Yeah, I know.  I really couldn’t have.  I like my little delusions, though…

 

The Importance of Punctuation and HWP

Little things make a lot of difference.  You probably expect that a posting with a title related to punctuation will pontificate on the problem of the Oxford/serial comma, the absence of which recently decided a case with relevance to work psychology (//www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/oxford-comma-court-case-ruling-overtime_us_58cad41ae4b0ec9d29d9dd28).  And yet, that’s not what this posting is about, nor is it about any of the fascinating (for some of us, okay?) punctuation-related facts described in Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves (yes, the title there also plays with the Oxford comma, so I suppose that’s double misdirection).

 

Instead, it’s about a dash.

 

I had an interesting email exchange with former GOHWP Board member Ishbel McWha-Hermann after the recent SIOP conference, in which she mentioned that one of the conversations the Board used to have was about H-WP vs. HW-P.

 

The astute reader will have already noticed that there is no punctuation in GOHWP’s name, nor is there any in HWP as it’s generally abbreviated.  The distinction, however, is an interesting one, and points out two perspectives from which people can approach HWP.  As Carr, De Guzman, Eltyeb, Furnham, MacLachlan, Marai, and McAuliffe put it in their 2012 chapter, “Humanitarian work psychology incorporates both the application of industrial and organizational psychology to humanitarian issues, and more broadly the development of a psychology that promotes humanitarian work” (p. 4).

 

But do we all think of it from both perspectives simultaneously, and if not, what does the placement of that dash tell each of us about how we view the field?

 

Parsing “HW” from “P” reflects the study of the psychology of humanitarian work.  A lot of the work of groups like SIOP’s UN team, the Project GLOW initiative, and Project FAIR (look for more on this in upcoming blogs!) falls into this category.  Indeed, in looking at the focus of GOHWP as an organization, this has been what we tend to emphasize.  In our Twitter feed, this is largely the kind of work we post about, and the kinds of initiatives we follow.  There is a ton (or, I suppose, a tonne) of important work to be done in this domain, particularly as it relates to supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  That, in a nutshell, is HW-P.  The psychology of humanitarian work.

 

H-WP slices things differently, putting work psychology into the service of various humanitarian topics and organizations.  This is where things like corporate social responsibility and prosocial I-O tend to fall.  A job analysis of volunteers at a soup kitchen, or developing a job skills training program for refugees, would be examples of H-WP.  One of my favorite sessions from SIOP 2017 involved a panel talking about doing prosocial I-O, working with various non-profits, religious organizations, and so forth to improve their functioning.

 

Before I had the distinction put to me in fundamental punctuation terms, I’ll admit that it’s something I’d struggled with.  It seemed – well, seems – to me that HWP can and should do both things, and that’s what the Carr et al. (2012) definition would suggest.  We should be studying humanitarian work, so we can support that sector of the global organizational community, but we should also be taking the skills we develop through our education, training, and work experience to improve all kinds of organizations that contribute to the greater good.

 

HWP, to me, is all about making the world a better place.  Wherever you place that dash, you’re trying to achieve the same goal:  Help people.  Offer our knowledge and skills (ah, heck – and our abilities, to finish the trifecta!) to improve work and thereby make people’s lives better.

 

So next time you think about HWP (and I hope you think about it often!), ask yourself:  Where do I put the dash?

 

 

References

Carr, S.C., De Guzman, J.M., Eltyeb, S.M., Furnham, A., MacLachlan, M., Marai, L., & McAuliffe, E. (2012). An introduction to humanitarian work psychology.  In S.C. Carr, M. MachLachlan, & A. Furnham (eds.), Humanitarian Work Psychology (pp. 3-33). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Truss, L. (2006). Eats, shoots and leaves: The zero tolerance approach to punctuation.  New York, NY: Avery.