While it’s easy for firms to design ways to hand over financial ownership to employees, there isn’t a standard recipe for giving workers psychological ownership. But some things can help predict how well workers will take to their new role, experts say. One is the size of the company: Workers in a small company tend to have an easier time feeling as if they own the place than those in a large company. Most employee-owned companies are not publicly traded, says Rosen, and that helps as well. When workers feel as if the management is more responsive to labor than to a horde of anonymous shareholders, they’re bound to feel more loyalty to the firm.
But perhaps the most important factor is the historic relationship between labor and management at the firm. “I remember when I heard of the United plan,” says Rosen. “I said, Oh God, why do we have to have United as the company that everyone thinks of when they think of an employee-owned company?” That’s because United had a dismal record of labor relations. “We knew that the best environment for employee ownership is one in which — like Southwest — the company says employees come first, customers second, and shareholders third,” Rosen says.
Rosen adds: “Every company in America says that ‘people are our most important asset,’ but the tragedy that United illustrates is that that’s not true. What we’ve seen is that when you treat your employees with dignity and respect, you get thousands of people in a big company sharing ideas and information about how you can do things better. And there are only a handful of companies who realize that the people who work for you are the most important asset.”