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Will Employee Activism Give Rise to a New Model for Business or Will it be Business as Usual?

There are countless examples over the recent years of employees speaking out in response to their company’s decisions, business practices and strategy. As I was researching for this post, I was surprised to see how many articles described how the C-suite can “stave off unrest” or “avoid unrest” among employees as if they are simply “to be dealt with” rather than a critical stakeholder for any company.

With over 15 years of research experience, APCO has identified the drivers of corporate reputation that give us insight into these shifting expectations for corporations. APCO’s 2017 corporate activism survey confirmed that corporations are expected to contribute in shaping a better society—95 percent% of the informed and engaged public that we surveyed agreed that companies have the ability to shape a better society. Further, how employees are treated reflects how a company is run—94% agreed that a company that goes above and beyond in how it treats its employees probably goes above and beyond in other aspects of its business.

At the same time, work is becoming core to our identity and Americans in some positions are working longer hours than ever. We fuel our long work hours with commitment to our company’s mission and values. This convergence of rising expectations of corporations, live to work culture and commitment to our company’s mission has given rise to this new phenomenon of employee activism.

What can corporations do about it? Let’s take a page out of APCO’s book on Corporate Agility and business success:

1. First, rather than working to “stave off” unrest we should be embracing employees’ passion and commitment to the company. It’s more important than ever to increase opportunities for senior leadership to listen to employees. We know from APCO’s research on Corporate Agility that the most successful companies actively listen to the expectations and corporate perceptions of employees.

2. Second, business decisions need to take employees into account. Employees of the most agile companies have a voice in shaping the values and direction of the company. It’s more effective to channel this commitment employees feel into the business rather than learning how to squash this employee unrest.

3. Lastly, companies that value diverse perspectives and opinions—rather than stifling them—are better prepared for this changing landscape. Companies that step up to embrace differing points of view will do a better job of creating a strong enterprising culture—a necessity in the path to agility.

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