Clicky

Respond to Employee Activists With Clarity and Consistency - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #803

Respond to Employee Activists With Clarity and Consistency

This is one of our free-to-access content pieces. To gain access to all Ideas for Leaders content please Log In Here or if you are not already a Subscriber then Subscribe Here.

KEY CONCEPT

Many employees are asking, if not demanding, that their companies become more engaged in environmental and social issues. Employee activism, however, can be disruptive and divisive. Whatever a company’s position on social issues, the best response is to be pre-emptively clear and consistent on the parameters of the company’s social engagement.


IDEA SUMMARY

More than ever before, employees are asking the companies they work for to take a stand and become actively involved in supporting environmental and social causes. The increasingly visible activism and social engagement of employees is in large part due to changes in technology and culture. On the technology front, internal messaging boards and personal social media enable employees to communicate, person-to-person or among like-minded groups, more directly than in the past. Culturally, the days of employees spending their entire working lives with one company are long gone. Between remote work and job fluidity, the relationship between employer and employee has changed dramatically, and employees are not afraid, nor do they believe it’s inappropriate, to have and express opinions on company activities. 

Employee activism does carry its own set of risks, however, for both employees and employers. Such activism can distract employees from their work, and also alienate other employees who do not share the activists’ opinions. Employee activism can also draw attention to actions or opinions of the company or its executives that may hurt the company brand.

At the same time, however, companies need to be careful about restricting employee activism. Such restrictions can lower the morale and motivation of talented employees—and also harm a company’s reputation.

Companies have reacted in different ways to the activist push from employees. For example, crypto-currency company Coinbase publicly declared that it would not engage in “broader societal issues” that are “unrelated to our core mission,” citing the distraction and internal division created by corporate engagement in causes. In contrast, in response to its employees urging Shopify to support indigenous people, the Canadian company partnered with indigenous organizations to help teach them entrepreneurial skills—thus engaging in social activism without expanding beyond its core mission.

Finally, the Australian mining company BHP believes it has an obligation to help society in any way it can, from reducing carbon emission in its supply chain to helping indigenous populations to ensuring the safety of its miners and the human rights of its employees.


BUSINESS APPLICATION

Many companies have found different approaches to mitigate the risks of corporate social activism. Although the specific approaches may differ—from the exclusion of any activity to an all-in social engagement that becomes part of the brand—the efforts of these companies share three important elements:

A clearly defined mission and purpose. Developing a clear mission and values statement that lays out the parameters of a company’s social engagement intentions—which activities or commitments it will support, which activities or commitments it will not support—sends a message that the company has a political conscience but is making a conscious decision to do what it feels is best for the company, its employees and its customers.  

Clear and consistent communication. The parameters or framework of the company’s social engagement must be clearly and consistently communicated to internal and external stakeholders. Communication to employees especially is of vital importance, helping them understand the boundaries that the company has set on employee social activism.  

Vigilant oversight and consistent implementation. Once the mission and purpose of the company is developed and communicated, it must be implemented consistently. If a commitment is made, it should be honoured. If boundaries are set, they should not be breached. Of course, some flexibility may be required to respond to changing circumstances, but the company should remain in firm control of the social engagement agenda. 

Political and social engagement is a complex and often emotional issue that is best managed through clarity. While not all employees, managers, shareholders or even customers will be happy with a company’s decisions on the scope of its environmental and social activities, pre-emptively staking a position can reduce potential disruptions or distractions. 

In the best interests of the company, however, it may be helpful to gauge employee and customer sentiment on important issues while developing the mission and values statement that will guide future engagement.


  • SHARE


FURTHER READING

  David F. Larcker’s profile at Stanford University Graduate School of Business
  Brian Tayan’s profile at Stanford University Graduate School of Business
  Stephen A. Miles’ LinkedIn profile

Ideas for Leaders is a free-to-access site. If you enjoy our content and find it valuable, please consider subscribing to our Developing Leaders Quarterly publication, this presents academic, business and consultant perspectives on leadership issues in a beautifully produced, small volume delivered to your desk four times a year.

FIND OUT MORE HERE

Idea conceived

March 8, 2021

Idea posted

Nov 2021
Can't find the Idea you are after?
Then 'Challenge Us' to source it.

SUBSCRIBE TO IDEAS FOR LEADERS AND ACCESS ALL OUR IDEAS, PODCASTS, WEBINARS AND RECEIVE EXCLUSIVE EVENT INVITATIONS.

For the less than the price of a coffee a week you can read over 650 summaries of research that cost universities over $1 billion to produce.

Use our Ideas to:

  • Catalyse conversations with mentors, mentees, peers and colleagues.
  • Keep program participants engaged with leadership thinking when they return to their workplace.
  • Create a common language amongst your colleagues on leadership and management practice
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest thought-leadership from the world’s leading business schools.
  • Drill-down on the original research or even contact the researchers directly

Speak to us on how else you can leverage this content to benefit your organization. info@ideasforleaders.com