THE BLOG
02/23/2012 06:05 pm ET | Updated Apr 24, 2012

Employees as Activists

Occupy Inside, when the activist goes to work

Since the rise of Occupy Wall Street, antagonism towards the Man has risen in the employed as well as the unemployed. Employees are more likely now than ever to be frustrated by their employer, who can represent authority and bureaucracy. Whether or not this ire is deserved, it will only grow stronger if employees feel that they have to suppress it.

Employees may be less likely to express their feelings because they don't want to risk losing their jobs. Yet if those feelings exist and are not addressed they become all the more toxic to the workplace.

Instead of being perceived as the enemy, employers have the opportunity to benefit from their employees' passion. If employers work with employees' activist aspirations, rather than against them, employees will feel more fulfilled, more proud of their work, and ultimately more productive.

How to Benefit from Employee Activism

Ryan Scott is the CEO of Causecast, and a believer in the power of employee activism. He stresses the need for companies to value what employees value, not just the bottom line. He said, "Study after study shows that employee engagement directly leads to increases in performance and decreases in the probability of departure, and one of the best ways to engage employees is in purpose-driven work. When organizations align their workforce behind a larger social mission, everyone wins -- the employee feels more empowered, the employer develops a deeper relationship with its workforce, and the cause benefits from more efficiently directed activism."

To address this need, Causecast developed its Employee Impact Platform, a cloud-based interactive web solution that enables corporations to achieve "cause integration" through automated volunteer and fundraising systems.

I have determined some other effective strategies for embracing an active employee base. For the socially responsible employer unsure of where to start, these are good options for engaging employees.

  1. Town Halls: Create an open forum where employees can speak their minds and discuss relevant issues. After all, employees are the most important stakeholders. This discourse may bring issues to light that would never be noticed in a boardroom.
  2. Fresh Air Forums: The Town Halls don't have to be within the walls of the company, they can also be out in the fresh air. For example, once a month at APS Pinnacle West, an officer of the company (which may include their Chief Sustainability Officer Ed Fox) leads a lunch walk open to all employees to support healthy life styles and informal dialogue. This incorporates empowerment into a sustainability initiative.
  3. Philanthropy: With Causecast's launch of its Employee Impact Platform, employees can vote on (and contribute to) how their companies allocate their philanthropy. This sends a strong message to the employees that they are being heard and also improves morale, boosts empowerment and encourages loyalty.
  4. Idea Captures: Setting up a formal program to capture good ideas creates a forum for listening, recognizing, implementing and rewarding.
  5. Board of Directors: According to my governance guru, Ira Millstein, a Senior Partner at Weil, "A Board could have on its agenda a report about employee attitudes, including recommendations." This becomes a platform for sharing employees' concerns.

Win-Win

It might seem counter-intuitive, but encouraging employees' activism can improve the bottom line and sustainability as a business. Why not embrace what employees want - which can closely align with long-term strategy - and harness their energy and enthusiasm as a captive and collaborative audience? Don't waste the opportunity to get employees excited and motivated. Support employees gaining trust and respect in their employer.