Responding to Employee Activism in the Workplace

Activism about and within the workplace is on the rise. The majority of U.S. employees, especially Millennials, believe they have the right to speak up about issues that impact society. And they are utilizing social and traditional media to raise their voices when their employers take actions they don’t agree with.

As a result, People Managers are left in a tricky spot trying to navigate to the best possible outcome when activism enters the workplace. Luckily, there are ways to address employee concerns early and avoid escalation:

  1. Embrace activism as a positive force to propel your reputation and your business. Employee resource groups (ERGs) can be a great way to let employees be heard while also promoting a sense of community. Open communication between leadership and ERGs can lead to positive outcomes for all.
  2. Be clear about your corporate purpose and culture.
  3. Learn what is on employees’ minds. Don’t just send out an annual formal survey. CEOs and members of the C-suite can get real-time reactions by simply meeting with employees below the manager level and picking their brains.
  4. Cultivate a culture of openness and transparency. Employees are far more likely to resort to seeking media (traditional and social) attention if they feel they aren’t being heard. Get creative with ways to seek feedback, and communicate to employees that their voice matters.
  5. Establish a response protocol. When it comes to employee activism, always be proactive as opposed to reactive. Identify the key players and have a strategy planned in case the issue does escalate.
  6. Clearly communicate your company’s values. Your employees should know where you stand at all times. Don’t wait until it’s too late—get ahead of the messaging. Sometimes, just the willingness to acknowledge that there is a gray moral area can go a long way toward building employee trust.
  7. Make your company’s values part of the solution. Consider offering paid time off for employee volunteerism or contributing funds to employees’ chosen charities.

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