Hiring and Intake in Worker Cooperatives

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While worker cooperatives vary in size and structure, many require their members (also called worker-owners) to be both dedicated and versatile.  Worker cooperative members are often expected to: 

  • Demonstrate commitment to the organization’s mission and values; 
  • Participate in the governance or management of the business.  This may involve attending meetings and / or assuming additional responsibilities;
  • Develop strong communication skills in order to collaborate, resolve conflicts, and participate in democratic processes;
  • Exhibit an ownership mentality, whether they are charged with making high-stakes decisions or simply optimizing their daily work;
  • Buy-in to the business.  As co-owners, they may also share in the surplus (profit)— or losses.   

Hiring and training processes are often rigorous, in order to ensure that each new hire is able to meet these expectations.  The major rights and responsibilities of members are generally outlined in the Bylaws, and detailed in internal policy documents.[1][2][3]  In most worker cooperatives, new hires must complete a probationary intake period before becoming full members. (This period of time is also sometimes called an incubation process).

Hiring Processes

There are many benefits to worker ownership, and some worker cooperatives are routinely overwhelmed with applications.  However, some worker cooperatives find it challenging to recruit prospective members who are able to meet these expectations and have all the required job-specific skills.  In order to find prospective members who are a “good fit,” many worker cooperatives:

  • Post detailed hiring announcements outlining the unique rewards, challenges, and expectations associated with worker ownership;
  • Ask prospective members to address specific questions or issues in their applications or cover letters;
  • Conduct a brief phone interview or informal tour before offering a formal interview;
  • Form a rotating, ad hoc, or personnel committee to conduct interviews (in order to get multiple perspectives on each candidate).[3]

Some of these practices are commonplace in non-cooperative workplaces, especially when recruiting specialists or managers.  However, most traditional firms cut corners when vetting “unskilled” or “non-professional” workers.  Worker cooperatives are more likely to regard all workers as integral to the health of the organization.  In particular, smaller and / or collectively managed worker cooperatives often require members to fill multiple roles and must recruit accordingly.

Training Prospective Members

Some worker cooperatives have special training procedures and requirements for new hires.  These may include:

  • Orientations addressing the unique qualities of worker ownership.  Topics may include an introduction to worker cooperatives, an explanation of the worker cooperative’s structure, avenues for participation, and expectations of members; 
  • A “buddy system,” in which the new hire is matched with a mentor;
  • Opportunities or requirements related to meeting attendance.  New hires may be encouraged or expected to attend a certain number of Board, collective, department, or committee meetings after completing training;
  • Written tests evaluating financial literacy and other skills required of members.

Probationary Intake Periods

Most worker cooperatives do not offer full membership to brand new hires.  A probationary intake period enables both new hires and long-time members to ensure that the new hire is prepared to share in the responsibilities of co-ownership. 

Probationary intake periods range from two months to a year or more, and are often marked by regular peer reviews or performance evaluations. Peer reviews or performance evaluations assess whether a new hire (or a long-time member) is meeting job expectations.

After a prospective member has successfully completed a probationary intake period, they are often subject to a special peer review or performance evaluation.  At this point, the prospective member’s ownership is often confirmed by a vote or consensus of the current membership (or by direct managers or close co-workers, in the case of larger cooperatives).[1][3][4]