Recent research by Timming (from UWA) has found that the way managers treat their staff actually has a major impact, not just on the staff themselves but on our democracy.
Timming found that when workers are treated “like soldiers whose only job is to execute management’s orders without questioning them” those workers are much less likely to engage in local, state or national politics, and less likely to vote. This is exacerbated by increasingly draconian laws that give employers the rights to not only control employee behaviour in the workplace, but their actions outside of work.
The right to protest, the right to disagree, and the right to freedom of speech are fundamental to our democracy and we all have responsibilities as citizens in a democratic nation to engage in these ways.
Timming argued that in workplaces where staff were given a voice, where they were consulted about their work, and felt they had some degree of control over their work, they were much more likely to participate in their community and engage in politics.
Similar research suggests the same principles apply in schools. Australian students are generally found to be ill-prepared for their adult citizen role.
Is it up to our leaders to change things? McAuley, in a recent paper, argued that the stronger our leaders, the easier it is for us to sit back and assume they can sort out our problems. The more we abrogate personal responsibility the greater the risk that a popular leader can lead us to destruction.
He argues that we should not expect those in positions of authority to solve our problems, to lead us to salvation. Rather, that we all have to take responsibility to take on leadership in areas of interest and expertise.
So how do we create a workplace culture that supports and encourages everyone to engage in decision-making, to feel safe to share their opinion and to feel that their voice is valued?
Here I believe it does come down to leadership. Leaders can create opportunities for their staff to share their opinions, they can provide information that helps staff understand the realities and the boundaries, and they can spend time to learn each of their staff’s strengths, supporting staff to develop ways to work together.
Leaders cannot do this alone but their role is crucial. If managers do not provide an empowering climate, staff voice is simply dismissed as belonging to troublemakers.
While we live under a neoliberal regime, the staff-as-potential-trouble-makers perspective continues to rule. I argue it is up to every one of us, leaders and staff, to challenge this view.
Despite disagreeing with managers over many things, I am not a naughty child, I am an intelligent adult who makes choices about how to behave. So are my colleagues. It is time we were treated as such.