Understanding workplace democracy through corporate and employee disclosure


With the dramatic rise of social media and its influence on contemporary movements for human and civil rights, online platforms such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor have provided an outlet for the voices of employees and their real experiences of the workplace. While companies  publicly acknowledge the importance of workplace democracy and corporate social responsibility, the perception of what this really means is invariably weighted towards the perspective of management. A consistent understanding of workplace democracy that accounts for the employee voice as it really exists in the digital era is urgently needed in order for management, investors, regulators, policymakers, trades unions and consumers alike to be able to meaningfully gauge the issue.      

The research project is led by Dr Galina Goncharenko, alongside Dr Siwen Liu and Dr Sami Adwan from the Department of Accounting and Finance, and Dr Tobias Polzer at WU Vienna’s Institute for Organization Studies.

Combining a range of expertise from accounting and business ethics to corporate governance and digitalisation, the team will set up a Workplace Democracy Lab (WLD) to explore contemporary debates on workplace relations, and investigate how perceptions of workplace can help predict corporate outcomes.

The project is a timely opportunity to deepen academic and societal understanding of workplace democracy and employee empowerment in our digital and social media age. In particular, it will seek to address the lack of consensus in both scholarly and wider public discourse about what ‘workplace democracy’ means in our present market economy, bringing thus far under-studied accounting and finance perspectives to this debate. Recognising the unavoidable public role of the online digital realm, the research will draw on a vast archive of real employees’ lived experience of workplace relations provided by such professional social media outlets as LinkedIn and Glassdoor UK.

Research Approach

The project’s objectives are to explore the scale and nature of workplace democratisation through employer and employee discourses and to investigate how perceptions of workplace can help predict corporate outcomes. The team will examine corporate communication in the form of strategic disclosures in annual reports and employee reviews on the platform Glassdoor UK and answering the following questions:

  1. To what extent are workplace settings democratised and how does this resonate with market capitalism rationales in workplace settings?
  2. Do employee disclosures on social media predict future corporate financial performance?
  3. How do employee perceptions of workplace democracy affect labour investment efficiency?
  4. How can the insights revealed in employer and employee narratives assist in improving the regulation of corporate social disclosure?

The team will synergise qualitative and quantitative research methods (in particular, computer linguistics and machine learning techniques) in a novel research design to extract meanings from contextually rich data.

Impact and Outreach

The project team will interact with a range of relevant organisations across a variety of sectors, including in policy as well as corporate domains, to disseminate its findings. Communications materials (including a project report) will outline its conclusions and recommendations to encourage engagement with – and use of – the research by key stakeholders and networks, as well as to a wider audience via specialist digital and print media.

Further information

The research project is funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (PI Dr Galina Goncharenko), and runs September 2022 – September 2023.