The John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which operates John Lewis and Waitrose shops across the UK, is the largest example of worker co-ownership in the country. All of our 85,000 employees are partners in the business.
There are compelling reasons to think that ownership status gives rise to greater levels of employee engagement, leading to increased productivity, motivation and success.
All partners possess a constitutional right to knowledge and information about the Partnership’s objectives and performance, as well as a clear say in how the business is run. This is achieved in a number of ways, but perhaps most obviously through the Partnership Council, which holds the Chairman to account, and by Branch Forums within Waitrose and John Lewis shops. Partners are elected by their colleagues onto each Forum and work alongside management to influence the running of the shop, and make decisions such as which local charities to support.
We believe that accountability is a strong driver of engagement within our business. For example, partners have the opportunity to put their questions, anonymously or not, to the Chairman and the senior management team, on a weekly basis in the letters pages of a Partnership-wide publication: The Gazette. This has been an extremely effective way of promoting employees’ thoughts and questions and in holding decision-makers within the business to account.
As co-owners, partners are also able to enjoy the benefits of the business’ success. This was most evident in March this year when all partners were awarded a bonus of 17 per cent of their salary, equivalent to nearly nine weeks’ pay, following a strong trading period throughout the past financial year.
However, it’s not just financial incentives, such as the annual bonus scheme, which helps to engage employees. Partners are entitled to a wealth of exclusive offers and deals, including free entry to a number of tourist sites across the country and discounts on gym membership. Furthermore, the John Lewis Partnership owns a number of holiday and residential centres in the UK, which are run exclusively for partners and their families.
The Partnership’s unique ownership and governance structure has also had a positive impact on the personal well-being of partners, including their resilience and pride in the business. Partners’ well-being was measured using a survey that employed a model by the New Economics Foundation. It found that partners at John Lewis and Waitrose have a well-being score that is at least 10-15 per cent above the national average. The Partnership also enjoys some of the lowest figures for staff absenteeism in the country.
We believe that giving employees a direct stake in the long-term success of their business benefits the wider economy. Employee ownership is not a panacea for our economic ills. But it represents a different, and arguably better, way to do business.