John Raines and Donna Day-Lower write in Modern Work and Human Meaning that “Work is not first of all what we do to “make” a living. Work is human living – human being and human becoming.” Purposeful, rewarding work is a key source of good life, with job satisfaction being strongly linked to overall happiness. The workplace is the arena where wealth creation and well-being converge. As Robert Lane puts it, “Work is the market’s principal contributor to both happiness and human development.”

In appraisals of subjective well-being, work is held to be second only to the quality of family life in importance. For instance, for a worker making a $65,000 a year salary, a one point increase in job satisfaction score delivers as much extra happiness as an additional $35,000. In other words, to further employee wellness, employers can either increase the wages by 50 percent or help employees feel better about their jobs.

Beyond a certain threshold, well-being springs less from further monetary accumulation than from good relationships, trusting cultures, and opportunities for personal development and autonomy. This necessitates focusing not only on how much wealth is generated but also on how it is produced and distributed. Democratisation of capital offers greater possibilities for “good work” where “excellence and ethics meet” and to better address what Keynes described as the real, permanent problem confronting humans – “to live wisely, agreeably, and well.”

Employee ownership when delivered effectively furthers employee engagement, organizational productivity, talent retention, and creativity and innovation. Also, Davies asserts that employee ownership is typically associated with enhanced engagement with management. This, in turn, has a strong correlation with well-being as is also borne out by the research undertaken for the report – Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement – submitted to the Government of the United Kingdom. The report mentions that 86 percent of employees classed as ‘engaged’ very often feel happy at work whereas 54 percent of disengaged employees feel a negative impact on their physical health.

McQuaid finds that employee-owned businesses create higher levels of well-being amongst their workforces than their conventionally-owned competitors when assessed on a host of parameters such as absence, stated intention to leave a workplace, and willingness to recommend an employer to others. There is also research that relates worker well-being to a range of factors such as autonomy, trust, respect, involvement and information. These are also the foundational elements of participative, employee-owned businesses. Professor Michie and colleagues have found that co-owned firms have higher-than-average levels of trust.

Moreover, working collaboratively towards well-understood, long-term goals – a hallmark of authentic employee-owned firms – contributes to workplace well-being in crucial ways. Employees in employee owned businesses with a participative management culture report high levels of satisfaction on a comprehensive array of important parameters – communication, decision-making, job satisfaction, control, and change management – thought to influence levels of well-being at work. Evidently, the way employee owned businesses organise and manage work impacts employees positively.

David Erdal writes in Beyond the Corporation, “By bringing into the corporation the insights and values that are already the foundation of democratic politics, we can transform our working lives, transfigure the corporation and let humanity work.” Ownership clearly matters. Different systems of ownership engender different behaviors, draw focus on different horizons, and elicit different values”. Employee ownership holds out the hope of greater economic performance and personal fulfilment. Properly structured and managed employee-owned businesses hold an incredible potential to transform lives of employees and create better societies.

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