Co-operative Impact on the Workplace

Analysis of the co-operative impact on the workplace.


Worker Co-operatives

Worker Co-operatives are owned and democratically operated by the worker-members. Each labourer is given an equal vote in chosing management, and making decisions about the future of the co-operative. The advantage of a worker co-operative is giving the labourers the power to create a safe, equitable, and stable work environment.

For more information on worker co-operatives in Canada: Canadian Worker Co-op Federation (CWCF)

CWCF is a national, bilingual grassroots membership organization of and for worker co-operatives, related types of co-operatives (multi-stakeholder co-ops and worker-shareholder co-ops), and organizations that support the growth and development of worker co-operatives.

Co-operative Employment in Canada
From Co-operatives and Employment: A Global Report

Employees in Canadian co-operatives: 155,430
Worker-members in worker co-ops: 5,490
Producer-members and their employees: 520,000
Total Canadians employed in the co-operative sector: 680,920



Canada’s Top 100 Employers

The following Canadian co-operatives have been recognized on either the national or provincial* lists for Canada’s top employers within the past decade:
*Note: there is no province-wide list for Ontario or Quebec.


Island Savings



Coastal Community Credit Union

The Co-op Index for Worker Co-ops (Stocki, Novkovic, Hough)

The Co-op Index project involved the development and testing of a diagnostic tool for worker co-ops.  The project was a partnership between local and international academic researchers, co-op developers, and worker co-op federations, in collaboration with a number of independent worker co-ops who helped to design and pilot the tool.

In addition to creating a tool for co-ops’ practical use, the researchers are studying aggregate results of co-ops who use the Index to answer research questions such as:

  • What are the organizational impacts of applying participatory practices in co-operatives?
  • To what extent can adhesion to co-operative values and principles be used as a competitive strategy?

You can read about the development of the Co-op Index project in more detail in the Co-operatives for Sustainable Communities book – Chapter 9.

Co-op Index: Tool Overview

The Co-op Index enables worker co-ops to:

  •  Evaluate the degree to which the co-op’s purpose, values and principles are embedded in the business, and applied in a practical fashion in daily operations.
  • Help the co-op align its actions, and those of its individual members, with the co-op’s shared values.
  • Diagnose areas for improvement and lay out a course of action.  (The tool may be used repeatedly for continuous improvement)
  • Get a concrete measure of its cooperative identity and co-operative distinctiveness, and as such:
  • Better position the co-op as a business that makes a difference in the community, in terms of social, economic and environmental impacts.

Why is the Co-op Index of Value to Worker Co-ops?

There are many ways a business can use assessment and internal dialogue in order to create organizational change; the advantage of the Co-op Index is that it creates links between the co-operative principles & values, and organizational systems & strategy.

Furthermore, the Co-op Index involves assessing a worker co-op in relation to issues that many other worker co-ops have struggled with before.  The Co-op Index can thus help co-ops identify opportunities and resources that other co-ops have used to learn and improve.

To view a more detailed overview, including a series of sample questions and sample pages from the report, along with a description of the indices used in the report, click here.

Co-op Index: User Experiences

User Reviews

” Using the tool made the co-op realize we needed to buckle down and address some issues that had been left unaddressed for a while.” 


“Because of the report, we implemented very extensive training with our members. This led to the members of the board wanting to be much more engaged in the management of the co-op, and in fact, to all members wanting to be more engaged.”


” It was quite an empowering experience – it worked really well in our co-op.  Many of the changes that we made came out of the report.”


Click to read more participant quotes

  Anecdotal Evidence for Benefits of Using the Tool

The research team conducted follow-up interviews with representatives from several co-operatives who had made use of the Co-op Index tool.  All four interviewees agreed that using the tool had positive impacts on their co-op. Here are some highlights (co-op names have been withheld to preserve anonymity).

Because of recommendations in the Co-op Index report

  • 1 co-op created a business succession program to address the high average age of their members.
  • 1 co-op created a “commitment committee” that looked at strategies for encouraging a longer-term commitment from employees.
  • 1 co-op hired an outside organization to help them with strategic planning and governance structure.
  • 2 co-ops implemented educational programs for members, to help with their understanding of board roles, co-operative business practices, finances, etc.
  • 2 co-ops looked at improving employee compensation.
  • 3 co-ops worked on ways to improve internal communications.


