Employee Owned Businesses

Employee Owned Businesses

A wellbeing economy is not about having more money, but prioritizing and improving overall quality of life for citizens. How we feel is affected by the quality of our work and our relationships at work. A “standard” corporation has limited ownership and the power structure is a hierarchy starting at the top of the pyramid. For a long time, very few people questioned this structure.

We are now seeing the downsides of this hierarchy and new structures are emerging that create the potential for better mental health, improved community relations, and reduced inequality.

Granted, we are still getting used to these models and learning how to make them effective to their full potential. When your hard work seems to only benefit your employer, it’s difficult to find meaning, value, and purpose in your labor. No one wants to feel like a cog in an economic machine. Models of employee ownership are one way to address this problem.

Democratic Ownership

This includes things like Coops or Employee Owned (EO) Businesses. Some of these Employee Owned businesses use a legal structure called Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP).

While there is only a small portion of companies using this ownership structure, there are great successes out there to use as models.

John Lewis Partnership in the UK is over 100 years old and has 85,000 employees  

There are over 6,000 ESOPs in the US. Some of the bigger companies include

Eileen Fisher and New Belgium Brewing.

Co-ops employ over two million people in the US. They include major companies such as REI, Sunkist, Ocean Spray and Land O’Lakes.

Democratized Management

An Employee-Owned business might also use these practices for management. They include ideas like Sociocracy, Teal Management, and Holacracy. They can be used in traditional businesses and civic groups as well. 

Stakeholder Capitalism

This is also a growing movement. We applaud the shift from such intense focus on “Shareholder Capitalism” which is an overwhelming focus on producing returns for the owners or stock shareholders. We feel that some of these efforts may be half steps that leave out what is needed for a truly healthy economy. If the stakeholders truly include the employees, what kind of power are they given? Are employees on the board? Is there a cap on CEO to worker compensation ratio? Is the company pro unionization? To what extent are nature and community included in the stakeholder efforts?


  • Book – Making of a Democratic Economy by Ted Howard and Ma…..
  • Illustrated Guide to Reinventing Organizations by Laloux  book
  • Shorter and easier to digest than the first book.  A good explanation of holacracy in 
  • modern business
  • Seven Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler- book
  • Entertaining read on this Brazilian businessman rethought work at his company
  • WEAll Article on different types of business ownership
  • Next System Podcast episode on Worker Owned Coops
  • Future of Work Podcast Episode on Morningstar Farms


2 thoughts on “Employee Owned Businesses”

  1. Hi David, I suggest you check out Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI) https://institute.coop
    “The Democracy at Work Institute was created by the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) to ensure that worker cooperative development in economically and socially marginalized communities is adequately supported, effective, and strategically directed. [p] It is the only national organization dedicated to building the field of worker cooperative development. Through research, education and relationship-building, it meets the need for coordination of: existing resources, development of standards and leaders, critical discussion of models and best practices, and advocacy for worker cooperatives as a community economic development strategy.”

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