What About Happiness?

by Colette Lebel

On May 1st, which was also International Workers’ Day, the Co-operative Federation conducted a survey on how people perceive their jobs.  As a participant, I had to ask myself: What does work represent for me?  I didn’t have to think too long.  I answered with “a driving force for personal and collective development.”  Then, as I was clicking on SEND, I was feeling a little uneasy.  

My answer was certainly light-years away from what many people, whose jobs were less stimulating, might have answered, people for whom work is basically a question of necessity.  As the old adage says, “It’s a living…”  Putting food on the table and paying the bills.  And here I am talking about personal and collective growth!  What planet am I living on!?

I feel very lucky to have a job that fulfills me.  A few years ago, the IRSST (Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail) published the study Sens du travail, santé mentale au travail et engagement organisationnel [The meaning of work, mental health in the workplace and organisational commitment]. It reported that, to be happy in the workplace, a person needs to find meaning.  It defined six characteristics that added meaning to one’s job: Social utility, autonomy, opportunities to learn and to develop, moral rectitude, quality relationships and recognition.  This resonated with me because developing in a cooperative environment gives us a little bit of all that.

Isn’t social utility the primary goal of all cooperatives? And aren’t autonomy and education expressly stated as part of their guiding principles? As for moral rectitude, aren’t humanist ethics inherent to their very unique nature?  Furthermore, a recent CICOPA (International Organisation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives) reported that people who worked in a cooperative environment in various parts of the world felt “a combination of economic rationality, search for efficacy, shared flexibility, feeling of participation, family-type environment, pride in the reputation, a sense of identity and a focus on values”.  In my opinion this isn’t bad?

In last month’s issue of Les Affaires, Diane Bérard alluded to the irony of those who labour to change the world to make it better, in other words people who find meaning in their work… but eventually they burn out for lack of resources.  It is true that there are a lot of community organisations, NPOs and social entrepreneurs among employers with a social mission.  However, these types of businesses often depend on investors to finance their projects, which is not the case with cooperatives. Cooperatives are, by their very nature, autonomous and independent.

It’s true, cooperatives provide good jobs, decent, and sustainable jobs with meaning.  When the workplace is radically transformed, and there is clearly observable insecurity, deteriorating social protection and growing inequalities, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves that the global cooperative movement provides jobs to 10% of the world’s active population.  This represents a colossal contribution.  One that is constantly underestimated.

So it’s no surprise that the International Labour Organization (ILO), working to ensure that all men and women across the world enjoy decent employment, explicitly acknowledged the significant contribution of cooperatives.  In fact, its 193rd recommendation, presented back in 2002, stipulated that cooperatives, in all their shapes and forms, mobilise their resources and stimulate investments to allow for a more comprehensive participation in the economic and social development of the population as a whole.  ILO therefore acknowledged the compatibility of the cooperative model with the vision it defends, which is that work is not a commodity.

Happiness in the workplace, is it possible? Yes, and it often comes hand in hand with working in a cooperative.

Colette Lebel's picture

Colette is agronomist and director of cooperative affairs at La Coop fédérée. She was the first woman to be appointed as head of training of the boards of director within the cooperative network and works to improve women representativeness within the boards of directors. Dedicated cooperator, Colette had the opportunity to pass on his expertise in several missions abroad both for La Coop and SOCODEVI.