Organisational Democracy in the Agriculture Sector in Zimbabwe. Scope, Practicality and Benefits

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2012

42 Pages, Grade: none



Orientation: this study is a critical analysis on the role of organisational democracy in the function, effectiveness and productivity of an organisation.

Research Purpose: the purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship that exists between organisational democracy and productivity as well as to identify the potential of organisational democracy in Zimbabwe.

Motivation of the study: A scientific inquiry is vital to assess the role organisational democracy can play in enhancing organisational vitality, productivity and cohesion. From such a study the practicality of organisational democracy can be assessed and a frame work can be proposed through which employees participate in organisational structures and systems.

Research Design, approach and Method:

A quantitative survey comprising group interviews and questionnaire was carried out. Ninety participants from nine agricultural companies in the Chipinge District of Zimbabwe took part in the research. The response rate for the questionnaire was 84%. .

Main Findings: Organisational democracy is positively related to productivity. There is no universal standard of industrial democracy, but its nature depends on the current socio-economic and political environment in which the organisation exists. An organisation can also evolve from one democratic structure to another in response to the changing environment.

Practical/Managerial implications: the form democracy takes must come as a result of dialogue and consultation with employees and stakeholders. Understanding the environment in which the organisation exists would provide vital input to the nature of employee participations in the decision making process.

Contribution/value-added: the study showed that consultation, consent, dialogue and mutuality are important ingredients in the nature of organisational democracy and they influence the resultant benefits.

Key words: organisational democracy, employee participation, productivity, consultation, dialogue, scope of democracy, co-determination.


Democracy has become a major political system in the last few centuries. Developing alongside political democracy is industrial or organisational democracy, which is the focus of this paper. The advent of globalisation and human rights movement was accompanied by the rise of industrial democracy. The motivating factor for this research is that a number of big and small companies, mostly in developed countries, claim that they are practising successful organisational democracy, resulting in them acquiring competitive advantages. In contrast, companies in developing countries, especially in Africa, do not seem willing to introduce and maintain democratic systems and processes at the workplace. This study conducted in a developing country brings insight into the impact of organisational democracy, with particular reference to the African context and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region in particular. The labour mobility within SADC, particularly among South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Malawi, may mean that the results of this research would be applicable in these countries. Importantly, these countries also share a cultural orientation.

In the light of the above discussion, the main aim of this study is to find out if democracy enhances productivity and if it is a practical strategy in the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe. It is not definite that such results may apply in other sectors of the economy. Specifically, the objective of the research was to investigate the following with respect to companies in the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe:

1. What industrial democracy entails
2. Whether industrial democracy is a practical strategy
3. The relationship between industrial democracy and productivity

Literature Survey

The labour commission of the International Labour Organisation (2011) recommended that workers must be accorded the rights that every citizen must have and that a workplace should ideally use social dialogue in order to create organisational peace and in the process create conditions for achieving labour productivity and improve welfare for all. The same source said that governments should foster sustainable organisations through social protection and strengthening of the fundamental rights of workers at the workplace. Richard (2007) said that many people agree that the concept of democracy is widely applicable to humanity, not just in the political discourse where it is prevalent. McCarty, Compaq and Sheldon (2011) voiced that political democracy cannot be fully achieved if it is not supported by industrial democracy since democracy brings accountability both in the workplace and society. Gordon Brown, (as cited in Ward and Williams, 2000), commented that people must seek democratic development in which citizens participate in making decisions that affect their lives. The notion of equality as human beings must be extended to the place of work; there is a need to foster a culture of interpersonal trust and respect (Allcorn, 2003). Budd and Scovill (2005) viewed meaningful work as work in which the workers have freedom to choose and where opportunities for autonomy exist. Budd and Scovill added that work relationships must support the rationality of human beings and assist in creating meaningful work that enables people to develop their rational capacities. Chris and Williams (2000) contended that workers are citizens who have the right to a voice that must be heard at the workplace: a voice that should be listened to and responded to.

