What can the nation’s largest employers learn from a worker co-op?

More than you might think — and it can improve your bottom line

By Alison Schmitt and Laura Roberts

Corporate leaders should start looking to workers for guidance

It’s time for a fresh approach: What would it mean if you considered that the people who work for you might have more insight than the people you work for or work with? You’ll be surprised at the business value you can unlock. To access this insight, you need to find new, expansive ways to empower frontline and entry-level workers to speak up — and hear what they have to say.

Photo by Antonio Janeski on Unsplash

When workers are heard, they help businesses soar

Corporate leaders like you may be thinking that investments in worker ownership and autonomy are expensive and resource intensive.

Here’s how you can get started

Building on our worker-led research findings and JFF’s Impact Employer Framework, (which identifies worker-focused corporate talent practices across six key areas), we pulled together an initial set of practices that corporate leaders like yourselves can adopt to create a greater sense of ownership and autonomy for workers and improve the overall quality of their jobs.

  • Design opportunities for workers to reskill in order to move up — or across roles or functions — within your business. Consider: How can you redeploy incumbent workers to support both their growth and the company’s success?
  • Foster ongoing open dialogue and trust building between workers and management. Consider: How can you create a workplace where everyone feels included and comfortable having open, honest conversations about subjects such as anti-racism and unconscious bias across the company?
  • Pilot worker-led research and development projects. Consider: How can workers drive innovative research projects to develop new products, solve corporate problems, and build entrepreneurial skills, confidence, and engagement?
  • Get creative around the idea of ownership. Consider: How can you introduce new policies, such as stock ownership options, that will allow workers to have a tangible stake in the success of the company?

Our journey is just beginning

In the coming weeks and months, JFF will continue to test and refine how these principles can be applied in all types of companies both locally, through our regional work in California, and at the national level through our Corporate Action Platform. Our hope is that we can write a road map to broader adoption of worker-friendly practices across companies — and spur investment in such practices.

  • Informal and formal communities of practice for companies large and small that are embarking on this journey of increasing the ownership and autonomy of their workers. We know that companies working together often go further, faster.
  • Stories from workers themselves that help elevate the impact of these types of practices. Our initial work with Turning Basin Labs was a fantastic first step in this direction, but there are many more voices to bring forward that can help this work accelerate.

JFF (Jobs for the Future) is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States.

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