University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
This article originally appeared in Communication Yearbook 21, pp. 35-91
Democracy, Participation, and Communication at Work: A Multidisciplinary Review
Dan DeGooyer, IR.
This review essay examines a broad multidisciplinary literature democracy and work, highlighting issues of theory and practice of special interest to communication scholars. The essay treats relevant and selective research from the following fields (in addition to communication studies): the sociology of organizations, political science and public administration, comparative and labor economics, management and organizational behavior, cultural anthropology and organizations, industrial and organizational psychology, labor and industrial relations, and feminist studies of organizations. The following communication-related themes are used to organize the essay and to derive conclusions from the relevant literatures: (a) the boundary spanning potential organizational democracy. (h multiple rationalities and motivations in employee participation programs, (c) the microprocess features of workplace democratization, (d) the structural aspects of participation and democracy at work (e) the issue of "voice" and the expression of interests in organizational participation, (f) "adversarial" versus "consensus-based" versions of organizational democracy. and (g) issues of control, power, and influence in "alternative" versus traditional organizational structures.
AUTHORS' NOTE: The authors are listed in the order of their overall contrihutions to this project. We express our gratitude to Christine Courtade Hirsch of the University of Colorado a. Boulder, Alfie Calely of Tom lames of Los Angeles, Inc., and David Diamant of the University of New Mexico for helpful bibliographic work. We are also grateful to Dana Cloud of the University of Texas at Austin, in addition to the anonymous reviewers, for helpful critical comments on an earlier draft.
Correspondence and requests for reprints: George Cheney, Department of Communication Studies, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Communication Yearbook 21, pp. 35-91
BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE
"Democracy at the Crossroads" was the theme for the International Communication Association's 1996 convention in Chicago. "Democracy in Crisis" might have been an even more suitable heading, both because of the challenges posed today for the maintenance and revival of participatory politics all over the world and because of the variety of questions that have been raised in public discourse about the very nature, meaning, and possibility of authentic democracy (Barber, 1984; Lefort, 1988). Likewise, the realities and potentialities of active citizen participation in industrialized societies are being intensely debated (Gould, 1988; Mathews, 1989). Democracy seems to he both spreading, through new organizational structures and new media, and diminishing, in terms of the limits of the possibilities for genuine dialogue in a fast-paced world that is utterly cluttered with symbols. At the same time, of course, that we witness the assertion of common or even global interests in certain democratic political movements, we see various expressions of a politics of identity or "difference"—in some cases leading to tremendous conflict, bloodshed, and authoritarian reactions (Benhabib, 1996; Elshtain, 1995). Depending on which of the many popular books on the subject one chooses to highlight, the prospects for democracy may look bleak, bright, or mixed.
Three things become clear very quickly in any such discussion. First, democracy itself is an essentially contested term, in that one person's idea of a democratic arrangement may be another's notion of a constraining and oppressive system of governance (Gustavsen, 1992). Second, democracy and democratization are dauntingly complex matters even when we do agree more or less on our use of teens. Third, critical observers are looking for and at democratic practices far beyond the traditional domains of politics and civil rights.
Now is therefore the time for communication scholars to take a serious, broad-ranging, and long look at issues of democracy in today's world. There are at least four important reasons for the communication discipline's sustained attention to issues of workplace democracy. First, the roots of communication studies are in classical and neoclassical notions of public discussion and. more specifically, in our ways of understanding how it is that we influence one another and make decisions in the interest of the wider community (Grimaldi, 1972). There are now numerous examples of contemporary social theorists whose reflections center on genuine dialogue and a type of "deep" democracy that transcends the domain of politics as typically conceived (Habermas, 1989). Second, issues of democracy and democratization cut across the traditional (and, unfortunately, often rather insular) divisions of the discipline: interpersonal communication, small group communication, organizational communication, mass communication, political communication, rhetorical studies, and intercultural communication (Hegstrom & Kassing, 1996). And, as an example, in the emerging arena of health communication (which itself tends to bridge concerns associated with interpersonal, organizational, and mass communication) issues of institutional centralization versus decentralization, client access, individual "voice," and social control have become hotly debated (Ray, 1996). Third, a responsive and expansive field of communication should concern itself with issues of democracy as they are manifest, emergent, and critiqued in various parts of the world (Harrison, 1992). Thus we are asserting our ethical and practical interest in promoting democratic organizations (Sashkin, 1984) while at the same time seeking to present the empirical research on the subject faithfully and to represent democracy's limits fairly (Gamson & Levin, 1984; Kanter, 1982). Fourth, issues of democracy and participation necessarily involve questions about communication in terms of both structure and process (Harrison, 1994; Monge & Miller, 1988; Stohl, 1995a).
Concepts such as "democracy" and "participation" should be assessed in terms of both how they are constituted or demonstrated in practice and how they themselves (as ideas, ideals, and terms) are discussed and debated (Cheney, 1995, 1997a, 1997b). That is, we should consider not only what practices count as democratic but also what the meanings of democracy are. Indeed, ideas about what democracy is can vary substantially over time in a particular society (or even in a specific organization), just as they can and do across cultures and settings at the same moment. This same principle holds for participation (Stohl, 1993) and other such popular "organizing" terms. Moreover, the discipline of communication stands to learn from what other disciplines and areas of research have said about forms of employee participation and should contribute to those discussions (Seibolcl & Shea, in press). The theoretical and practical benefits of such an engagement of the discipline in basic and crucial issues about democracy can be enormous. As Deetz (1995) argues, issues of democratization and participation at work are important practically and economically as well as theoretically and philosophically.
We begin this review essay with all four of the above observations firmly in mind, as we consider systematically and broadly what democracy means and could mean in the world of work organizations. Thus, while we focus our attention on the organizational context and even more specifically on employing organizations, we necessarily treat a number of issues that do not fit neatly into the "container" model of organizational life (Putnam, Phillips, Chapman, 1996; Smith, 1993; Taylor, 1995). That is, we deliberately urge organizational communication scholars to look beyond the boundaries of an organization to understand fully such organizational practices as participation. This "boundary crossing" makes sense, given the array of practical and theoretical reasons for considering in a fluid manner the organizational environmental interface (Cheney & Christensen, in press). For many organizations today, it is unclear just where their boundaries are.
Broadly speaking, we employ in this essay a "communication perspective" that emphasizes such concepts as symbols, language, meaning, interactions, networks of relationships, and patterns in discourse. However, throughout we attempt to minimize the use of discipline-specific jargon, preferring instead to highlight the following seven important issues:
Each of these sets of issues, derived from our examination of the relevant literature, has significance both within and outside our discipline.