Having discussed workplace democracy, we must understand what exactly that term means in organisations. Denning (1998) commented that a democratic workplace has various meanings to different people. Cheney (as cited in Miller, 2009) described workplace democracy as a system of governance which is based on valuing individuals' goals and feelings as well as recognising the goals of the organisation. Therefore, a connection should exist between the aspirations of workers and the policies of that organisation (Miller, 2009). The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology (2006) defined industrial democracy as the participation of employees in managerial decisions in areas which affect their working lives. The theory of industrial democracy focuses on participatory practices where workers are highly involved, either being represented by trade unions or as gazetted by the legislature, or by having representatives or direct representation (Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology, 2006).

Whereas, various authors have come up with different definitions of industrial democracy, in this study democracy has its own operational meaning. It relates to the work place situation where management employees carry out various meetings with representatives of employees, or with all employees, in which agreements are reached in most or all areas that impact on employees’ welfare and the general functioning of the organisation. In such meetings management informs the workers of developments that take place and that are likely to take place due to internal or external factors. The critical aspect is that there is information sharing and consultation. In such negotiations the workers are viewed and treated as partners, rather than being manipulated. The workers’ input is incorporated in the decision making process through system that is acceptable and transparent to both groups. Transparent indicates the willingness of management to accept openly the ideas that have come from the workers. On the other hand decisions that come from management must be made public to the employees before their implementation

In respect of the above definition, industrial democracy is measured by: frequency of consultative meetings held per month, the number of forums created in which employee input is obtained and scope of areas in which workers have their input in decision making. If both employees and management are happy about the frequency of meetings, the number of forums created for dialogue and level of involvement in various areas where decisions are required, then, there is industrial democracy at that work place.

Management employees refer to all managers in the company or the people who hold equivalent positions, who have the capacity to make final decisions. On the other hand, productivity means the average output per employee per month. Out put is measured in standard units such as kilograms, cubic metres or tonnes per employee. Productivity increases if there is an increase in output per employee above the previously recorded average where the conditions are the same. Productivity decreases if the current average output per employee goes below the previous highest average, all conditions being the same.

History of industrial democracy

Industrial democracy emerged from the work of John Dewey (1916) and Kurt Lewin 1939, who both agreed that democracy must be learned by each generation and that it is a form of social structure, which is attainable but difficult to maintain (Smith ,2001; Tognotti, 2008). Pratikanis (2010) added that Lewin and his students Ralph White and Ron Lippit carried out their research in 1939 on the nature of democracy, autocracy and laissez faire. The three aimed to find out which of these leaderships styles would make it easiest to introduce technological change in Harwood Pajama Factory, based in Marion in rural Virginia in the USA, where there was great resistance to change (Coghlan & Brannick, 2003). According to Pratkanis (2010), in the democratic group of Lewin, there was high productivity, many innovations and job satisfaction. After the groundbreaking research of Lewin and his colleagues, in 1968 Litwin and Stringer replicated that experiment, comparing a democratic leadership style with autocratic and laissez faire leadership styles (Pratkanis, 2010). The conclusions of Lewin and Stringer indicated that a democratic style leads to high satisfaction, high performance level and employee motivation (Clabough, 2006).In respect of the above, I predict that there is a relationship between the involvement of employees in decision and productivity (hypothesis 1).

Forms democracy can take at work

Industrial democracy can take two broad forms: representational democracy or direct democracy (Adams & Hansen, 1993). Aviiad (2002) stressed that participatory democracy means the participation by all employees in the workplace, and argued that representative democracy cannot replace it. The same author, on the other hand said that, representative democracy at the workplace normally exists through trade unions and works councils. Allard, Davidson and Mathieu (2008) pointed out that the scope of democracy is wide, ranging from direct democracy to representative democracy. In both direct democracy and representative democracy, workers take control of the decisions that affect them at the workplace (Carter, 1989). Choa (2008) pointed out that representative democracy is when most employees are limited to voting for people who will represent their interests in issues that affect all workers, including the making of laws that govern them at work. However, direct democracy gives all employees the right to participate in directly making the laws that they must abide by and that affect them (Choa, 2008). In direct democracy, every employee must be involved in making the decisions that affect them, and such functions cannot be delegated to other employees Robertson. 2002). These authors argued that the important issue is that the people affected by decisions are the ones making them should choose the structures they want and become accountable to that. The scope of industrial democracy has been previously covered by using various terms such as employee involvement, participation, empowerment, semi-autonomy, codetermination, team working, quality circles, works councils and joint consultation (Barkin, 2011; Xishan ,1983). Collins Dictionary of Business (2006) showed that there are various forms of industrial democracy that include workers control (the workforce has all powers or authority within an organisation), workers cooperative (workers own the business), worker directors (workers’ representatives sit on the board of directors to make decisions) and collective bargaining (where management relinquishes some powers and authority to workers’ representatives). Irrespective of the form of democracy, the main premise of democracy is found in self-management with a high regard for the principle of equity, voluntary participation, openness and accountability (Adams &Hansen ,1993), which leads to the employees’ interests and goals being met (Collins Dictionary of Business, 2006).

