Last year, on the first leg of my return flight from SXSW, I ended up sitting next to Mark Dowds, who introduced me not only to CrossFit, but also to Worldblu. The first one is now part of my life; the second one is something I always wanted to find out more about. So last week I met Miranda Ash, Worldblu’s UK representative. I left the meeting feeling very excited and inspired by the work, principles, vision and examples of Worldblu.
But let’s start at the beginning and look at employee engagement or shall we say disengagement.
Take a look at this link for some startling up to date stats from the USA and I suspect the story here in the UK isn’t much better – http://www.gallup.com/poll/150383/majority-american-workers-not-engaged-jobs.aspx. All the stats below are from Gallup and provided by Miranda unless otherwise stated.
In a report from a couple of years ago Gallup reported that:
82% of Australian employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from their work.
88% of Chinese employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from their work.
91% of Japanese employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”
88% of Thai employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”
But when engagement does happen, the results are quite astonishing:
62% of engaged workers feel that their work positively impacts their health, whereas 54% or disengaged workers say that their work lives are having a negative effect on their health. With the skyrocketing cost of health insurance 68% of small business owners say that they think healthcare costs are hurting the current business climate “a lot.”
Healthcare costs were expected to rise 15% in 2011 alone, so employers are scrambling for ways to keep employees healthier. We hear about wellness programmes – but what about increasing the level of employee engagement? A further statistic we saw last year reported that in workplaces were employees are actively engaged the healthcare costs are 75% lower because of decreased stress levels. In addition, recruitment costs are 73% lower because happy employees are loyal employees.
What about the psychological dimension? 78% of engaged workers say that their work life has a positive effect on their psychological well-being — but only 15% of actively disengaged workers feel the same way.
So the assumption, put forward by WorldBlu, is that engagement = bottom-line growth!
Worldblu is committed to introducing more democracy and freedom into the workplace and is working with companies to become certified as a democratic workplace. Their member companies include the likes of Zappos, Groupon and HCL, so as you can see, this isn’t just some madcap initiative but a real attempt of changing the way we work and how we engage with employees. It is fascinating and sits perfectly within the connected age and its shift from consumption to communication and henceforth collaboration. It also seems to be more up-to-date and flexible than Investors’ for People, embracing more than just work and its processes.
Here are Worldblu’s 10 Principles of Organizational Democracy
1 Purpose and Vision
A democratic organization is clear about why it exists (its purpose) and where it is headed and what it hopes to achieve (its vision). These act as its true North, offering guidance and discipline to the organization’s direction.
Say goodbye to the ‘secret society’ mentality. Democratic organizations are transparent and open with employees about the financial health, strategy, and agenda of the organization.
3 Dialogue + Listening
Instead of the top-down monologue or dysfunctional silence that characterizes most workplaces, democratic organizations are committed to having conversations that bring out new levels of meaning and connection.
4 Fairness + Dignity
Democratic organizations are committed to fairness and dignity, not treating some people like ‘somebodies’ and other people like ‘nobodies.’
Democratic organizations point fingers, not in a blaming way but in a liberating way. They are crystal clear about who is accountable to whom and for what.
6 Individual + Collective
In democratic organizations, the individual is just as important as the whole, meaning employees are valued for their individual contribution as well as for what they do to help achieve the collective goals of the organization.
Democratic organizations thrive on giving employees meaningful choices.
Integrity is the name of the game, and democratic companies have a lot of it. They understand that freedom takes discipline and also doing what is morally and ethically right.
Democratic organizations make sure power is appropriately shared and distributed among people throughout the organization.
10 Reflection + Evaluation
Democratic organizations are committed to continuous feedback and development and are willing to learn from the past and apply lessons to improve the future.
I think there are already a lot of companies that actually live by some of these principles, in their own ways. Every nation’s democratic system is slightly different and influenced by culture and history, and it is the same for companies, every single one has to take the approach and interpretation that works for them.
In the first instance I’m always a little hesitant about these initiatives, because so often they are actually – like many Corporate Social Responsibility programmes – just cosmetic and don’t really impact the company, its employees and therefore society profoundly and longer term. WorldBlu seems to be different and much closer linked to actual business performance.
What is organizational democracy?
Democratic workplaces build more peaceful societies
We all know that the saying “It’s only business, nothing personal” is utter nonsense as everything is linked and looped: Individuals, businesses, societies. Here are some more research findings, Miranda shared with me:
“Democratic workplaces build more peaceful societies. In her recent study of nearly 80 nations, Gretchen Spreitzer, a University of Michigan professor of management and organizations, found that there was significantly less corruption or unrest and more peace in nations where employees have the freedom to make decisions at work and where organizations are managed using a participatory leadership style. Conversely, in countries where employees have to be more compliant in following a manager’s decision, there is more unrest. Ms. Spreitzer found that democratically run workplaces not only benefit economically from progressive management practices, but also enhance peace in their community by reducing the feelings of powerlessness at work.
Democratic workplaces create more democratic citizens. In Botswana, a nation working hard to build and sustain its political democracy, organizations are expected and encouraged to operate democratically. In 1993, its Ministry of Education decided to transition all secondary schools from an authoritarian to a democratic management structure. The result? According to the International Education Journal, students, administrators, and the country as a whole are benefiting from a more democratic citizenry.”
Isn’t it amazing that we always think about the West as being the developed world, but it is actually countries like Botswana that are pushing the boundaries? That is similar to Kenya, which is much more advanced in mobile payments than the Western world. I’ll certainly be engaging more with Worldblu – it just seems to be a great movement for this increasingly digitalized and globalised world.