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It Isn’t about Money—Employee Activism Is Gaining Traction as Workers Speak out Against Employers

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

Photo by chloe s. on Unsplash

Labor unions in the United States are almost as old as the country itself. Having started as early as 1778, labor unions protect workers from abusive conditions, demand better pay, benefits, hours and safety. However, it was unthinkable—even just a few years ago—that individuals would speak out against their employers about business practices other than labor issues. Yet, that is exactly what is happening.

With a hyper focus on issues—such as, climate change, equality and transparency—Millennials and Gen Z comprise more than 50% of the workforce. These two generations are rallying more senior workers (okay, older people) to speak out against unfair and unethical practices by their companies.

Case in point, employees at Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Wayfair and Salesforce have all protested against various activities their companies are engaged in to which they object. Employee activism is growing, and it is here to stay.

What can companies do to meet the growing demands of their activist workforce? In an economy with an unemployment rate hovering around 3.6% to 3.7%, the answer is not to fire them and get new employees. That was a response we would have seen in the 1980s.

As I tell businesses, the most important asset on your balance sheet is your human capital.

Your company is not defined by its brand and logo. That is your calling card. Your company’s personality is defined by the people who work there at any given moment and that personality changes over time.

Look at Johnson & Johnson. The employees running J&J during the Tylenol tampering crisis in the 1980s are not the same employees running J&J during the baby powder asbestos crisis today. J&J continues to defend its talcum powder safety message, but the more facts that come to the surface, the more questions arise. In mid-October, J&J recalled a batch of Baby Powder after it found traces of asbestos and it has paid out hundreds of millions to lawsuits over cancers caused by its talc products.

Being a company today is not easy. The rules have changed and major corporations are scrambling to change with the times. Here are three tips for being the best brand you can be:

1) Be transparent

2) Communicate often

3) Listen to your employees’ concerns—in today’s world, employees are your brand’s first line of defense in a crisis, as well as the ones who will rat you out when you are doing something sneaky

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