Guiding Principles of Industrial Democracy

The functioning of any democratic system is based on certain core principles that must be abided by, such as shared values (Miller, 2009). This author pointed out that democratic values that must be shared are equality, participation, support and dignity of all contributions. Industrial democracy counterweighs the notion of individualism; it emphasises that the people who are in power must remain accountable to the majority and must work to meet their subordinates' desires (McCartin, 2011). The Coalition for Democratic Workplace (2009) emphasised the need for free speech and right to self-expression, which should be protected, especially through union-organised secret ballots. There is a need for structures that maximise cooperation and consultations as well as structures that encourage individual participation (Miller, 2009). Equally important is the need for workers to be able to become completely involved so as to have their rights fulfilled; they must know the situations, plans and challenges concerning their organisation (Ward & Williams, 2000). The workers must have the feeling that they are doing something worthwhile, and they must make choices that assist them and their colleagues in some way. There should be a sense of equality among workers themselves, recognition of each other's contributions, and opportunities to be creative and free from unnecessary pressures (Ruthschild & Whitt, 1986). At the workplace, liberal tenets, equality and solidarity should exist along with legally protected freedoms such as freedom of association, expression, movement and conscience (Ward & Williams, 2000) .Finally, Toggnotti (2008) pointed out that for democracy to thrive, the basic and pressing wishes and aspirations of human beings in a particular set up should be respected and upheld.

Aspects of industrial Democracy

Kester (2007) identified some aspects that can indicate organisational democracy, such as worker representation, joint councils, joint committees, gender representation and educational training. Kester added that these structures should be designed to effectively and sustainably implement solutions to problems. A democratically guided enterprise should insist on wide knowledge sharing in issues such as the organisation vision (Adams & Hansen, 1993). According to Weiss (2011) the effectiveness of employees depends on the level of communication in the organisation and how the workers are informed and trained. Follet, (as cited in Walker, 2007), emphasised the need for group processes in major decision making and conflict resolution situations as well as a need to initiate team-based involvement programs. Shen and Benson (2008) supported the need for having tripartite consultation, which is generally a process where workers, the government and employers contribute to developing labour legislation and labour standards as well as creating a forum of voluntary interaction and social dialogue among the three parties. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology (2006) insisted that organisational democracy can be enhanced through works councils, shop floor programs, direct employee participation, representation through trade unions, and worker consultation by the human resources department and a legislative framework. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology (2006) identified the main aspects of a democratic workplace as trade union involvement, open consultation between management and employees, and co-determination. By co-determination, this dictionary referred to employee representatives having seats at the boards and participating in the company decision making process.

Areas of Involvement

Workers are primarily interested in participating in areas that concern their working lives such as wages, working conditions and controlling powers of managers over them (Penguin Dictionary of Sociology, 2006). Another way in which employees get involved in controlling production problems is through quality circles (Weiss, 2011). Employees are also involved in planning and sharing information on performance and on finding ways to help to accomplish the mission of the organisation (GAO, 2001). A congressional testimony in United States of America (1998) listed the following as ways in which employees can be involved: consultation on health and safety issues, consultation on business plans, introduction of new equipment, changes in work processes, training, work organisation, and plans for lay offs and downsizing. Drago (1996) also suggested that workers can be involved in customer relations issues. Considering the wide range of areas in which the employees can take part in, I predict that employee involvement in decision making is a practical strategy to improve production (hypothesis 2).