Co-op Index: User Case Studies

Case Studies of Co-operatives Piloting the Tool


The Co-op Index chapter in the MCDRN’s Co-operatives for Sustainable Communities book includes an extended reflection on the experience of using the tool by a member of  EnerGreen Builders Co-operative in New Brunswick, one of the early adopters of the Co-op Index.    Here are some highlights from EnerGreen’s reflections:

  • The Co-op Index’s review was much more holistic than what members could have done by themselves.
  • When EnerGreen used the Co-op Index tool, the co-op was still in its development phase and the Index helped raise important questions.  The co-op followed up on a number of the report’s recommendations and has seen clear benefits.
  • The Co-op Index helped Energreen realize they needed to:
    • Create clear performance criteria for all roles within the co-op, including governance, operation, management, site-supervisors, workers, etc.;
    • Provide training to ensure that all members and potential members understand the business model that is the basis of the Co-op’s viability;
    • As part of the strategic planning process, set clear annual goals and budgets for the Co-op’s contribution to its community



Another of the earliest co-ops to pilot the tool, Careforce Home Health Care in Nova Scotia, was the subject of a case study for a paper published in 2012, looking at the recommendations that came out of the diagnosis and how the co-op followed up.

“One of the major issues highlighted in the diagnostic report was member & employee dissatisfaction with the current wage structure.  Since then, the co-op has prioritized increased remuneration for members; they set up different categories of pay, increase wages annually and include bonuses.”

Here are some additional examples of changes the co-op implemented after using the Co-op Index tool:

  • Launched a marketing campaign and re-branded their services;
  • Put in place a customer response and feedback system;
  • Offers training to employees at the orientation stage, but also organizes more specialized professional development training, including cross-training of members – so that all members can handle accounting, scheduling and other managerial duties.
  • Is  increasingly involved with the larger co-operative sector; they actively participate in conferences and meetings of the Federation and the regional co-operative Council; they contribute their story and experience to the co-operative movement and lead the efforts in building relationships with other co-operatives in their region.

The case study shows that “Careforce has built confidence in their skills and accomplishments, and found a new commitment to the co-operative business model. This allows them to be innovative and to set themselves apart from other businesses in their industry.”

Co-op Index: Preliminary Data Analysis

The research team recently performed some statistical analysis on the aggregated responses from the first 8 co-ops to pilot the tool.

Firstly, the analysis found that the eight co-ops differed significantly in their results. This means the Co-op Index can be considered a reliable tool for measuring the value of co-operative identity.

The analysis also distinguished two groups within the 174 survey questions in the Index: 58 questions were clearly related to Co-operative Values and Principles, while the other 116 related mostly to management practices.

The researchers performed an exploratory Principal Components Analysis (PCA) of the questions related to Principles & Values.  This analysis yielded 12 components

What is a 'Component'?

In PCA, a component is a mathematically correlated group of questions. To illustrate, imagine a survey had 20 questions. One component might represent a strong correlation between questions 2, 10, and 14. This means that respondents who answered “agree” to question 2 were likely to agree with questions 10 and 14 as well, while respondents who answered “disagree” to question 2 were likely to disagree with questions 10 and 14. The researchers would look at questions 2, 10, and 14 to see what they had in common – they would then name this component based on the common theme.

In the case of the PCA of the Co-op Index, the most important component (i.e. the most strongly correlated group of questions) included the following:

  • # 87. People in our co-op respect each other’s opinions.
  • # 23. My supervisor consults me about the tasks entrusted to me.
  • #165. My contribution to discussions is respected.
  • # 56. Members and employees are more important than capital to our management.
  • # 13. When making decisions my co-workers and supervisors take my welfare into account.

— and several others.

The researchers looked at the common thread between these questions and named this component “Human Dignity“.

The researchers observe that Human Dignity is a “hidden” aspect of co-operative businesses – i.e., not explicitly listed as one of the ICA principles or values – and yet the analysis shows how important it is to all the respondents.  Since Total Participation Management argues that being able to participate fully in one’s workplace is a fundamental element of human dignity, the importance attributed to this component by 325 workers from eight different co-ops is a strong argument that we all expect and deserve participation in the workplace — something that worker co-ops in Canada are well  positioned to provide.

Some of the other 11 components identified include:

  • Solidarity with Other Co-ops
  • Foundations of Democracy
  • Caring for Others within Our Co-op
  • Caring for Others in the World

Another interesting finding is that in several cases, the PCA distinguished two distinct components that the ICA Statement of Co-operative Identity names as a single principle or value.  For example, the ICA principle of “Caring for Community” was represented in two separate components:  “Caring for Others within Our Co-op” and “Caring for Others in the World”.

The researchers reflect that:

These distinctions between components prove that the co-operative values have a local and a general meaning and the two meanings do not always coincide. From the point of view of developing expertise, it means, for instance, that caring for others in the world is a different domain of expertise than caring for others in our co-operative. It should be taught separately as it requires different forms of skill development, and is based on different knowledge structures.

Now that the preliminary analysis is complete, the researchers have more confidence in the tool as a reliable way to diagnose co-ops for the degree to which they adhere to co-operative principles, and the degree to which they enable participation of their members and employees in the workplace.  The researchers hope to further develop the tool so it can be used more extensively.  They also hope to expand the tool to diagnose other types of co-operatives including credit unions and consumer co-ops.

