What Employers Need to Know About Employee Activism in 2023

The term “employee activism” has recently been registering more than usual on the radars of managers and HR leaders across industries. Whether it’s climate change, social injustice, or gender and racial inequality, employees today are more vocal than ever when it comes to addressing causes they deem to be important, and are increasingly looking to work with an employer whose company culture aligns with their own personal values.

In this blog, we’ll cover everything employers need to know about employee activism, including what it is, why it matters, and even some actions businesses can take to embrace and integrate employee activism into their company culture and talent acquisition and retention strategies.

What is Employee Activism?

Broadly speaking, the term employee activism refers to increased involvement in social or political advocacy among employees across the workforce. This may happen individually or collectively and can take a variety of forms, from making a short statement on social media to organizing and attending a week’s long protest or fundraising event.

Importantly, employers may be under the impression that employee activism is necessarily related to issues that employees have with the specific companies they work for, and that it may even represent the threat of a collective uprising or increasingly toxic behaviors or relationships in the workplace. But in reality, while either of those scenarios are certainly possible, employers who view the concept exclusively through this lens run the risk of not anticipating the full spectrum of challenges and opportunities that employee activism poses to their organization.

Why Employee Activism Matters, & How to Incorporate it Into Your Company Culture

While it might not feel relevant to your business, understanding and addressing employee activism is becoming increasingly critical for companies of all sizes and across industries. In addition to mitigating potentially negative impacts, being prepared to accommodate employee activism can also help inform the positive transformation of company culture and improve employee experiences.

For one thing, it’s no secret that attracting and retaining new talent has become a real challenge for many organizations. Moreover, studies have shown that up to 56% of workers won’t even consider working for a company whose values they disagree with, while 40% of workers have also stated they would likely quit if their employer took a political stance that didn’t align with their own views. By embracing employee activism, employers can demonstrate their support for their employees’ individual passions and values, and increase their satisfaction with the company culture.

And more than just attracting and retaining talent, making considerable improvements to company culture and employee experiences can also lead to increased productivity and engagement in the workplace. For example, one comparison study revealed that workplaces with winning or positive company cultures have a 72% higher rate of employee engagement than those with weak cultures, further highlighting the increasing correlation between employee satisfaction and a company’s overall performance.

These are just a few of many compelling reasons to take employee activism seriously, and to take it into consideration when making changes to company culture or ramping up your talent acquisition strategy. And if you’re thinking about incorporating employee activism into your organization sooner rather than later, here are three quick tips and strategies that you’ll want to keep in mind:

#1. Talk to your employees.

It’s difficult to demonstrate your support for an employee’s values and societal concerns if you’re unsure what they are. The good thing is, it’s not challenging to figure out what your employees care about. And, most of the time, it’s free.

Leaders can start figuring out what employees care about by simply listening. If you’re in a management position, consider hosting town halls for employees, implementing a listening solution, or making time regularly to speak with employees about  what drives and motivates them.

#2. Prioritize Inclusivity.

Once managers and company leaders understand what employees care about, they should look for ways to align employee and company needs. While not everyone on the team or across the organization will share the exact same values and agree on every issue, it’s critical to demonstrate inclusivity and make employees, especially and including people from historically marginalized groups, feel like they belong.

Diversity and inclusivity is becoming increasingly important, especially as companies look toward the future and long-term growth that requires them to engage Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and more. As of 2022, Gen Z was the most diverse generation in the workforce, and they are highly aware of and demanding companies engage positively in social issues. This shows that employee activism isn’t simply a fad, isn’t going away, and is something that companies who want to operate in the future will have to become active participants in.

#3. Clearly define, communicate and reinforce company values.

Finally, whether you realize it or not, employees care deeply about the values and missions of the companies they work for, as well as the willingness of those in leadership positions to take an active stance on issues they deem important. In a recent Gartner study, 53% of employees surveyed said they’d like to see their organization’s leader speak out in support of a cause that reflects their own values, while 70% said they feel personally included knowing their employer is taking an active role in addressing social issues. Whatever your company stands for, be sure to communicate and reinforce your commitment to those values whenever possible.

A great way to do this is through action. Companies can take action on employee activism through benefits policies like time off to vote, which Patagonia nailed. One awesome benefit we have here at Fama is volunteer time off to support organizations we care about while still getting paid. (By the way - we’re hiring!)

In summary, employee activism is an important business initiative that helps companies attract, engage, and retain employees. It helps employees and even customers understand who a company is and what they care about. And, it strengthens ties between the organization and the community it serves. For all of these reasons, employee activism is great for companies.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to address employee activism, or how to optimize employee satisfaction more broadly and attract new talent, feel free to check our previous blog post on the Top 3 High Impact, Low Effort Initiatives to Improve Employee Experience in 2023.

If you’re wanting to work at a company that engages in employee activism, check out our jobs here.