The topics of democracy and participation at work could be neither more timely nor more pressing. Transformations in the world of work surround us. Reengineering, lean production, downsizing, and outsourcing are just a few of the currently popular terms that suggest a reordering of the workplace— often with a stress on speed, quantity of production, cost-cutting measures, and limited staffing (Rifkin, 1995). Self-directed or semiautonomous work teams, total quality management, continuous improvement, and customer driven firms represent some of the most common approaches to the restructuring of work processes. They can mean more freedom for employees in certain decisions and activities while also entailing greater responsibility, higher workload, and generally increased pressure (Barker, 1993; Berggren, 1992; Wendt, 1994). Further, many of these programs as implemented do not necessarily produce the anticipated positive results—in either enhanced productivity or boosts in morale—especially in the short term (Zorn, 1997). Also, the disarming and exciting technological changes of today's world (such as computer-mediated communication) raise penetrating questions about these approaches' potential patterns of social organization (Mantovani, 1994; Sclove, 1995), especially in terms of the competing trends of centralization versus decentralization. So-called network forms of organization, involving strong but ad hoc relationships and a high degree of coordination, represent one possibility for "flatter" structures (Monge, 1995; Powell, I 990). And finally, critiques have recently appeared questioning the democratic nature of a "globalizing" world in which the multinational corporation has become perhaps the preeminent social institution (Korten, 1995). These are just a few of the economic and social developments that point to the need for further investigation with respect to democracy and work (see also Arterton, 1987, for a broad-ranging discussion of technology and its implications for democracy).
Obviously, there are a great many definitions and conceptions of terms such as workplace democracy and employee participation (Warner, 1984). The reader should be aware of the powerful ambiguities surrounding these terms (Berggren, 1992) and should recognize also that terminological shifts (say, from employee participation to employee involvement; Cotton, 1993) can make enormous practical differences in terms of highlighting certain types of social phenomena and excluding others (Eisenberg, 1984). The use of the word teamwork, for example, can highlight or suppress individual differences and distinctive member contributions (Plas, 1996). In any context, democracy and participation are not only essentially contested terms, but also ideals that may well be "reinvented." These qualities suggest the need for a self-reflexive and process-oriented perspective on workplace democracy (Cheney, 199S; Deetz, 1995; Harrison, 1994).
Here, we would like to offer working definitions of democracy and participation to orient the reader. Generally speaking, we characterize workplace democracy as referring to those principles and practices designed to engage and "represent" (in the multiple senses of the term) as many relevant individuals and groups as possible in the formulation, execution, and modification of work-related activities. Employee participation programs may then be considered as typically narrower in scope, referring to cases of organizationally sponsored systems that may then be considered as typically narrower in scope, referring to cases of organizationally sponsored systems that may or may not have democratization as their primary goal or outcome.
We proceed by examining each of the seven communication-related themes listed above (i.e., boundary spanning, multiple rationalities, structure, microprocesses, voice, adversarial and consensus-based models, and control). We consider these themes with respect to seven identifiable bodies of relevant scholarly literature from across the following disciplines and specialties: (a) politics, democracy, and participation; (b) power in organizations; (c) leadership in organizations; (d) organizationally sponsored employee participation programs; (e) organized labor and workplace democracy; (f) "alternative" organizations (e.g., worker co-ops); and (g) feminism and feminist organizations. (Although technological developments, ethnic and other forms of diversity, and social movements are important and relevant topics for discussion, their treatment is beyond the scope of this particular essay.)'
We selected and employed the topics listed above because each represents an identifiable and reasonably coherent body of literature and a corresponding network of scholars. Predominant themes are indeed evident in these literatures. For example, the literature on politics and political life tends to focus outside the boundaries of the workplace, yet in recent years it has come to extend the political rights of participation in the larger community to the experience of the employee (Dahl, 1961, 1985). As another example, the literature on worker cooperatives has often been preoccupied with proving economic success, but lately it has attended just as much to the maintenance of the social system and mission of the cooperative workplace (Greenwood, 1992; Krimerman & Lindenfeld, 1992; Whyte & Whyte, l 991). Still one more case can be offered here as a prefatory illustration. The research on feminist theory and feminist organizations, which began with emphases on both interpersonal relations and politics, now includes "middle-level themes" such DS the potential for transcending or transforming rigid and patriarchal bureaucratic structures (Ferguson, 1984).
The lack of "conversation" between and among these various literatures is shown by the fact that, for instance, the literatures on feminist organizations and labor (on the one hand) and feminist theory and alternative organizations (on the other) exhibit little awareness of or allusion to one another. Similarly, the literature on organizationally sponsored participative systems—such as quality circles, self-directed work teams, and "quality of work life" programs—and the research on "alternative" organizations tend to be rather compartmentalized (Berggren, 1992, is an exception). And we observe that seldom has the vast literature on forms and practices of leadership been brought into direct dialogue with research on employee participation and workplace democracy (McLagan & Nel, 1995, is an exception). Even though "democratic leadership" has been a major theme throughout this scholarly tradition, much of the research has been contained and rather self-referential. This is true also of the writings on power in organizations (see the reviews by Alvesson, 1996; Mumby, in press).
The remainder of the essay is structured as a theme-by-theme examination of the relevant literatures in which we highlight areas where research investigations have spoken explicitly or implicitly to questions of democracy, participation, and communication.
THE BOUNDARY-SPANNING DIMENSION
The issue of boundary spanning expresses in the most direct way the relationship between "what's going on inside" and "what's occurring outside" the organization. Unfortunately, organizational communication has largely been confined to a "container" model of the organization, relegating affairs beyond organizational borders to the attention of scholars in mass communication, marketing, advertising, and public relations. Such a division in concerns is no longer fruitful or justifiable (Cheney & Christensen, in press; Deetz, 1995; Harrison, 1994). As Dahl (1985) and others (e.g., March & Olsen, 1995) have argued recently, issues of governance now pervade our society. It is compelling to consider how rights and practices of participation in the larger community are related to rights and practices of participation in organizations (Mathews, 1989). To be sure, issues of time, abilities, and material resources are relevant to how an individual "participates" in a variety of spheres of activity. At the same time, however, the degree to which each of us is embedded in overlapping and, at times, competing activities and relationships suggests the importance of looking simultaneously inside and outside the organization (Stohl, 1995a).
The research on politics obviously has a great deal to say about "crossing boundaries" in attempts at democratization or the revitalization of existing democratic forms. But we must also hear what the other areas of research say about this matter. In an age when organizational boundaries are made problematic for a host of reasons, the implications for democracy and communication require sustained research.