You can read the full paper on the data analysis, entitled CoopIndex:  Human Dignity as the Essence of Co-operative Values and Principles in the Journal of Co-operative Accounting and Reporting Vol 4, #1, Spring 2016.



Other Research on Co-op Impacts on the Workplace

coops-and-employment-reportCo-operatives and Employment: A Global Report
Authored by Bruno Roelants, Eum Hyungsik & Elisa Terrasi

Published by the International Organisation of Industrial and Service Co-operatives (CICOPA)

This landmark study discusses the significance of cooperative employment in the global landscape.

Some key findings:

  • Co-operatives are directly responsible for the employment of 250 million full- and part-time workers globally.
  • In the G20, cooperative employment makes up almost 12 % of the total employed population.

The study includes case studies of employment conditions in the co-operative sector in 10 different regions around the world, one of which is Québec, Canada.  Here are some findings on the positive impacts of co-operatives on the workplace:

Stability of employment
Co-operatives are built to serve a category of members (e.g. ‘egg farmers’ or ‘Francophone newcomers’) rather than to maximize gains for individual business owners or shareholders.  As such, their business strategies tend to reflect a more long-term, community-oriented vision and thus favour longer-term employment (82).

Co-operatives also provide greater job security because they tend to be more resilient in financial downturns, and can be (and have been) used as mechanism to preserve jobs in the face of economic crisis, when investor-owned or private corporations can be restructured as worker co-operatives.

Salaries & benefits
Remuneration of employees in co-operatives was found to be more or less similar to other enterprises in the same sector, but co-operatives provided additional material or non-material compensation that was highly valued by the employees.  In addition, the wage gap is generally lesser in co-operatives compared to other types of enterprises.

Inspiring work environment
Co-operative employees tend to have a sense of personal responsibility to the success of the enterprise.  This makes them more likely to work productively and creatively to ensure the co-op’s success. (84).

Lifelong learning opportunities
Co-operatives are compelled to provide training and education as one of the fundamental pillars of co-operation. Co-operatives invest in their employees by providing educational initiatives for them (Read more about this in our Network’s own study of co-operative educational initiatives in Canada)

Transparent working conditions
Internationally, co-operatives report a high level of formalization, which leads to just and fair employment, as well as business transparency. Overall, co-operatives’ organizational structure focuses on the human aspect of business operation, which tends to benefit employees along with other stakeholder groups.

Jobs for the hard-to-employ
The co-operative model is used around the world as a mechanism to integrate disabled or socially disadvantaged people into the workplace.


fit-for-workFit for Work?: Health and Wellbeing of Employees in Employee Owned Business (2012) .
By Ronal McQuaid, Emma Hollywood, Sue Bond, Jesus Canduela, Alec Richard, & Gemma Blackledge.

This research project comes out of the UK – but its findings are of interest to any place where worker co-ops and other employee-owned businesses operate.

Employee-owners have higher levels of job satisfaction than those working in non-employee owned businesses.  Employee-owners are more satisfied with the work itself; feel a greater sense of achievement from work with increased fulfillment and job security; and more would recommend their workplace as a place to work.

Employees in Employee Owned Businesses (EOBs) have more control over their work, including the tasks they do; the time they start and finish work; scope for using their own initiative; and having enough time to get their work done. Having control over work was something employees valued, even if they only had control over a small part of their job.

EOBs have better communication and decision-making practices. Managers listen to employees’ views; respond to suggestions; allow employees to influence final decisions; and understand employees’ views. Involvement in decision-making is generally seen as integral to working for an EOB.

When asked to compare their current experience in an EOB with previous experiences of working in non-EOBs, it was found that the majority were more satisfied with their work now; felt they had more influence; felt they had more support from their immediate manager; were more motivated to do their job well; and nearly two-thirds (63.9%) preferred working for an EOB.

Levels of health were slightly higher among employee-owners than the overall working population. Most respondents felt that their organizations had good policies in place to support health and wellbeing and management were interested in their wellbeing. Overall, most employees reported that they felt well treated by employers when they were sick or absent from work, due to health reasons.

Read the whole study here.

6ad2c5158fbb9dd944a16fed6075e672Additional Canadian research on co-operative working conditions

The two following studies relating to workplace satisfaction in co-operatives were co-authored by André Leclerc, one of the partners in our research network:

“Les déterminants de la perception de la distinction coopérative par les employés : l’effet du secteur d’activités.” Izold Guihur, André Leclerc, Gilles Marcoux

‘”Job satisfaction and organizational performance: Evidence from Canadian credit unions” (2013) Alidou Ouedraogo, André Leclerc. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict 17.1




Dr. Ryszard Stocki

Dr. Ryszard Stocki

Mondragon University & University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Katowice, Poland

Professional Bio.

Dr. Sonja Novkovic

Dr. Sonja Novkovic

Professor of Economics, St. Mary's University

University Bio


Peter Hough

Peter Hough

Affinity Consulting



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