Co-operatives make for a happy place to work

Co-operatives are businesses run by the people, for the people; so it makes sense that all those connected to co-operatives are more likely to be much happier.

Co-operatives are businesses run by the people, for the people; so it makes sense that all those connected to co-operatives are more likely to be much happier.

And as part of the celebrations for the United Nations' first International Day of Happiness, Co-operative News delves into various pieces of research that looks at how co-operatives are making people happy.

One of the most important indicators for the overall level of worker happiness is job satisfaction. And many academic studies have discovered that co-operatives produce much happier workers compared to conventional (stockholder) companies.

On the surface, working for a co-operative brings a high level of job satisfaction according to a French academic study. This is due to a shared business culture, higher level of confidence in management (elected by the workers); and co-operatives also have a greater attention to employment conditions along with the power of collective decision-making.

Co-operatives have been found to have much lower quit rates among member-workers within co-operatives. With a much longer commitment in a single place of work, this in turn increases skills and learning, which can improve productivity and profitability and thus translates to higher earnings for worker-owners. Those employees who embrace an increased influence and participation in workplace decisions also reported greater job satisfaction (Kruse and Blasi 1995).

Some workers also have discretion in choosing which tasks they perform; and may even have a say in the people they work with. Plus the positive effect of ownership on job satisfaction may also stem from increased training, freedome from supervision and job security (Kruse et al. 2010).

In France, a study took an in-depth look at the comparisons between a co-operative and private company. The academics chose two consulting and communication organisations in sustainable development that had a similar size and location for the research.

One of its conclusions found that the principles promoted by worker-owned cooperatives had a positive effect on job satisfaction. It said: “This positive effect lied in workers’ adherence to these principles, regardless of whether they were entitled ‘social economy’ or not: social usefulness and sustainability rather than profits, autonomy inside and outside the company, democratic decision-making, and a reduction in the gap between the conception and execution of tasks.”

Co-operatives can increase confidence in the bad times too. Over a 20 year period in France, data showed the formation of worker co-operatives increased during times of recession compared to the flailing numbers of stockholder companies.

Meanwhile, a study in the United States found that worker co-operatives were more likely to save jobs by adopting the “we’re all in it together” mantra. A worker-owned recreational equipment manufacturer said employees would rather accept lower wages than layoff staff.

Job satisfaction from worker-owners is just one of the many strengths that co-operatives exhibit. And workers are just one of many potential stakeholders who can all gain satisfaction from being involved in an organisation that is primarily about the people.

• In continuing the theme of co-operatives and happiness, find out the 'Seven reasons co-operatives promote happiness'.