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Talent Development

Engage Employees With Organizational Democracy

WorldBlu added its first Minnesota company to their prestigious list of most democratic workplaces. Because I live and work in Minnesota; this is exciting news for me.

WorldBlu added its first Minnesota company to their prestigious list of most democratic workplaces. Because I live and work in Minnesota; this is exciting news for me.

I expect this is a trend for Minnesota, and beyond, because I’d feel right at home in a democratic workplace, and the rest of my generation, and probably yours, would too. But, you might be wondering what exactly I’m talking about when I say democratic workplace. This is an election year, but it has nothing to do with a political campaign.

 About WorldBlu

WorldBlu is a global network that provides business leaders with programs and services to help them design develop and lead successful democratic organizations. They have been creating their list of most democratic workplaces for six years now.

What is a democratic workplace?

A democratic organization practices freedom and democracy, creates a place where rights and privileges are universal. According to WorldBlue a democratic workplace is a system of organization based on freedom instead of fear and control; it amplifies possibilities of human potential and the organization as a whole.

According to WorldBlu Founder and CEO, Traci Fenton, “WorldBlu-certified organizations model how democracy in the workplace unleashes human potential and helps build world-class organizations that change the world for the better.”

Democratic workplaces are determined by how they practice specific principals: accountability, decentralization, choice, purpose and vision, dialog and listening, individual and collective, fairness and dignity, transparency, reflection and evaluation, integrity.

Who’s doing it now?

Minneapolis-based communication agency, frank,  made the list this year by demonstrating the principal of purpose and vision. Frank’s founding philosophy is based on open, honest and regular conversations with their customers, colleagues and themselves. They encourage their clients to be self aware as individuals and brands.

AIESEC, has made the list every year since 2007. AIESEC provides a platform for youth leadership development by offering young people opportunities to become global citizens, change the world, and gain experience and skills. What makes them democratic? For over 60 years, AIESEC has practiced decentralization by voting in an entirely new senior leadership team every year.

Also on the list every year since 2007, Beyond Borders  works to bring justice to Haiti. They made the list for practicing the principal of choice. Beyond Borders invites staff to make significant choices through collaboration that impact the direction of the organization including which programs and efforts to continue and which to discontinue or alter.

Greenleaf Book Group, a publishing company devoted to supporting independent authors and small presses,made the list in 2011 and again in 2012 for practicing the principal of transparency. They have a monthly meeting where employees are given updates about company finances and the health of the company. In this open forum meeting, anyone can ask questions.

Why Gen X and Gen Y love it

Democratic workplaces engage us:

  • It includes us
  • It gives it meaning
  • It’s honest

What’s in it for you?

Adopting organizational democracy gives you an edge to recruit and retain top talent and harness the collective intelligence, full self-expression, personal power and creativity of everyone you employ. Practicing the principals outlined for democratic workplaces will make your company appealing to Gen Y and Gen X and help you engage a more productive workforce.

Do you want to make the WorldBlu list of democratic workplace awardees? What are you doing to unleash human potential in your workplace?

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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