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The culture of UK employee-owned worker cooperatives

David Wren (Department of Management, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 21 February 2020

Issue publication date: 26 March 2020




This paper presents exploratory, empirical data from a three-year study of organizational culture in for-profit, employee-owned businesses within the UK, comparing ownership types (direct, trust, and cooperative). It outlines the study and then focuses on worker cooperatives. Culture is illuminated through the lens of performance and reward management.


Qualitative data was gathered from three worker cooperatives based in the North of England, using semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and document review and was compared to qualitative data collected from other types of employee-owned businesses.


The findings suggest a distinct culture within worker cooperatives encompassing five key values: a whole life perspective, consistently shared values, self-ownership, self-control, and secure employment.

Research limitations/implications

Additional time with each cooperative and a greater spread of cooperatives would be beneficial. The research was carried out during a period of organizational growth for the case organizations, which may influence attitudes to reward and retention management.

Practical implications

The results inform recruitment and retention policy and practice within worker cooperatives and highlight concerns regarding the stresses of being a self-owner. These are important considerations for potential worker co-operatives alongside policy recommendations to advance employee ownership.


A comparative analysis of culture, performance, and rewards across different employee ownership types has not been undertaken before. This addresses an under-researched area of employee ownership regarding HR practices. Within the UK, recent research on the culture(s) of worker cooperatives is limited.



I would like to acknowledge my PhD supervisors Prof. R. Ridley-Duff and Dr M. Clark as well as my post-doctoral mentors, Prof. P. Prowse and Dr J. Snook who have supported me as I have developed this paper.


Wren, D. (2020), "The culture of UK employee-owned worker cooperatives", Employee Relations, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 761-776.



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Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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