Written by Alexander Danne, Unitec Institute of Technology Graduate
Over the past two years I studied International Communications at Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland. While I was working with PRINZ as a Communications Assistant I researched, as part of my masters’ degree, the impact of social media in the corporate environment by examining two case studies located in the corporate economic sector in Auckland. While recognising the challenges of democracy in the workplace, my research focuses on how social media can enable workplace democracy as well as participation and engagement within organisations.
Please find the full study here: http://unitec.academia.edu/AlexanderDanne
The findings of my study indicate that both organisations have a hierarchical internal makeup, which is heavily based on policies, guidelines and top-down communication structures. Internal communication tools are deeply embedded in the communication culture of the organisations and it seems that employers use such tools with a different perspective and understanding than employees. My research further reveals an ambiguity in dealing with new networked communication tools and outlines difficulties within the implementation process. Generational gaps, ineffectiveness and lack of integration of new workplace communication tools for employees are factors that make implementation difficult.
Network enabling tools, such as internal social media, have great potential to establish a space that can have the power to change the hierarchical structure and enable engagement in the workplace. Through online communities and knowledge bases, employees can engage with each other and gain knowledge about the workplace beyond the scope of duty as well as earn responsibility within the workplace. The tool of internal social media cannot itself make a workplace democratic or employee friendly, but it can provide options for staff to use; that is, the tool can be used either way.
My research identified five key elements of workplace democracy (empowerment of employees, on-going participation, claim over responsibility, contribution towards the workplace, and network orientation); through the results of my research it became evident that the corporate work environment did not succeed in fulfilling these elements. However, the perspective of democracy in the corporate work environment is a new development that has come with globalisation, technological evolution and a change of the public sphere itself. In addition both organisations made a great effort to incorporate dialogue, engagement and other workplace democratic practices into their work environment, which was their reason for implementing the new internal social media tool in the first place. It became evident that such a tool cannot implement workplace democracy or connection, but it can help or hinder an already excising democratic culture. My research concluded that if the organisations already value dialogue, engagement and a two-way communication flow, an internal social media tool can certainly help.