Well-being in the workplace: what if SCOP had figured it out?

The 5-year survival rate for SCOPs has risen by 3 points compared with 2021, reaching 76% compared with 61% for all French companies. (Here, the former Fralib factory in Gémenos (13), producing teas and infusions, which was transformed into a SCOP in 2014). Flickr/Levan Ramishvili, CC BY-SA

Claude Fabre, University of Montpellier and Florence Loose, University of Montpellier

The pension reform of 2023, which ratifies the extension of the statutory retirement age to 64, raises the question of the sustainability of work. According to Dares, the statistics department of the French Ministry of Labor, 37% of employees in 2019 did not feel able to hold down their jobs until retirement. Exposure to occupational risks - both physical and psychosocial - is one of the main reasons for this high figure.

The recruitment difficulties and the various forms of resignation(visible or silent) experienced by many companies can be explained in part by the perceived working conditions in the sector or in the job on offer, and, more generally, by the mismatch between the expectations of some and the offers of others. Two years of the Covid crisis have profoundly changed this situation. So it's not for nothing that specialists now consider Quality of Life and Working Conditions (QWLWC) to be a key factor in a company's attractiveness, loyalty and performance.

Faced with this situation, the authors of the Dares study conclude:

"A work organization that encourages employeeautonomy and participation, and limits work intensity, tends to make work more sustainable.

Exposure to risks, whether physical or psychosocial, goes hand in hand with a heightened sense of unsustainability. Autonomy and social support (from superiors, colleagues or employee representatives), on the other hand, promote sustainability, just as participation in decision-making mitigates the impact of organizational change.

This type of organization is to be found in the Cooperative and Participative Societies (SCOP). These are public limited companies (SA) or limited liability companies (SARL) that have become " social economy companies" (ESS) by choice and approval. The principles (non-profitable purpose, dual human and economic project) and rules of the SSE (governance, profit-sharing) are enshrined in their articles of association.

Objectives and rules of governance and sharing specific to SCOPs. Provided by the author

In these structures, employees are the majority shareholders: they hold at least 51% of the share capital and 65% of the voting rights. Power is exercised democratically, and profits, risks and skills are shared. SCOPs thus differ from conventional companies in terms of their guiding principles and objectives, the associate status open to their employees, and the way they operate in terms of decision-making, organization and remuneration. Quality of life and well-being at work are at the heart of the project, and are not secondary or optional issues.

Following two surveys of 205 managers and 554 employees (in research carried out in partnership with the CGSCOP, the general confederation of SCOPs), we found high levels of involvement and commitment to work, as well as a general feeling of well-being.

Effective power

On average, both managers and cooperators express high levels of well-being. The table below summarizes our respondents' self-assessments (score out of 10):

This well-being is fostered by cooperative practices (organization of work, decision-making, remuneration) which have a positive impact on employee involvement, commitment and sense of security. It also has an impact on the company's economic performance.

In particular, employees appreciate their decision-making power. The feeling of "empowerment" is particularly high (8.32/10). According to American researcher Gretchen M. Spreitzer, this is what employees feel when they exercise effective power over their work environment, through a sense of competence, of impact on what happens in their company, of autonomy in decisions concerning their work, and of the meaning they find in their work.

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So, even if the cooperative members do not all use their right to speak in the same way, and in practice participation varies, these companies are characterized by a fairly high level of member involvement in strategic and operational decision-making.

For cooperators, this decision-making power gives them a feeling of real involvement with their organization. The table below shows employees' self-assessments of different levels of involvement:


Finally, we note that associate employees have a higher level of affective involvement, normative involvement,empowerment (through feelings of competence, autonomy and impact), and sense of job security than non-associate employees.

Psychological contract

Overall, our respondents feel that the so-called psychological contract with their company is particular and specific to this type of structure. Indeed, the contract between an employee and a company is not only legal: it's also moral. What I can give (my contributions) and what I can receive (remuneration) goes beyond the employment contract. For example, I give my loyalty in exchange for quality of life at work. It's a "deal" that employee-partners feel is balanced.

Our study reveals the importance of cooperative values (support, sharing, democratic participation, right to speak, etc.) in the psychological contract within SCOPs. These "immaterial" aspects of the contract compensate for more material aspects (remuneration, training, career development, etc.) in which SCOPs do not surpass traditional companies.

The balance of the psychological contract in SCOP. Provided by the author

In fact, cooperators believe that their "immaterial" contract is all the more valuable because it would be very difficult to find elsewhere, in conventional organizations. What's more, this immaterial component of the contract predicts key variables such as the well-being of cooperators, as well as the high degree of meaning they attach to their work.

The need for "transformational" leadership

However, for everyone, managers and cooperators alike, the level of well-being depends on leadership style. Even if employees are associates, and the term "manager" or "referent" is often preferred to "leader" or "manager", the presence of a leader to bring the cooperative model to life remains necessary.

The differences between "transformational" and "transactional" leadership. Provided by the author

Surveys reveal the importance of the leadership style adopted within these companies. The so-called "transformational" style (which encourages autonomy, recognition and appreciation of each member) is perfectly in tune with the values and functioning of SCOPs. Such a leader therefore has a very positive influence on the well-being at work of all members, including his or her own. On the other hand, if his style is rather "transactional", his professional behaviors appear ill-suited to cooperative functioning and incompatible with the aspirations of cooperators: this style, moreover, favors neither his own well-being, nor that of others.

These results highlight a virtuous spiral, characterized not by highly innovative systems, as we might have imagined, but by clusters of organizational and managerial practices that are both humanly rewarding and economically efficient, guided by values and goals that are strongly anchored in the company's articles of association, and which are non-negotiable. While not free from weaknesses, nor exempt from the constraints experienced by all businesses, one of the successes of the SCOP, in the current context, is that it manages to combine the collective (living together and solidarity) and the individual (autonomy, responsibility, development), the human and the economic. Yes, it's possible!

The virtuous spiral, organized in concentric circles, of SCOP. Provided by the author

According to the SCOP network, at the end of 2022, there were 2606 of these structures, present in all sectors of activity, with 58137 jobs and 8.4 billion in sales. These cooperative enterprises have also recorded growth of 11% compared to 2021. The 5-year survival rate has increased by 3 points compared to 2021, reaching 76% compared to 61% for all French companies. The solidity of SCOPs thus remains a serious asset to the French economy, not only for employment policies, but also those aimed at promoting well-being in the workplace.

Claude Fabre, Senior Lecturer in Management Sciences (specializing in human resources), University of Montpellier and Florence Loose, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, University of Montpellier

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.