In this section, we address briefly the interrelationships among such questions as: How do the changing structures of work and the workplace relate to those of the larger society? How is the nature of workplace or work participation shaped and constrained by the larger political context (or culture) within which it operates? What is the relationship (potential or actual) between work-based democratization and political activity of a broader scope? What sorts of political vocabularies are employed within or outside the workplace to refer to participation and democracy? And finally, what are the implications of organizational democracy and employee participation within the larger public sphere? These questions will not be treated serially here, but rather as they are interrelated.
From a political perspective, activities both "inside" and "outside" the organization may be seen as relevant to any claim about democracy or democratic practices. In a straightforward way, Dahl (1985) poses the question, Shouldn't the very rights and privileges we institutionalize in the political realm be relevant also to the market in general and to the for-profit business in particular? Dahl asserts that our economic institutions ought to move toward greater democracy, both in the sense of shared ownership and in the aspect of participatory decision-making. Thus Dahl insists on the application of democratic principles and practices to work life.
From the standpoint of communication, a key issue that derives from Dahl's (19R5) work is the relationship between participatory activity "inside" the organization and political or civic life beyond work. This relationship can be posed in terms of rights, persuasion or influence, and communication networks. Working from a rights-oriented perspective, Pateman (1970) initiated a lively, persistent debate over the possibilities for employee participation being linked to a larger domain of participatory politics. Pateman's call for sucl1 a connection has been the inspiration for many empirical investigations focusing on the influences between participation in work and nonwork domains. In essence, Pateman theorized that if workers were given a voice in the important structures and practices of their workplaces, they would consequently use their voice to engage in civic domains outside of work.
Greenberg's (1986) extensive research on plywood cooperatives of the U.S. Pacific Northwest is well-known for its disappointing conclusion that employee participation—which was, at the time of his research in the late 1970s and early 1980s, fairly extensive in many of these worker-owned firms—did not translate into a practice of broader political engagement. That is, worker-owners did not "carry outside" the firm an ideal of wider participatory practice by engaging in the larger political sphere. Huspek and Kendall (1991) closely examined the political vocabulary and concepts of worker-owners in some of the same plywood firms, also in the 1980s. Their conclusions basically paralleled Greenberg's: They found the political vocabulary and consciousness of worker-owners to be highly limited and circumscribed—not at all empowering or expansive for the individual as he or she approached the larger society (or, for that matter, even the top management of the firm).
Still. there have been other case analyses that have revealed nascent possibilities for persuasion or influence spreading out from the participatory firm. Widen (1981) reviewed 10 studies to make the point that workers can learn valuable participatory skills at work that they may later transfer to the larger domains of community and politics. In this meta-analysis, Widen defined "participatory organizational members" as those who spoke up at meetings, wrote articles (e.g., for newsletters), generally attempted to influence others, and tried to air complaints or grievances. However, neither Widen's review nor the 10 articles examined in it address directly and empirically the mechanisms by which these presumably useful skills are in fact transferred to nonwork domains.
Finally, there is what we might loosely call a "network" perspective on the interrelations between forms of participation in work and nonwork domains. Certainly, Putnam's (1993, 1995) work fits here, in that he has encouraged us to consider how a variety of relationships, group activities, and interconnections among domains (say, from sports clubs and community involvement) can lead to either a vital or a vapid public sphere. In this regard, his research contrasting northern and southern Italian participative practices is especially illuminating, suggesting that the multiplicity of social institutions and community groups in the north helps to explain economic prosperity as well as political stability.
Bachrach and Botwinick (1992) call for cooperative and democratic activity in business and at work as a necessary element in a revived public sphere. They articulate connections between truly public behavior inside the employing organization and public behavior outside or beyond the organization as both working together. These two seemingly distinct domains ought to be, in their view, linked so that the general trend in the late 20th century toward the privatization of interests can be reversed or countered. And the best way to do so is through the development of active alliances between and among local groups, inside and outside the firm. Labor-oriented groups ought to be involved in the educational programs of their communities, for example, just as corporate interests now are (Parker & Slaughter, 1988, 1994).
In the same work, Bachrach and Botwinick (1992) acknowledge that there is often a struggle involved in the relationship of public to private spaces. Individuals, these theorists claim, are often forced to act dualistically: as private persons maximizing their self-interests and as citizens promoting the common good (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985). But, as Bachrach and Botwinick continue, "if the major assumption of participatory theory is correct—that participatory experience generates a desire for more participation—then progress toward workplace democracy should instigate increasing struggle by women and feminist organizations for sexual equality in all areas of life, including the home" (p. 139).
Indeed, the political perspective on workplace democracy is highly suggestive of communication-related issues. How and when does influence occur across different domains of activity? What sorts of freedom-of-speech rights ought to be protected and asserted for work and nonwork domains? How do networks of communication within and beyond the firm serve as the inspiration for a community or political revival? To what extent is meaningful participation possible or realizable in a postmodern communication environment? These are some of the basic questions that deserve further attention from communication scholars and practitioners.
Although we have deliberately focused this section on issues raised about organizational boundary spanning as they arise in the literature of politics,
there are other areas of research that address essentially the same set of issues. Labor activism, in its current emphasis on organizing across domains (Whalen, 1997), and new technologies, in their capacity to create "network" and "virtual" forms of organization, are two examples. We do not have the space here to explore these arenas fully, but we would like to close by highlighting one relevant issue that has emerged as significant in the literature on "alternative organizations" such as worker cooperatives.
Although many studies of worker-owned and -managed cooperatives have addressed the question of the organization's relation to the larger "environment,'' perhaps no other research has explored this question more systematically than that of Rothschild and Whitt ( 1986). The central issue here is one of balance. especially for the "alternative" organization: an organization that struggles to shape and define itself against typical hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations. Too much exchange with mainstream organizations can mean a loss of distinctiveness or a compromise of the organization's basic values. Too little adaptation can undermine success and continuance (Gamson & Levin, 19X4). Many worker co-ops and other alternative organizations adopt what sociologists of religion call a "sectarian" posture, involving simultaneous engagement in and distance from the larger society.
Among the "external conditions" facilitating the development of collectivist-democratic organizations, Rothschild and Whitt ( 1986) feature "oppositional services and values" and "a social-movement orientation." In essence, they highlight the fact that many alternative organizations perform better and cohere more if they define themselves to some extent with a stance counter to, or at least outside, the "mainstream" of organizational life. At the same time. however, these researchers examine five worker cooperatives in California (a food co-op, an alternative high school, a free clinic, a law firm, and a newspaper) to illustrate the tensions between maintaining a relatively closed system and risking failure or irrelevance and allowing too many outside influences (in the forms of funding, advice, and imitation) to undermine the basic purposes of the organization.
