User needs for union joining forms

Union joining forms are an important but often overlooked step in union organising. You need a process to get people into the union, check applicability in some cases, gather their contact data and set up appropriate payment routes.

Sometimes this means the forms get more complicated than they need to be. Having one guaranteed interaction with a new member means there’s a chance to gather lots of information that unions may or may not need in the future.  However that can bloat forms and put people off from joining due to complexity or concern at sharing data. 

Particularly problematic are any fields that people don’t instinctively know. That could be details like NI number, or information about the workplace that the user might feel they have to check out first. For political fund unions, there may be a pause whilst people consider information and options they hadn’t thought they’d be having to think about. It might be some time before they get around to looking at the form again – if at all.

Sometimes the information isn’t really needed, sometimes it could be gathered as part of a membership welcome route. With more people using a mobile phone as their primary connected device, the usability of the initial form becomes even more of a priority. Getting as many people through the door as efficiently as possible, should be a prime aim.

A good starting point is user needs. When we consider the motivations, context and ideal experiences of a user in moving through a system, it helps us identify principles that we need to incorporate into that system’s design.

Broadly speaking, users want services from unions that…

  • Work at the same level or better than other services they use (like online banking or managing their account with a utility)
  • Provide accurate answers to their information needs
  • Are accessible
  • Are available in any context, and on any device
  • Can be easily shared with colleagues to help further the aims of the union movement

More specifically, we can consider user needs for both the prospective member and union organisers/membership teams at each stage in someone’s decision to join a union, process of signing up, and welcome route once in membership.

User needs:

“As a worker, I need…”

Before joining (low awareness of unions):

  • Clear information about a range of workplace related issues – pay and contract negotiations, conditions, holiday allowances, bullying/workplace relationship problems, scope vs. reality of role, training options
  • To know and evaluate the options for getting help with a workplace related issue, including joining a union

Considering joining a union:

  • Clear information about how a union can help me – whatever my employment status and whoever my employer
  • To know whether or note there is already a union in my workplace (and if so, which it is)
  • To know who my union rep would be (if one is present in my workplace)
  • Clear information about how my employer will react and what their legal obligations are if I join a union
  • To choose the right union for my specific job
  • To know whether the union can help me immediately
  • Clear information about how unions help employed people as a whole
  • Clear information about how unions are relevant
  • To choose the right union for my job and workplace
  • To know how much joining a union will cost
  • Clear information about what’s expected of me when I join a union
  • Clear information about what will happen when the union’s members vote to strike
  • Clear information about the political role unions play
  • To know that people like me benefit from being a member of a union
  • To know that I can join a union at any stage of my career
  • To know that I can leave a union and join another when I change job

During/following joining:

  • Clear information about how a union will use my information and contact me
  • To know what information a union needs to accept me as a member
  • To pay my membership fees
  • To get feedback about/track the status of my application using different communications channels
  • To amend my application if necessary
  • To know how to recruit other members in my workplace

“As a union membership officer, I need…”

  • To check that people are applying to join the right union
  • To be able to direct people to the right union if they apply to the wrong one
  • To check and approve people’s right to join the union under the union’s membership rules, or to pass approvals along to the relevant people
  • To move new member data to the right databases/systems.
  • To match a job/employer to information we have about whether the individual’s workplace recognises that union
  • To provide a new member’s information to the right rep
  • The information needed to welcome the new member (send membership card and other information)
  • To provide information about how new members can organise their workplace and the benefits of doing so
  • To use a new member’s enthusiasm in helping to build the union

Our aims

Looking at these user needs helps us to work out a series of aims for how we seek to change the joining process.

Aim 1: Make finding and joining a union easy

You should be able to find and join a union in less than five minutes.

  • Create, in partnership with other unions and organisations, authoritative content about the problems people face at work.
  • Help people answer – Is there a union at my employer?
  • Help people answer – Is there a union for my job/industry/sector?
  • Help people answer, definitively – Is this union right for me?
  • Help people answer – What is this union doing at the moment?
  • Make it easy for people to hand over their information and pay their fees

Aim2: Make organising easy

People should feel motivated, able, and triggered to organise in their workplace.

  • Help people understand the benefit of recruiting other people to join unions.
  • Recruit other people in a few clicks

Aim 3: Make the tasks of being a member easy

People should hear from their union when their union has something relevant for them.

  • Help people know – What is happening in my union?
  • Help people understand what, if anything, they need to do.
  • Make it easy to vote on union issues
  • Make it easy to participate in union debates

Aim 4: Make better data, easily accessible

Unions should work together to

  • Create a definitive list of unions and their contact information.
  • Create a list of jobs and employers, including recognised employers that are consistently used across all unions.


Firstly, unions should always be involved in any research. It’ll help them understand people better and to make better decisions about how to serve them.

Secondly, the needs below are derived from 10 interviews with working people under the age of 35. The group was gender-balanced. All were eligible to join a union, though none had. The needs of the union membership officers were derived from conversations with them during the sprint week itself.

Our data had biases that we could address with more time:

  • The youngest worker was 25 (we should talk to 16 year olds who are working, and to 14 year olds who will enter the world of work once they leave school).
  • We didn’t talk to enough people from outside London.
  • We didn’t talk to enough people who weren’t British citizens.
  • We didn’t talk to anyone with a disability.
  • Only two workers qualified as low paid, though both made at least the London living wage.

Thirdly, more research is needed. As we got further into the project, we realised we wanted to know more about people’s views about their trade unions and their understanding of common terms and concepts used within/around unions.

  • What do people think of trade unions?
  • What do they understand by terms such as “recognition”, “rep”, “collective bargaining”, “bargaining unit”, “chapel” and so on.
  • What is the context in which unions might be relevant to people?
  • How do people describe what they do? (We started a small survey to find out and there was a lot of variety in how people described it). How can we better ask so that we get more predictable answers that we can use to guide people towards the right union for their job and workplace?
  • How can people who don’t work together organise? (e.g. freelancers, gig economy workers, anyone who works offsite for their employer and so on).

NB: This work is derived from the outputs of a design sprint hosted by the TUC, and facilitated by Sam Jeffers of The Shop in December 2016.