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How to respond to employee activism

Posted by Celene Robert

April 11, 2021

The demand for social and economic change is growing, especially among the millennial generation. Leaders who try to appear neutral may actually be perceived by employees as supporting the status quo. Check out some of the recommended strategies for executives to address activist employees’ concerns, as well as some approaches leaders should avoid. 

Redesign workplace policies and programs

Most employees, irrespective of their age, want to contribute to social and environmental causes and increasingly look for a company that invests in its employees and progressive initiatives. Therefore, HR executives and managers should redesign workplace policies and programs to uphold their employees’ values and demonstrate care for their well-being. 

Match employees’ donations

Many people are donating to help others who are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the continued need for COVID-19 relief, employers should consider matching employees’ donations as a part of their benefits program. Such donations, made to your employee’s organization of choice and in their name, can help your company develop a good reputation for supporting prosocial causes.

If you’re already offering a donation matching program, discuss the organizations that your employees support and make sure they are aware of your contribution initiatives. Promote your company’s matching donations in your employee handbook, on your company’s website and in other employee communications to keep staff informed.

Offer time to volunteer

While many activist engagements or movements happen on weekends, some events might occur during the workday when your employees want to participate. Companies can communicate shared values by supporting their employees’ civic engagement and providing them with paid time off to participate in peaceful protests or to join donation efforts for causes they support. Offering social justice PTO is a meaningful way to support employees’ engagement with the causes they care about most. 

Talk to us about how our outsourced HR services can help you provide employees with competitive benefits.

Provide holidays of their choice

Businesses with a diverse workforce may find it hard to honor all the cultural, religious and historical holidays corresponding with those of their employees. However, companies can provide their employees with the flexibility to choose the most important holidays according to their religion and region, whether it’s Diwali or Easter. Leaders can also invite their employees to share their traditions with one another. Such practices go a long toward fostering a greater sense of community and appreciation among employees.

Be empathetic

The pandemic has been a deep strain on employees all over the world. They face many potential hardships, such as balancing child care on top of work, recovering from COVID-19 and possibly dealing with grief. In response, employers should encourage staff to take mental health days, necessary sick leave days and incorporate flexible schedules in recognition of child care responsibilities. There are several other family benefit expansions that leaders may consider, such as extended paid medical leave.

Ask what they want

To ensure you’re fulfilling your employees’ preferences and needs, take their feedback and listen to their queries regularly. Also, extend support for social and environmental causes that your employees care about most. Investing in the social and environmental causes your employees care about encourages them to come to work excited and feeling engaged. 

Approaches to avoid

Employee activism is on the rise, and HR experts expect it to become an increasingly prominent aspect of workplaces among members of Generation Z and beyond. Your staff’s growing awareness of pervasive social and environmental issues is gaining traction, and their keenness to know how the company supports the causes they care about is not likely to wane over time. This means that company leaders need to handle their responses to employee activism carefully.

As a quick reference, HR experts recommend that employers avoid these three approaches when addressing employees’ activism: 

  1. Over-optimism. Instead, take the time to truly understand your employees’ concerns.
  2. Trying to appear apolitical. Keep in mind that staying neutral can convey the impression that the company supports the status quo.
  3. Employing a rush to quick fixes: Create a long-term commitment and avoid the quick-trip fix.
Best practice: Assign your team to develop a well-rounded strategic plan to respond to employee activism.

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Celene Robert
Celene Robert

Celene heads up the marketing at Escalon. Passionate about helping companies grow their business, she spends her days finding new ways to bring essential business services to startups, SMBs, and growth-minded companies. Based in the PNW, she’s the proud owner of 8 pairs of Birkenstocks and a sassy, cuddly cat.

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