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Forum Post: The American Workplace

Posted 8 years ago on March 28, 2012, 11:18 a.m. EST by francismjenkins (3713)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

We talk about the American workplace here, and the idea of collaborative workplaces and worker owned enterprises, under the premise that worker owned/managed = some sort of altruistic egalitarianism. I also support the concept of employee owned & managed companies (or enterprises), but is the underlying motivation behind this idea really "altruistic"?

We can say, as a general rule, two minds are better than one, ten better than two, and so on. So collaboration certainly has utility from a common sense perspective. It's also true that people appear to have greater appreciation for things they own, versus things they have no real stake in (like a company renting their services). So there is a very logical basis supporting the concept of employee owned enterprises, but does this have anything to do with altruism, or is this really a more enlightened approach to mutually beneficial behavior?

In Japan workers are organized in teams. These teams are given a decent degree of autonomy in managing themselves. The result is the high quality products we've come to expect from our Japanese friends. This is consistent with studies that have shown employee owned and managed companies, in the United States, are generally more productive, and produce better quality goods, compared to their more conventional counterparts.

However, the motivating factor appears to be self-interest. In other words, where people have more of an interest, or stake, in the places they work, they appear to be more productive, they exhibit a greater concern over quality, etc. Therefore, it seems that from a purely economic perspective, the worker owned model is superior. Since many worker owned companies exist in the United States, and they function in a very market driven way, I think we do this form of ownership a disservice by associating it with old ideas like Marxism or even socialism (even though there may be some commonalities).

So maybe it should be presented for what it is, something that is in the self-interest of workers, and a superior model from a "market" perspective.

In Germany, many manufacturing firms are small family owned enterprises, and their owners are said to display a personal interest in keeping manufacturing jobs in Germany (and this is touted as part of the reason for Germany's success in the realm of manufacturing, particularly high value manufacturing). Whether this is true or not I don't know, but one factor often mentioned is German companies tend to be less focused on quarterly profits, and have the luxury of being able to focus on the long term. It seems to me that the worker owned model may be more successful for the same reasons. There is a proper balance between short term and long term success.



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