Why the Need for Democracy in the Workplace

The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought (2007) indicated that democracy helps the organisation to identify the interests of the workforce and so increases their motivation. It also added that democracy awakens the interest of workers in production issues, hence changing their mentality of being viewed as only a means of production. The Dictionary of Alternatives (2007) credited such democracy with increasing motivation, commitment of workers, increasing productivity and decreasing labour turnover. This is supported by Russell (1985), who argued that workers are more motivated to carry out the decisions which they, themselves, have made. Budd and Scovill (2005) pointed out that by using participative groups, where (1) employees are involved in setting goals of the organisation and meeting them, (2) communication is initiated at all points, and (3) flow of information is multidirectional, there is lower absenteeism, waste production and loss. Ward and Williams (2000) indicated that when employees are involved in making decisions, there is a greater likelihood of imaginative solutions to problems, successful implementation of strategies, increased commitment, loyalty and cooperation. Rayasan (2011) confirmed earlier indications that democracy at the workplace assists in recruiting bright employees who wish to join organisations that value their ideas and contributions. Lewin (as cited in Garth, 2009) said that most workplace problems, even technical and economical, have some social connotations since there is the involvement of people's feelings, perceptions, motivation and commitment.

Controversy surrounding democracy at the workplace

Nayer (2001) pointed out that democracy conflicts with property rights; this is because employees have a moral right to be heard at the workplace, whereas the employer has a legal right over his/her property and should have a final say on possessions. Furthering the argument, Nayer said that the democratic right of workers is linked to the need to control management power in the organisation, whereas property rights are concerned with all the other things in the organisation. So any use of property proposed by the workers may be vetoed by the owner. Democracy should not violate property rights in that it tends to invest a lot of control in people who have no right to ownership nor have an interest in ownership (Palgrave McMillan Dictionary of Political Thought, 2007). In pointing out that there are various forms of industrial democracy that provide workers with different levels of power on decision making (Collins Dictionary of Business, 2006; McMillan Encyclopaedia, 2003), another focus of uncertainty arises about what form of democracy should be adopted: representation by trade unions at the national or local level, or representation by members elected by the workers, or direct involvement (Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science, 1999). The Ultimate Resource (2009) argued that in industrial democracy, workers must not only share in the inputs but also in the outputs of the organisation. In view of the above discussion, I predict that the scope and nature of industrial democracy relate to the society in which the organisation is located (hypothesis 3).

In the light of the above discussions, the main aim of this study is, therefore, to find out if democracy enhances productivity and if it is a practical strategy in the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe. It is not definite that such results may apply in other sectors of the economy. Specifically, though the research objectives were to investigate the following with respect to companies in the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe:

1. What industrial democracy entails
2. Whether industrial democracy is a practical strategy
3. Whether there is a relationship between organisational democracy and productivity.


Population and Sampling

The total population comprised 6 710 employees working in nine major agricultural companies in Chipinge District of Zimbabwe. The agriculture sector has been chosen because that is a sector that produces most products for export, hence earning foreign currency for the country. The agriculture sector is the highest single employer in the country .These companies were selected because they have corporate management styles and are registered under the Companies Act of Zimbabwe. Most of the companies from which the participants were selected practice a fair level of industrial democracy. The results of this study will show if there are areas in which democratic principles and structures would be improved in these organisations.

Stratified random sampling was used. The respondents were selected from management employees and worker representatives of these companies. The worker representatives in this research include all employees who have been elected into workers committees and who are part of the works council. The total number of management employees and worker representatives in these companies is 354. From these, 45 worker representatives and 45 management employees were randomly chosen to take part in the study. Sixty percent of these were males, while 40% were females. The age range was from 18 to 49, with a mean of 32, 13. Of the 90 participants, 40 were involved in group interview while the other 50 were involved as questionnaire respondents.


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Organisational Democracy in the Agriculture Sector in Zimbabwe. Scope, Practicality and Benefits
( Atlantic International University )  (School of Social and Human Studies)
Masters in Human resources Management
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This is a research paper done in Zimbabwe in the Agriculture sector.
Organizational democracy, consutation, employee empowerment, participative decision
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Mashell Chapeyama (Author), 2012, Organisational Democracy in the Agriculture Sector in Zimbabwe. Scope, Practicality and Benefits, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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