As economic recovery continues across Europe, interest in developing more sustainable and collaborative business models has grown.

Scotland in particular has played a leading role in defining new ways of working and this is especially true in the case of employee ownership.

Today, Employee Ownership Day, employee-owned businesses across the UK celebrate the significant benefits this model has delivered for their companies and the wider economy.

As a business structure, employee ownership presents many, often overlooked, opportunities. Recent research has proved such businesses are typically five to 10 per cent more productive than those operating under more traditional structures and boast greater levels of job creation, a lower risk of failure and higher worker satisfaction.

What's more, employee ownership presents a solution to what some have labelled a "succession time bomb". Specifically in Scotland, a country where family businesses account for more than 60 per cent of SMEs yet only seven per cent reach third generation family ownership, planning for the future has never been more important.

Employee ownership, in many cases, is a natural progression for a family business, and more families should consider this option when planning succession. It is also an effective option for other types of businesses, including start-ups and large organisations from which owners are looking to make an exit.

Experience shows owners who sell to employees will achieve at least market value for their company. What's more, outgoing owners can manage the pace of their exit and, for those concerned about impact on workers, employee-owned businesses are more likely to remain in their current location, retaining jobs and skills in local communities.

Since 2009, the number of employee-owned businesses headquartered in Scotland has doubled. And, with an estimated 16,000 SMEs believed to be considering an exit strategy within the next five years, this number will grow.

Given the benefits, this is welcome news for our workforce and excellent news for Scottish business. In the latest economic strategy, the Scottish Government gives equal weighting to tackling inequality and increasing competitiveness and there are countless examples where employee ownership has demonstrated good practice on both counts.

All businesses, regardless of size, sector or structure, should consider how they can contribute to this vision by promoting fairness, wellbeing and equality in the workplace, as well as rewarding activities that drive competitiveness. The nature of employee ownership creates a culture and environment where these qualities can thrive.

First, by having a stake in a company and its ongoing success, employee owners tend to feel more passionate about work, empowered to contribute ideas and valued for the contribution they make. This in turn drives real competitiveness.

Secondly, employees with a deeper understanding of the financial operations of a business - and a vested interest in maintaining its profitability - are less likely to be wasteful and more likely to seek opportunities to increase efficiency and productivity.

Finally, as stakeholders, employee owners have a shared role in managing their business, which can include shaping working conditions, employee benefits and staff development. As a result, employee owners can directly influence the culture of their business as well as its future direction.

There are numerous examples of this in practice. Edinburgh-based CAS Ltd for example, says employee ownership gave it the spark it needed to become competitive again, encouraging staff to feel differently about their jobs and work together towards shared goals.

Aberdeen-based Accord Energy Solutions, which adopted employee ownership from start-up, has focused on investing in people from the very beginning. Every year each employee receives a personal development allowance to spend on training of their choice. This reinforces employees' individual contributions to the business and their career progression.

A final example is Fife-based technical textiles firm Scott & Fyfe, which moved to employee ownership in late 2012. The introduction of an employee director, an employee forum and regular briefings has given staff a deeper understanding of the business, contributing to significant changes in attitude, commitment and responsibility.

Whether as a succession solution or as a start-up option, the facts speak for themselves. Employee ownership can make a genuine difference to the success of a business. What's more, it can make a significant contribution to building a fairer and more competitive Scotland.

Sarah Deas is chief executive of Co-operative Development Scotland, the arm of Scottish Enterprise that supports company growth through collaborative and employee ownership business models.