Work for many feels like rape/prostitution, but it needn’t be this way! Inspiring talk on employee-ownership.

In a highly entertaining and thought-provoking short talk given at the TEDx event in Glasgow in 2012, which I was privileged to attend, David Erdal championed employee-ownership, pointing out the multiple advantages of this business model. You can watch a video of the talk (below), read my review of his book (Beyond the Corporation, Humanity Working)  and share the links with those you think might be interested.

Note that if you don’t have 15 minutes to watch the video, I have illustrated some of the main points of  Erdal’s talk below, using some of the images he used.

Couple having sex

‘Imagine how the woman might feel if she were being raped, if she were being paid for sex, or if she were in a committed and loving relationship…’

David Erdal opened his talk along the lines of the caption to the above picture, saying that for too many of us the experience of work lies somewhere between the experiences of rape and prostitution. While this comparison may seem extreme, it does serve to illustrate the point that many are unhappy in their jobs, and that it needn’t be this way, as he went on to explain.

Diagram illustrating the distribution of money and power in a conventional (non-employee-owned) company.

Diagram illustrating the distribution of money and power in a conventional (non-employee-owned) company.

In the above diagram, which illustrates the distribution of money and power in a conventional (non-employee-owned) company, notice that money flows to the top, and those higher up the pyramid have power over those at the bottom. Such companies widen the gap between rich and poor. See The Equality Trust website for what this does to individuals and society. For this reason, and others, I strongly oppose tax concessions for large public limited companies!

Cartoon illustrating what it's like to work for someone else.

David Erdal took over his family’s business and was disturbed to find out that this was how he was perceived by the employees!

David Erdal took over his family’s business and was disturbed to find out that this was how he was perceived by the employees.  He decided to change things.

Cartoon of boss paying bonuses to his workers.

Simply sharing some of the profit doesn’t greatly improve the workers’ experience.

Initial reforms were not particularly successful.  People were reluctant to express their real opinions, and when all the power remained in the hands of the top dog, even profit-sharing did not make for a great work experience or for the commitment of employees.

Cartoon illustrating relationships between workers in an employee-owned company.

When a company is employee-owned, and people have adapted to the idea of being their own bosses, they are much happier.

When a company is employee-owned, however, and people have adapted to the idea of being their own bosses, they are much happier. Creativity, resilience and re-investment are boosted, and there are many other positives, as David Erdal discovered.  This certainly happened to the firm previously owned by his family (Tullis Russell), once employee ownership had bedded in.

Diagram illustrating the distribution of money and power in an employee-owned organisation

Diagram illustrating the distribution of money and power in an employee-owned organisation.

This diagram makes the same point!  It illustrates the situation in employee-owned organisations:  the power pyramid is much flatter. In fact, while management is delegated, the managers are chosen by the employees so have to keep them happy.  There is a significantly lower pay differential and managers – not least the CEO – take great pains to keep employees fully informed about the state of the business and their reasons for business decisions.  People are happier, healthier, more productive and more committed to the organisation’s long-term best interests. Some would describe this as ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’, and it certainly works!

Many of the world’s longest lived, most innovative and highly rated (by their customers) companies are employee-owned.  For example:

The Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing.

The Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, designed by hugely successful employee-owned company Arup.

The collaborative culture of Arup, fostered by its employee-ownership structure, makes it one of the most successful and innovative engineering/architecture companies in the world.

Screenshot from John Lewis website

Screenshot from the John Lewis website. The John Lewis Partnership has existed for 80 years and continues to thrive.

The John Lewis Partnership has existed for 80 years and continues to thrive. Its components, Waitrose and John Lewis, consistently rival each other as the best retail companies in the UK with regard to customer service: happy staff, happy customers!

Camera lens made by Zeiss.

Camera lens made by Carl Zeiss, one of the best optical companies in the world.

The highly innovative optical company, Carl Zeiss, has been employee-owned for 120 years and even survived a schism forced by the Iron Curtain!

There are several other examples in David Erdal’s talk, and many more in his book (Beyond the Corporation, Humanity Working).   Watch, read, share!

…And, finally, if it makes sense to you, let your political representatives know that you DO NOT support tax and other concessions favouring large public limited companies (generally run for the short-term profit of a few and which widen inequality), but you DO support them for employee-owned concerns, which have been shown to have wide benefits, not only for their employee-owners but also for wider society.  It would be great if public procurement favoured employee-owned companies instead of being effectively biased against them…

The logo of employee-owned Central Surrey Health.

Employee-owned Central Surrey Health, top-rated for the quality of the care services they offer, failed to win a big contract because it could not raise a £10 million pound bond!

Employee-owned Central Surrey Health, formed by 700 nurses and top-rated for the quality of the care services it offers, failed to win a big contract because the procurement panel was more assured by Virgin Care’s financial model (underwritten by Branson and the Virgin Empire) than theirs, which, incidentally, they had had independently reviewed and found to be sound. Current legislation is, arguably, biased in favour of non-employee-owned companies, yet there is now a huge body of evidence demonstrating the wide positive impact of such organisations. This must be fixed!

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About biowrite

I am a writer specialising in non-fiction, particularly in assisting people with their biographies.
This entry was posted in People I know (not directly connected with my writing), Philosophy, Politics, Videos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Work for many feels like rape/prostitution, but it needn’t be this way! Inspiring talk on employee-ownership.

  1. elaine4queen says:

    The conflation of rape and prostitution is problematic in itself. Rape is by definition not consensual while prostitution can work as a constant rape situation or be a goods for services model with everything in between, depending on the circumstances. Sexual abuse can leave such deep trauma that i think it is exceptionally blithe to use it in the same sentence as ‘entertaining’ – clearly neither you not David Erdal have never been raped.
    I have felt exploited at work and do admire the John Lewis model, but even working for minimum wage while the boss drives a fancy car does not leave me shaking and unable to make meaningful intimate relationships into the future.
    I’m surprised no one called him or you on this. It’s inappropriate, exploitative and distracts from his core argument.

    • biowrite says:

      I certainly appreciate your comment, Elaine. I felt that the content of the talk was, on the whole, very important to get across, and this was the metaphor David Erdal chose to use at the outset of it. I did feel uneasy about it, which is why I wrote, ‘While this comparison may seem extreme, it does serve to illustrate the point that many are unhappy in their jobs…’ I am sensitive to the issue, having assisted Angela Bayley with this book – Please Believe Me – and (as a consequence) being a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Perhaps David Erdal made the wrong judgement call in using that metaphor and I made the wrong judgement call in reporting it but, as I am sure you will acknowledge, many people are abused, including sexually, in the workplace, and put up with it because they feel they have no other option. Interestingly (as you imply), this piece has been up for two years and this is indeed the first complaint I have received , which is not to say your criticism isn’t valid.

      • elaine4queen says:

        I think it’s a shame he chose to use sexual abuse and trade as a metaphor. I feel it rather detracts from his argument. If he’d put it differently I would have shared it, since I am certainly no apologist for workplace abuse.
        I actually commented because I read your blog post on a friend’s facebook wall, and he was specifically saying that he thought the language misjudged.
        I would love to see work framed differently. Even in public service management don’t see themselves as being there to support those on the front line.

      • biowrite says:

        I do take your point.

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