The question of the organizational-environmental interface becomes even more acute in an era of market globalization. From the standpoint of communication. this fundamental issue can be reframed in social network terms. Just as in the case of the individual who must cross organizational boundaries, an organization must decide (even if by default) how to "locate" itself in thc communication that constitutes the larger society. For example, what is the effect of a customer- or consumer-driven orientation, which orients organizational activities exclusively toward the "outside," on the structure and parameters of employee participation inside the firm? It may well be that deference to the "sovereign consumer" drastically subordinates the employee's role as employee, as the organization gears all or most of its activities toward an external point of reference and requires a form of "participation" that is largely reactive and rather narrowly circumscribed (Cheney, 1997a). Also, as Abell's (1988) studies in Fiji, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka show, rhe nature of the support .system surrounding a cooperative becomes a vital determinant of the organization's success: The co-op cannot flourish in Third World contexts with either too few linkages or too much interference from without. Thus the democratic organization's relationship with its environment is of supreme importance.
In a broader sense, the boundary-spanning question leads us to consider the nature of the public sphere as both a locus of democratic discussion and a set of practices involving deep forms of participation. And this issue takes on urgency in an era of market globalization. Most notable for promoting a revived public sphere in the sense of rational dialogue and relatively unconstrained communication is Habermas (1989). We do not have the space necessary here to detail Habermas's theory or critical responses to it, but we want to highlight the fact that with reference to his model, a number of communication researchers are considering (a) the interrelations of organizational and extraorganizational domains (Pearson, 1989), (b) the corporation as a potential "site" of democratic participation and negotiation (Deetz, 1995), and (c) the interpretation of various ideas of "public" and "private" with respect to organizing (Metzler, 1996). The crucial point here is that issues of democratization and participation today are leading us toward profound reflections on the very organization of our society.
In sum, the larger boundary-spanning question directs our attention to the multiple ways in which the internal and external affairs of an organization are interrelated. These features of organizing are especially relevant to democracy and participation because of the possibilities for effects of one domain of activity on another. Communication researchers should pay significant attention to the boundary-spanning issue in seeking to comprehend more completely social stability as well as social change, co-optation as well as persuasion, and the meanings of democracy and participation in society at large.
MULTIPLE GOALS AND RATIONALITIES
It should come as no surprise that most formal attempts at democratizing work have tended to place the goal of productivity well above the social goal of valuing democracy for its own sake or for the benefits it can give to society (Schiller, 1991). In this regard, it is telling that some authors speak not of employee participation but of employee involvement, considering from the organization's point of view how it is that employees or members might come to be involved in the affairs of the organization for the organization, through means designed by the organization (Cotton, 1993). The issues entailed in a complete assessment of organizational and individual goals are exceeding complex. For example, there are cases in which the "rationale" or "rationality'' of an attempt at workplace democracy is only a thin disguise for enhanced technical control or even the direct undermining of other democratic processes, such as incipient labor organizing (Grenier, 1988). Many programs for democracy or involving participation at work are not what they may first appear to be, and the scope of a particular program—whether labor sponsored, managerially promoted, or of another type—may actually be quite narrow in conception and implementation (Mason, 1982).
By offering the label of multiple rationalities, we intend to consider how different areas of research have treated technical and social goals for participation. Essentially, in this section we probe various historical and contemporary reasons for the fostering of workplace democracy (although our historical references are limited by considerations of space).2
Employee participation and at least a degree of democratization can be encouraged in even the most bureaucratic organizations through the implementation of organizationally sponsored systems of employee participation, although programs vary widely in motivation, design, practice, and results (Locke & Schweiger, 1979; Monge & Miller, 1988; Seibold & Shea, in press; Strauss, 1982). This is why Rock (1991) takes pains to specify the "depth" of workers" control over a firm's decision-making processes, with levels ranging from "No right to any say; or right to make suggestions only" to "Workers have a majority of votes (or more) in the decision-making (workers decide)" (p. 44).
In general, worker participation may be thought of as "constituted by the discretionary interactions of individuals or groups resulting in cooperative linkage which exceed minimal coordination needs" (Stohl, 1995b, p. 5). The term worker participation covers multiple communicative forms and contents, denotations and connotations. In Europe, for example, the terms workplace democracy and industrial democracy are often used as synonyms for worker participation, whereas in the United States limited employee involvement is equated with participation and the term democracy is in fact rarely used. Thus rationales and motivations can differ tremendously.
Concerns with workplace democracy and employee participation are not at nil new in the European context. Experiments with worker cooperatives were undertaken throughout the 19th century, for example, in Great Britain, France, Italy, and Denmark. When the harmful and alienating aspects of the Industrial Revolution first became apparent in the early part of the 19th century, social activists in Europe looked to some form of worker participation as a means of reintegrating the urban working class into society (Lindenfeld & RothschildWhitt. 19X2). Even before World War 1, workplace democracy was a major political issue in many Western European nations (Strauss, 1982). By the 1960s, the European Union (formerly the European Economic Community and the European Community) began formal initiatives on worker participation. And the former Yugoslavia pursued extensive restructuring of industry in teens of workers' councils during the 1960s and 1970s (Obradovic, 1975). Today, workplace democracy remains a controversial and unresolved issue within the European Union, often conceptualized as a hybrid of the ideologies of socialism, human relations, and capitalism. In some countries a participative organizational structure is implemented through legal mandates (e.g., German workers" councils and codetermination policies), whereas in others (e.g., Denmark) legal regulations are scarce but cooperative agreements between lower-level and high-ranking employees are commonplace and in fact represent cultural institutions. In some nations adversarial union-management relations have represented an undercurrent of the participative initiatives (e.g., in England in the 1970s), whereas in other nations (e.g., in Sweden), cooperation between management and labor has been more easily developed (Wilpert & Sorge, 1984).
In the United States, with the exception of certain labor movements in the first three decades of the 20th century, workplace democracy has not been prominent in most discussions of work (re)organization (Lichtenstein & Harris, 1993). Rather, participation and involvement have been the key terms or concepts, and programs have represented either managerial initiatives or management-labor partnerships (Mathews, 1989). Participation on the job was narrowly circumscribed under scientific management, as "rules of thumb" were replaced by systemic controls over production. Despite the fact that scientific management had appropriated some of the rhetorical power of the Progressive Movement, it jettisoned the Progressives' vision of a more participative, more democratic workplace (Cheney & Brancato, 1993).
