New research published by Co-operative Development Scotland demonstrates employee-owned businesses’ approach to fair work creates financial and social resilience despite the Covid-19 pandemic. By focusing on people, job security, health, equality and well being, businesses using this model have maintained or increased turnover and improved staff retention at a time when many businesses have experienced the opposite.

The Scottish Government has an ambition for 500 employee-owned businesses in Scotland by 2030. There are currently around 150 employee-owned business operating in Scotland, of which over 100 of those are Scottish headquartered companies. According to research by St Andrews University conducted in January and February 2021[1], the employee ownership sector in Scotland is still in its infancy as the majority of employee-owned businesses are less than 5 years into their employee ownership journey. However, it is a growing and significant sector for Scotland especially for local economies as 90% of those businesses have all or a majority of their workforce located in Scotland.

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Summary of key findings

Findings show that employee-owned businesses (EOBs) withstood the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic by demonstrating financial and social resilience.


  • 90.6% EOBs had minor or no issues, with retaining employees
  • 53% EOBs turnover was unaffected or grew (23.5% EOBs turnover grew, and 29.5% turnover was unaffected)
    • Compared to non-EOBs: 80 percent of SMEs say their revenues are declining, 6% increase in revenue and 14% no change[2]
  • 23.5% EOB turnover growth sits above the ONS average taken over the period


  • 97% EOBs cited job protection as extremely or very important
  • 68% EOBs say that employee voice was a key organisational objective
  • 88% EOBs cited long term organisational sustainability as extremely or very important
    • This far exceeded a concern for share value growth, which was not at all important for 42.5% of EOBs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • 83% EOBs considered employee mental wellbeing as extremely or very important
  • 67% EOBs cited ‘paying the living wage’ as an extremely or very important

[1] Albonico M.,  Mladenov Z. & Sharma R. (2020) How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting UK small and medium-size enterprises. McKinsey & Co. June 2020

[2] EMPLOYEE-OWNED BUSINESS RESILIENCE & RECOVERY 31 March 2021, Dr Juliette Summers & Dr Boyka Bratanova, School of Management, University of St Andrews