Posted by: healingtheworkplace | April 14, 2012

People Want Freedom Not Fear In The Workplace

Hi there, did you know that blue is universally recognized as the color of freedom? I didn’t until this week when I received an email from Traci Fenton, CEO of WorldBlu, announcing the 2012 list of the most democratic workplaces in the world.

Traci Fenton is an amazing person. Fifteen years ago she created WorldBlu an organization dedicated to giving people a voice in the workplace. In fact, WorldBlu’s vision is to have 1 billion people working in free and democratic workplaces.

Each year I receive an email announcing the WorldBlu list of most democratic workplaces in the world and given our collective need to experience freedom and meaning in our workplaces I am not surprised  that WorldBlu is growing.

This year’s list of 48 organizations ranges in size from 5 employees to 90,000 employees representing organizations in the private, public, non-profit, and educational sectors.

In 2007 the total value of organizations participating in this event was 3 billion dollars. This year the total is over 17 billion dollars.

As much as the idealist in me would like this to be about  improving the lives of workers most organizations also need to focus on either making money or securing money from the communities in which they operate.

Fortunately the focus on the triple bottom line or TBL has been growing since it was introduced in 1995 by John Elkington. TBL is an accounting framework that incorporates 3 dimensions of performance:

  • People
  • Planet
  • Profit

Prior to 1995 the focus of most businesses was on making a profit. Of course, some organizations have always treated people fairly but up until 1995 few had thought about trying to balance the needs of the three dimensions noted above.

Fortunately for those of us living in the 21st century we have visionaries such as John Elkington and Traci Fenton who are helping us to create a better world for ourselves and for future generations.

I’d like to leave you with a question. “What does democracy mean to you and how can it be applied in the workplace in a way that benefits the people, the bottom line, and the world?” This was the question that Traci asked leaders around the world in the years leading up to her establishing WorldBlu.

Cheers! Lesley



  1. Hey Lesley, good question. The other day, I was watching a documentary on the movement of the unions. Back then the demand was better working conditions. If democracy is going to take root in organisations, I see two factors playing in. The workers must once again to rise (though in a less dramatic way) and claim ownership to their workplace. Likewise, managers have to shake the shackles of monitoring and controlling. The focus should be on enabling and association with each other.

    • Hello Christian! You are right about workers claiming ownership of their workplaces and there are some interesting examples of where this is happening. We have a lot to thank the unions for in Canada. What a lot of people forget is that all workers now have better working conditions and benefits that they would not have had if unions hadn’t fought the good fight decades ago.
      I think that the more progressive organizations will make it possible for the next wave of changes to occur. These changes will reflect society’s values and these organizations will be supported by society (e g people will be more likely to buy their products or use their services). I think there is an old Chinese saying that goes something like this, “May you be cursed to live in interesting times). And we do! Cheers, Lesley

      • Hello Lesley. Ideally I would like to see a sort of “I am Spartacus!” movement. So every employee would just step into the role of a decision maker. I think unions have been very useful, but I also think they have caused much damage. In Denmark you often see unions removing responsibility from the worker. I think, when it comes to safety, health, working conditions, salaries, etc. it can be very healthy to have a union. But when the unions completly negate the individual wishes of the employee, say accept a decrease in salary for a job guarantee. Then I think the unions inflict more damage than value. It would perhaps be more helpful to have localized unions that could take care of issues specific to one company. Large unions have more power, but I think most organisations have gotten the message of not exploiting their workers.

      • Hello Christian, I agree with you that unions have their benefits but that they are not perfect. Unions are made up of people and so are at risk for the same problems as every other organization: bullying, poor leadership, autocratic decision-making, unethical behavior, corruption etc. You would think that unions would be more democratic as they are membership based and union members are elected into their positions. I like your idea of “I am Spartacus” approach but I believe that many people have yet to find their “voice” when it comes to speaking up at work. Too many people rely on their pay cheques and fear losing their jobs. L

      • Hello Lesley, good point. I think that the voice is something we all need to work with, since we to often just accepts the state of things. Today I stumbled across a guide for the occupy movements consensus tool ( It made me thing how powerful this tool could be in a company. Imagine that your company is faced with a difficult decision, that will affect the whole company. Why should the whole company not get to decide on what the solution should be? If we give people or employees a voice, I believe they will rise for the challenge. This could also be used in unions. If I remember right, unions were once very unorthodox – why is this not the case anymore?

  2. It is no longer just about products, services or pricing, but also about corporate behaviour which includes how a company treats employees, suppliers, customers and how they relate with their communities.
    As a result of associated transparency and scrutiny, social media has had a huge impact on organisations who try to differentiate themselves as being ethical… Check out

    • Hi Eniola, Someone once said (and I can’t remember who) that corporations are the only ones in a position to really change the world for the better. Some corporations have bigger assets/wealth than many countries. Fortunately we now have social media tools to help us hold these organizations accountable for their behaviors etc. And to applaud them when they do the right thing!
      Cheers, Lesley

  3. From my experience, hard way and hard shell techniques do not work in most of the cases. The employees are getting paid for what they are doing for the company. they are actually earning it. On the contrary, the employees are the heart of a company and should be treated as part of the family rather than paid labors.

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