The human relations tradition, which began in the middle of the 20th century, emphasized the value and potential of participation, cooperation, and collaboration between and among employees (Lewin, 1947). Extensive, open, friendly, trusting, face-to-face encounters between workers and managers were associated with increasing psychological satisfaction, development and growth of individuals, and increased productivity and efficiency of organizations (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939). The human relations movement involved a number of leading organizational theorists in the United States and elsewhere, including names such as Argyris, Barnard, Blake and Mouton, Follet, Herzberg, Mayo, McGregor, and Tannenbaum. Likert (1961), for example, heralded a system of management that he called "participatory leadership," in which managers actively solicit employee involvement and collaboration in the work processes in order to facilitate a climate of cooperation.
Even to begin to summarize the extensive and diverse studies associated with this movement is impossible within the confines of this essay. However, we want to emphasize here several important conclusions: (a) The relationships between employee participation and job satisfaction are complex and to some extent dependent upon the larger social context and the reward structures (Locke & Schweiger, 1979). (b) Group-level variables or factors (such as cohesiveness or consensus) are as important as individual-level aspects of motivation and participation (Seashore, 1954). (c) Employees' interpretations both of programs of participation and of their own individual acts of participation vary widely and may in fact change in the course of an organizational activity or a researcher's intervention (Gillespie, 1991). All of these important findings (which have been revisited over the decades as the contributions of the human relations movement have been periodically reassessed) point to the need for a better understanding of how participation "works" at the level of specific, situated interactions (see also Redding's, 1972. "ideal managerial climate").
In the 1970s, job enrichment and job redesigns were undertaken with the aim of making workers happier, more committed, and hence more productive (Hackman & Oldham, 1980). Job designs typically included some form of limited employee participation that allowed workers input into the production aspects of daily work routines and provided more information to workers. At the same time, more U.S. companies (for example, Lockheed and Honeywell), impressed by the success of Japanese manufacturing (particularly Japanese firms' adaptation of Deming's 1950s quality-control principles; see Deming, I 9X6), began to implement quality circle programs, giving workers the opportunity to participate in production and quality-related problem-solving groups. By the early 1980s, literally thousands of companies throughout the world had developed quality circle programs, including approximately 90% of U.S.-based Fortune 500 firms.
By the late 1980s, however, the limitations of quality circles in non-Japanese contexts became apparent, and organizations began experimenting with more encompassing quality programs, such as statistical process control and total quality management (TQM). These newer programs emphasize increased autonomy and greater employee involvement, but typically only as these pertain to actual work processes (Wends, 1994). With all employee participation programs, of course, the question of the authenticity of companies’ commitment to them has been raised (Grenier, 1988).
This new preoccupation with total quality also made U.S. organizations more cognizant of the work of sociotechnical theorists (Trist, Murray, & Trist, 1993) and their early focus on semiautonomous work groups. Shell Oil, Staley's, Cummins Engines, TRW, General Motors, and Procter & Gatuble, for example, 1lave built new plants utilizing sociotechnical systems, minimizing the distance between workers and managers and maximizing workers' participation in the day-to-day decisions that affect their jobs (Lawler, 19X6). These designs are expected to make organizations more flexible and more responsive to change and quality issues, and thus more competitive in the global economy. At the same time, such programs are expected to stimulate employee participation at all levels of the organization, foster more fluid employee relations, and enhance job satisfaction (Lawler, Mohrman, & Ledford, 1995).
In all these cases, note that participation refers to limited participation in decision making about processes directly related to doing specific tasks. Moving beyond the small and routine decisions required by a particular job, participation in decision making may address involvement in broader issues, such as job assignments within a given production process, the right to stop an assembly line if something is jeopardizing the quality of the product, or having a say in the way performance appraisals are carried out. However, formal employee participation in the United States rarely means sharing the power to make strategic and long-range decisions. These decisions are still typically considered to be management's prerogative within most large capitalist firms.
In their famous synthesis of the research, Dachler and Wilpert (1978) note that there are at leastfour general orientations toward workplace democratization and employee participation: democratic, socialist, human growth and development, and production and efficiency. In the United States, as we have seen, the last two have been dominant rationales, at least in terms of corporations and government agencies. Research on "social-technical" systems has for decades sought ways of integrating the goals of productivity and democracy through the involvement of employees in key decisions about the structures and employment of technologies (Trist, 1963; Trist & Banforth, 1951; Trist, Murray, & Trist, 1993). The specific studies under the rubric of sociotechnical systems have varied in terms of their emphasis on distinctively social ends (such as job satisfaction and worker participation) and on the goals of organizational productivity and efficiency.
Our goal in this section of the review, after all, is to consider a variety of perspectives on the rationale, goals, and techniques of workplace democracy and employee participation, recognizing that such efforts in most cases are likely to involve mixed motives and more than one working "logic." A preeminent question here is, Can sociopolitical concerns about workplace democracy be realistically pursued within the context of the contemporary global market (Mender & Goldsmith, 1996)? For communication researchers, this question leads not only to a consideration of the variety of forms of interaction within and between organizations but also to the social and technical aspects of discourses about the workplace and workplace democratization. If the social end of democracy at work is privileged, for example, this would suggest that people not be discussed as mere instruments to the achievement of specific goals of productivity and efficiency (Cheney & Carroll, in press). In any case, the diverse literatures we consider with respect to this question also offer diverse perspectives on this question.
The literature on organizationally sponsored programs of participation is especially relevant to this section of the review, as are the bodies of work on feminist and alternative organizations. Organizationally sponsored programs of participation are typically "sold" to organizations based on two arguments.
Managers "buy in" because they expect increased employee participation to allow them to do more with less: to increase their productivity without having lo hire more employees and/or without having to invest in a lot of new capital-intensive equipment. Employees are sold on greater participation based on the idea that it will improve their day-to-day work: By taking greater responsibility for decisions made by the organization, employees will gain not only greater satisfaction but also more control over the future of the organization.
Fonnal organizationally sponsored programs are top-down efforts; they have the approval and sponsorship of traditional management. Because of this, managers usually frame what participation will mean in the organization. This often (but not necessarily) leads an organization to place the ideas of increased productivity and "doing more with less" ahead of any purported benefits to employees. Thus programs designed to further democracy in workplaces often characterize greater employee control, involvement, and satisfaction as by-products of the structures that are designed chiefly to improve organizational productivity, competitiveness, and performance. The obvious question is, Do these formal programs really change anything for nonmanagers, or are they simply an unobtrusive way to "get more out of the employee"?
In their examination of quality circle training manuals, Stohl and Coombs ( 1988) found that programs may supply trainees with information to develop solutions and make decisions, but they also provide them with a frame of reference to employ when approaching problems and decisions. Essentially. training provides organizations with an opportunity to create organizational identification: to demonstrate not only "how these sorts of situations/ decisions are handled in our company," but also to indoctrinate workers with organizational norms, values, and decisional premises. Specifically, Stohl and Coombs found that the messages in the training manuals served to narrow employee choices and thoughts in favor of a chiefly managerial perspective.
