Employee Activism

Navigating Employee Activism: Effective Engagement Strategies 

July 3, 2024

APCO recently partnered with the Social Innovation Summit in Chicago, a global annual event for 1,200 purpose-driven business leaders, funders, community stakeholders and impact entrepreneurs driving impact and scaling change. Many companies are navigating the complex landscape of employee activism and spotlighting how the rise of employee voices, especially during pivotal societal events, underscores the need for organizations to foster inclusive environments that harmonize with their core objectives. As we approach pronounced moments in time, including critical elections around the world, companies face several potential scenarios for outcomes relating to their businesses, employee base and culture. While it is recommended that a clear and unique plan should be developed for individual corporate markets, respectful to the nuances and issues present in certain geographies, preparing now is crucial for any corporation. 

Corporations Must Evolve

The role of corporations in social and political discourse is evolving. Strategic planning, active listening and alignment with diverse stakeholders are paramount. Today’s issues are complex with few clear lines. It’s essential to engage in dialogue, understand varying opinions and continue educating on organizational considerations, while also ensuring that this task is not carried out only by employee groups. Implementing these tactics supports employees, while also allowing corporations and employees to not take a public stance on a particular issue that a company may not be fully invested in. Planning ahead, studying potential scenarios and fostering open communication should also be leveraged by companies as forms of preparedness. 

Answer to Activism

Generational activism is also reshaping organizational expectations. Younger generations, particularly Gen Z, are increasingly becoming advocates for corporate activism, with a 2022 survey from the National Society of High School Scholars reporting that for prospective Gen Z employees, finding an employer who is committed to corporate social responsibility remains a preference. This same pursuit of activism may also reside in internal groups, such as employee resource groups (ERGs). Companies must foster opportunities for intentional inclusion and prevent burnout within ERGs and ensure that those who lead these groups are not the only ones tasked with helping educate organizations on the impacts that larger moments in time may have on historically under-resourced communities.   

Employers should establish clear expectations and protocols with ERGs in responding to societal events so that employees can best understand the roles and responsibilities that certain groups may play should a company or brand take a stance on any event. Ultimately, ERGs should not just be tapped to support during crises but should be engaged proactively for perspectives on societal issues in a company’s objective to steer transformative change. 

Plan Ahead

In today’s evolving social landscape, proactive scenario planning is crucial for organizational resilience. Engaging diverse employee groups early helps anticipate potential societal shifts and prepares the organization for the possibility of remaining silent on issues. Organizations should foster an open dialogue and establish clear channels for employee feedback, support ERGs with necessary resources without overburdening them and prioritize continuous diversity, equity and inclusion training. Staying informed on current events and their potential impacts ensures organizations navigate societal issues confidently and effectively, remaining prepared for future challenges.  

In the wake of high-stakes elections, organizations must be prepared for a variety of outcomes the day after the polls close. The landscape could be marked by confusion and conflict regarding who has won, or even violent protests and demonstrations. Scenario planning requires a distinct response strategy to maintain stability and support within the workplace. 

If you’re looking for ways to manage employee activism in the height of larger societal moments, here’s where we’d suggest starting: 

  • Clarify what your organization stands for while living up to its values. Create opportunities to ask what is true to your purpose, mission or business and communicate these values clearly to internal and external stakeholders. 
  • Identify and anticipate what events or scenarios could occur in your area of operation at the global, national, regional and local levels. Topics related to legislation, elections, judicial actions, etc. 
  • Understand your stakeholders (employees, shareholders, customers, communities, members, donors, board members, etc.) and their values through balanced external research and take steps to listen and understand now, not in the heat of an event. 
  • Socialize your plans with key stakeholders in advance—help them understand what factors you will take into consideration, and the “why” behind your plans.

Strategically planning ahead offers a roadmap for creating resilient and inclusive environments, benefiting employees and the organization alike. Embrace the journey towards a more engaged, aware and proactive corporate culture. 

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