Over 100 million people are employed by co-operatives worldwide. Not only do co-ops create jobs, they are committed to promoting wellbeing and ensuring better working conditions. Want to know how? They are all about people.

May 1, International Workers’ Day, is about co-operative enterprises as much as about any other type of business.

They also depend on people to deliver their services and it is colleagues that allow these organisations to achieve success and to thrive. The difference between co-operatives and traditional businesses is how priorities are set. Whereas conventional businesses usually see looking after their staff as a means to an end (improving performance), caring after employees and workers is a key feature of the co-operative business model itself: co-operatives put people before profit and naturally promote their members’ and staff’s wellbeing.

There are many examples of how co-operatives are different from other organisations in the way they treat their employees (worker-members in the case of worker co-operatives). They have a long history of achievement in this field from their very beginning.

  • Holyoake House, home of the former Co-operative Union and where our Manchester team is based now, was built with lots of windows and two light wells (one in the centre and another one around two sides of the building) so that all rooms, including the basement, had natural light. This is taken for granted in modern offices, but was an important improvement by comparison with other installations and facilities built at that time (1911).

Advert 19th century Advert 19th century - 2

There are lots of adverts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that show how co-operatives have traditionally ensured good conditions and fair salaries for their workforce. Photo provided by The Co-operative College – National Co-operative Archive


150 years after being born, co-operatives are keeping staff’s satisfaction as one of the main pillars of their business strategy. Some run training programmes and pioneer childcare and pension schemes, others create employee loans and ensure equal profit-sharing;  worker co-operatives, like Unicorn Grocery in Manchester, even have flat salary structures…

Last year, The Midcounties Co-operative was named one of the top 25 companies to work for by the Sunday Times for third consecutive year. It has over 9,000 employees.

In 2013, The Phone Co-op was accredited as a living wage employer (the living wage is higher than the minimum wage). It operates a partnership agreement with NACO, the trade union for co-operative employees, and promotes membership of it. And, despite the fact of being a consumer co-operative (i.e. you need to be a customer to become a member), membership is also open to its staff, because it wants them to participate in how the organisation is run and feel a sense of ownership.

The UK Co-operative Economy 2013 reports that co-operatives are on average better at engaging people and motivating staff -and happier workers means greater business performance and better customer service. Staff disengagement costs the UK economy £17bn a year, and employees who are engaged with their workplace take an average of 2.69 sick days per year, compared to 6.19 days for the disengaged.

Co-operatives employ over 100 million people worldwide so today, International Workers’ Day, is a good day to remember a business model that puts people first.

Original article published on http://www.thephone.coop/about-us/blog/2014/may/celebrating-international-workers%E2%80%99-day/

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