With respect to new and current team-based systems of organization, it is important to stress that the word team may carry with it many different senses. Berygren ( 1992) explains this well by contrasting European and North American notions of teams against Japanese corporate conceptions of "teamwork." In Europe and North America, teams are semiautonomous units within the organization, whereas in Japan teamwork represents strong devotion to the organization. Certainly, Graham's (1993) firsthand study of a Japanese auto manufacturing "transplant" within the United States points up the same issue by showing how "teamwork" in that context did little to promote group or individual autonomy and in fact served to privilege a highly specified form of loyalty to the company. Still, it would be a mistake to see all differences in the conceptualization and practice of teamwork as culturally based. Even within Europe or within North America there may be vast differences in understanding and application (Larson & LaFasto, 1989).
In an interesting analysis of the research literature on teams and teamwork, Sinclair (1992) has observed systematic biases that suggest a particular type of rationality coloring most such discussions. Sinclair describes the assumptions underlying the literature on teams as a dominant team ideology that narrowly defines the concept of work and what constitutes group work, focuses on individual rather than group motivation, treats leaders who adopt participatory behaviors as superior to others, and treats power, conflict, and emotion as undesirable elements of group work. This ideology often sets teams up to fail, in part because the prescriptive measures followed by organizations tend to overemphasize task and underestimate the complexity of working in a group, thus allowing for extremely high expectations for coordination that are difficult to fulfill in practice.
Next, we turn specifically to the literatures on feminist and so-called alternative organizations. The literatures on feminism and feminist organizations are often highly critical of what is seen as an excessive emphasis on technical rationality in the modern organization, finding that the result is not only an obstacle to genuine participation and democratization but also a devaluation of the whole person (Mumby & Putnam, 1992).
But here it is important to maintain a distinction between a feminist critique (broadly speaking) of any organization and an organization that calls itself feminist. Feminist ideology and feminist organizations are two different things, and they should be separated analytically. For example, a feminist perspective (i.e., a feminist theoretical lens) may be applied to any traditional, autocratic organization or to an organization that professes to be feminist. Likewise, an organization could be classified as feminist by an observer even if its workers have little or no knowledge of any feminist ideology. Feminist perspectives, for our purposes, are those based in any school of thought that recognizes that women are, generally speaking, an oppressed group, and that this oppression is perpetuated by discrimination. From this point on, we use the term feminist organization to refer to any organization that meets one or more of the following key criteria: (a) has a feminist ideology, (b) has feminist guiding values, (c) has feminist goals, (d) produces feminist outcomes, or (e) was founded during the women's movement or as part of the women's movement (Martin, 1990).
Rodriguez (1988) offers the example of a battered women's shelter organization as a self-consciously feminist alternative to the typically more hierarchical social service organization. This shelter is democratic in its approach toward social change for women because it cultivates empowerment and self responsibility for its members. Rather than compelling members to follow rules imposed by the leaders of the social service organization, which can be seen in a way as parallel to the battering relationship, this organization reflects a more appropriate method for empowering the abused to become independent through a participatory structure in which members determine their own rules. 'Thus this organization's rationale for incorporating democracy into its everyday practices is to ensure that client-members have a measure of control, which has been stripped away from them in private life.
Here we must also mention the literature on "alternative" organizations (e.g., worker cooperatives). Perhaps the most relevant finding concerns how in the explicit internal communication of organizations the ideal of a foundational and defining mission is discussed and treated. The notion of "degeneration," which is a central concept in both the lore and the research on worker cooperatives, often is applied to deterioration in economic strength, yet it is just as relevant to the "social side" of the organization (Cornforth, 1995). The key question, then, concerns maintenance of core social values and organizational integrity—the commitment to "constitutional" values such as democracy, equality, and solidarity (Cheney, 1997a). In addition, there is the temptation to bureaucratize, formalize, and centralize the organization to the extent that its essential mission is lost (Newman, 1980). But, for many cooperatives, the very discussion of democracy and related values becomes an important part of what the organization is. Although many such organizations slide into goal displacement, some are so devoted to their "cause" that they may decide to go out of business rather than be economically successful but socially bankrupt. As the five case studies in Rothschild and Whitt's (1986) analysis show, the rationality of an alternative organization may be conceived and discussed as being so different from the mainstream technical rationality of organizations that it may produce the unlikely result of organizational suicide. The point is that, although the dominant logic of contemporary organizational life is oriented toward production, profit, growth, customer responsiveness, and technical control, there are some organizations that defy this logic to some degree and opt for distinctively different value orientations.
We would be remiss here if we did not consider, at least briefly, different rationales and motivations for participation from the perspective of the employee. Although these cannot ultimately be divorced from the context in which the employee is working, they deserve attention in their own right. A few studies bear mention here for highlighting different points. First, extensive research on workers" councils (part of a statewide system) in what was then Yugoslavia revealed the perpetuation of small group control by those workers who were most highly educated, were best connected to the ruling party, and had the highest professional aspirations (Obradovic, 1975), despite the perceptions of many activists that the system was more widely democratic. A detailed analysis of who participates in the Mondragon cooperatives in Basque Spain reveals the complex interrelationships among organizational structures, individual preferences, and individual experiences, showing above all that actual participation levels can he best predicted by two factors: prior interest in and current experience with the council or governing organ in question (Klingel, 1993). Finally, from a communication network perspective. Marshall and Stohl (1993) found in a study of a U.S. manufacturing facility that the exact nature of participation—mere involvement or a richer sense of empowerment—was related closely to both job performance and job satisfaction. With all of these findings, we are reminded to consider not only antecedent and consequent factors with respect to employee participation in decision making at work but also the interpretations employees have of their current experiences within a presumably participative or democratic work system.
Given the variety of programs and organizations that call themselves "participatory" or "democratic," it becomes especially important to analyze closely the patterns of discourse that characterize various organizational experiences. Communication research can make an important contribution to the literature by pushing it beyond the confines of event- or decision-centered studies of workplace democracy and participation. Viewing communication and democracy in organizations in broad terms, we must consider how the very culture of an organization comes to be inclusive or exclusionary with respect to diverse interests, conceptions of what count as issues, and ways of being (Deetz, 1992, 1995).
THE STRUCTURAL ASPECTS AND TYPES
Here we consider issues of how certain structures can both promote and inhibit democratic practices, even as they are designed with increased interaction and participation in mind. Seibold and Shea (in press) emphasize that the specific form of an employee participation program has enormous impacts on outcomes such as job satisfaction, group cohesion, and organizational effectiveness. McPhee (1985) offers a useful heuristic device for the treatment of organizational structures in this regard: He defines them as "substitutes" for communication, in that once one sets up a procedure, it can be relied upon every time the group holds a meeting. It is in this sense that structure serves as the "architecture" for communication process. Still, as social theorist Ciddens (1984) reminds us, structures are both resources for and products of interaction. The matter of structure is central to any consideration of democracy at work in that we must scrutinize over time the degree to which certain structures continue to serve the interests of democracy.
