From the shifting attitudes and expectations of an increasingly diverse population to the maturation of digital natives and empowering effects of social media, today, numerous societal forces are fundamentally redefining the relationship between corporations and their employees.

One of the most visible — and vexing — byproducts of this changing relationship has been the rise of workplace activism.

While the news media tends to focus on high-profile incidents in household-name companies, activism has become an increasingly common phenomenon spanning industries, geographies and the age, race or political leanings of employees.

Activism takes root when management actions seem to become disconnected from an organization’s stated values and expressed beliefs. This disconnect causes tension and when workers feel powerless or proper avenues fail to exist, employees advocate for change by new means: they go public. This can result in damage to brand, reputation and operations.

SoCal Gas Company

Mobilizing internal advocates to advance corporate reputation and public policy

At Gagen MacDonald, we bring a blend of relevant expertise to help prevent and diffuse employee activism.

The employee activism we see today is a new expression of an age-old dynamic. For as long as companies have existed, when friction has occurred between employees and executive leaders, employees have banded together to take collective action. Having helped many organizations navigate these flash points, our experience teaches us a few keys.

First, the best way to prevent employee activism is to make sure employees at all levels are exposed to your corporate strategy. While it can seem unnecessary to dwell on strategic objectives that exist out of sight on a daily basis, the more complete an understanding employees have of why certain business decisions are made and how they impact the future, the more likely you are to quickly find common ground when a disconnect occurs. You can’t build understanding when you’re working from two different sets of facts.

Second, systems of dialogue must exist and actively take place. When executives and employees talk, you not only share information but build trust. With trust comes perspective, patience and allowance. We have deep expertise in building organizational dialogue: not only structuring communication systems but coaching and developing leaders (including and especially middle managers, whose roles are crucial) and creating cultures that encourage collaboration.

When these conditions exist together, the odds of an ugly and prolonged bout of activism diminish enormously.

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