These sorts of structural issues are especially relevant to organizationally sponsored programs of employee participation, given the array of possible structures for encouraging, mandating, and enacting participation and democratization (Pacanowsky, 1988). For example, many TQM programs have been implemented with attention largely to technical rather than social aspects, such as genuine participation (Fairhurst & Wendt, 1993). Also, in cases of alternative organizations, the very structures that were at one time established to support efforts toward democracy and equality may, with age, become
hindrances to the achievement of those goals (Heckscher & Donnellon, 1994; Stryjan, 1989). And even society- or industry-wide participation programs can leave workers feeling that very little has changed in terms of the ways work is done or in how influence is exercised (Rus, 1975). Thus a perspective that highlights both structure and process is useful (Kuhn, 1996), taking seriously the idea that democracy is something requiring renegotiation in an organization or society. In the Mondragon cooperatives of the Basque region of Spain, for instance, the general assembly meetings of each cooperative, which make decisions on a one-person, one-vote principle, have become over 40 years "as predictable as Catholic masses." In this case, dynamic and informal deliberation has been displaced to other less formal arenas (Cheney, 1995). From the standpoint of communication, then, a critical practical element is the maintenance of debate over the structures that guide democratic practices, such that they do not become stagnant, calcified, or unduly circumscribed. This issue applies, of course, not only to organizations designed as democratic but also to democratic transformations of all or part of more traditional organizations (Metzler. 1996). Thus the very structures designed to promote and represent democracy can get in the way of its practice, quite paradoxically.
In this section, then, we not only consider what structure means with respect to communication and democracy at work but also explore how structure-inaction must be a central consideration in any attempt at workplace democratization. To address these issues at a concrete level, we consider some of the common forms that workplace democracy and participation have taken. Each specific type of organizationally sponsored program described below gives workers a greater say in organizational decisions, yet the types differ (a) with respect to how they are structured and (b) in how the workings of the programs themselves can come to modify the organization's structure. Here we give special attention to programs most common in the United States, leaving aside, for example, the codetermination model of Germany and other nationally instituted efforts.
Job enrichment refers to management's effort to redesign jobs to provide for greater participation and involvement of workers, so that the job itself produces internal motivation and job satisfaction (Hackman & Oldham, 1980). Based upon Herzberg's (1966) motivator-hygiene model and Hackman and Oldham's (198()) model of job characteristics (skill variety, task identity, task significance, job feedback), job enrichment programs have been adopted by companies throughout the United States, which have redesigned jobs to increase the experienced meaningfulness of work through employee responsibility and knowledge of results. Job enrichment is typically a "top-down" process in which autonomy is very narrowly conceived, even when employees are actually involved in the redesign efforts.
Quality circles comprise 5 to 15 individuals from the same general work area (but often from across different departments) who voluntarily meet on a regular basis to deal with problems of quality and production. Though usually limited in the domain of problems they are allowed to tackle (e.g., task problems related directly to their own work processes), quality circle members are given training in statistical procedures that help them analyze work-related problems and evaluate potential solutions. Members have partial access to the decision process but cannot make autonomous decisions. Solutions proposed by the circle are evaluated by a management committee, which makes the final decision and determines the procedure used to implement the innovation. There is great variation in the types of rewards associated with quality circle programs (e.g., praise, public recognition, awards banquets, and/or financial rewards based upon the savings/cost reductions of implemented innovations). Quality circles are supplemental to the work process and are not an integral part of organizational structure (Stohl, 1986, 1987).
Quality of work life (QWL) programs represent cooperative agreements between management and unions (or, in the public sector, between government agencies and workers) that are designed to improve relations between managers and workers by increasing workers' involvement in various aspects of organizational life. Although many programs can fall under this rubric, QWL usually describes participation programs that focus on management-union cooperation rather than, say, compensation (Cotton, 1993; Lawler, 1986). Under this "spirit of cooperation," management, for example, supports paid education leave, which is designed to allow workers to become better informed about industry economics, global competition, political climate, and so on. QWL programs also grant workers access to management discussion about specific problems in the company.
Semiautonomous/self-managing/self-directed work teams are the foundation of many presumably "transbureaucratic" or "reengineered" organizations. Workers take on the responsibilities formerly assigned to supervisors, including setting their work schedules, deciding upon the best ways to do the job, monitoring their own work performance, hiring additional workers, conducting inventory and ordering materials, and coordinating the team's efforts with other teams across the organization. Work teams are usually made up of five to nine members (although they are sometimes larger), and each team is responsible for a specified task, such as the assembly of an appliance or the coordination of student services in a university (Barry, 1991). Team members perform all required functions to complete the task. When a team member is absent, no replacement workers are provided; rather, the team is expected to continue its high level of performance by adapting procedures. Fred Emery and Eric Trist (see the reviews in Trist & Banforth, 1951; Trist et al., 1993) have coined the term sociotechnical system to describe the network of semiautonomous work teams within an organization, emphasizing that workers make decisions about the implementation of new technologies (among other things). Semiautonomous teams are an integral part of the organizational design and, not surprisingly, their success relies heavily upon worker motivation and commitment. In addition, work teams commonly afford opportunities for (a) broader worker input into decisions, (b) better use of human and technical resources, (c) greater individual freedom and higher employee morale, and (d) opportunities for cross-training and job rotation (Seibold, 1995).
Gain-sharing plans are formal, supplemental compensation programs that focus on rewarding workers for improvements in labor productivity and cost reduction. Gain-sharing plans do not address issues related to increases in sales or profits. Scanlon plans are The most common type of gain-sharing programs. Developed in the 1940s by Joseph Scanlon, such plans are designed to involve workers in everyday decisions regarding work and to provide workers with financial rewards based on organizational productivity. Workers' suggestions, innovations, and ideas are evaluated and implemented by a company-wide committee that is also responsible for evaluating the success of the idea and the bonus that will be given. As in quality circles, participation in a gain-sharing plan is consultative; the workers cannot make and enact decisions without the approval of management. Unlike in quality circle programs, however, workers receive no formal training in statistics or group problem-solving processes. They have a wider decision domain than do members of quality circles and provide a greater focus on the economic condition of the firm.
Employee stock ownership plans (ESOPsJ are the most common form of employee ownership. Surveys suggest 80,000 companies in the United States are, to some degree, employee owned, and about 15% of these are majority employee owned (Rosen, Klein, & Young, 1986). In an ESOP, the company sets up a special trust in which it either contributes cash to buy stock for employees from existing owners or contributes stock directly. As long as an employee works for the company, and the company is profitable, the employee receives an agreed-upon amount of stock. The stock stays in the trust until the employee leaves the company or retires. In the longest-standing ESOPs, employees have full voting rights on their stock and regular opportunities at shareholder meetings to have input into decisions that affect their jobs. Some companies with ESOPs do such things as give employees regular stock contributions, have participation opportunities on the job, treat employees as owners, explain through a series of formal and informal communicative practices how their plans work, and frequently remind employees of their ownership stake in their firm. However, ESOPs vary widely in both the degree of formal ownership afforded employees and in the extent of control over decisions that accompanies ownership.
Although the organizationally sponsored programs discussed above encourage more participation from employees than do traditional bureaucratic models, theorists have been quick to criticize their real democratic potential. Thompson (1961), for example, struggles with the notion of there ever being a true form of democracy when any significant amount of bureaucracy is involved. He notes, "Many of the values we associate with democracy— equality, participation, and individuality—stand sharply opposed to the hierarchy, specialization, and impersonality we ascribe to modern bureaucracy" (p. 235). In other words, until an organization's hierarchy is flat, Thompson would hesitate to call any workplace democratic.
Feminist writers also fall on both sides of this issue. Martin (1990) states that although early feminist movements "claim they created a new organizational type that organized authority collectively ant assured democracy through a flat rather than a hierarchical structure and through consensus decision making," in actuality most organizations that consider themselves "feminist" are really "impure mixtures of bureaucracy and democracy" (p. 195). An organization can therefore be structured hierarchically and still consider itself (or be considered by others) a feminist organization due to other defining characteristics.
Working from another perspective, researchers have argued that certain job types lend themselves to democratization more readily than do others. Gardell (1977), for example, argues that when workers have higher demands on both their manual and their social skills, they seem to become more involved and participative in their jobs. Gardell asserts that "robot jobs," or assembly-line type jobs, should be abolished in industrial life to enable the development of a more democratic workforce whose members are willing to participate in the decisions affecting their quality of work life. In a related vein, Russell (1996) argues that many workers or employees intuitively know how to participate because the nature of their work requires well-developed communication skills and a high degree of coordination, but that some jobs do not fit well with expectations for participation. Similarly, Zuboff (1988) suggests that developments in information and computer technologies should be considered together with more creative, flexible, and democratic organizational structures. Thus some work settings are more easily transformed into democratic workplaces than are others. The points cited above remind us to pay close attention to the nature of the work, including the pace of the work, which may in some cases be so rapid as to inhibit or prevent employee participation.
Deetz (1992) argues that workplace democracy poses a threat to many existing structures in corporations. "Managerialism"—meaning a stress on the culture, prerogative, and superiority of management—has moved top managers to isolate themselves from other constituencies in the workplace and to make decisions with fairly narrow technical interests in mind. Workers and owners alike often find themselves removed from managers and managers' day-to-day tasks. Workplace democracy has the capacity to erode managerial elitism and isolation. Edwards (1979, 1981) has recognized the threat of this eroded credibility and status to managers. He describes a 1960s Polaroid worker participation program that worked too well and was disbanded because democracy "got out of hand." According to Polaroid's training director, "The experiment was too successful!. What were we going to do with the supervisors—the managers? We didn't need them anymore. Management decided it just didn't want operators that qualified" (quoted in Edwards, 1979, p. 156; emphasis added).
This leads us to consider the structures of workplace democracy explicitly within the context of organized labor (Freeman & Medaff, 1984). At their annual meeting in 1995, the presidents of all the major industrial and trade unions in the United States voted unanimously to endorse company-sponsored structures that encourage employee participation and general efforts at democratizing relations between labor and management. These union leaders viewed structures such as quality circles and work teams as generally encouraging of workplace democratization, but remained concerned that contemporary efforts at democratization in the form of workplace democracy programs lake place within the larger structural context of unionization.
Still. it is important to note that although labor leaders have been encouraging of such organizationally sponsored efforts, substantial numbers of rank-and-file leaders, labor organizers, and labor scholars have argued against these structural arrangements, seeing them as key in the decline of actual democratic practice on the shop floor (Brody, 1992; Fantasia, Clawson, & Craham, 1988; Grenier, 1988; Parker, 1985; Slaughter, 1983). These commentators view democratization efforts as, at best, tangentially concerned with democracy; they believe such efforts are primarily aimed instead at union busting, breaking down informal work cultures, and increasing productivity.
Substantial research indicates that many company-sponsored programs indeed enhance specific practices of workers' control over important aspects of their work (Stuart, 1993; Thompson, 1991), a most critical element of workplace democratization. For example, workers have been shown to have increased control over time management, the learning and deployment of industrial and trade skills, the negotiation and allotment of wages and benefits. and the election of labor representatives.
Precisely because of the tensions associated with efforts at democratizing traditional capitalist firms, "alternative" organizations such as cooperatives have appeared in various places around the world for nearly two centuries. Worker-owned and -managed co-ops, especially, represent attempts to (a) transcend typical bureaucratic constraints, (b) make economic control and access to policy formation available to all members, and (c) overcome the usual division between labor and capital (Whyte & Whyte, 1991). However, experiences over time and in a wide range of cultural contexts reveal that the relationships between economic and social aspects of presumably democratic workplaces are enormously complex. Shared economic control is no guarantee of genuine employee participation (Russell, 1985); nor does it necessarily result in diminished social alienation (Greenberg, 19X6). Also, economic success and growth of the organization can in fact threaten the organization's basic internal social goals (Cheney, 1997a; Rothschild & Whitt, 1986). On the other hand, the failure of revitalization in either the economic or the social realm can be devastating to the organization (Batstone, 1983; Cornforth, 1995; Rosner, 1984). Finally, the structures of a democratic organization (such as a worker co-op) can outlive their usefulness by becoming rigid, nonadaptive, or simply irrelevant (Clay, 1994). Again, we are reminded of the interdependence of structure and process, the economic and the social.3
Returning to a point made at the outset of this section, we want to underscore the idea that just as structure and process are inextricably interrelated, organizational patterns, routines, and policies serve in ways that are both enabling and constraining. This is precisely why organizational structures aimed at fostering or even enacting employee participation and workplace democracy must be seen not as timeless edifices but instead as portable and alterable buildings that will need periodic renovation. Communication research stands to contribute greatly to the discussion of how structure and process interrelate in the context of workplace democracy and to the even broader question of how social (re)production occurs.Continue Article