Just ask Brewdog or Ted Baker, both well-known consumer brands who made headlines when former employees decided to speak up publicly, in numbers, against the negative culture and way they were treated by those organisations.
Employee activism is becoming a defining feature of the modern workplace, and it can either work for or against your organisation.
The recent open letter published by former employees of Brewdog describing an alleged “culture of fear” has shone a light on the power of employees.
There is a shift happening from the industrial period where employees were considered “resources” and bureaucracy was invented to control them in an attempt to deliver consistent and measurable performance, to our new world where there is a greater expectation of respect and trust from employers – as well as an element of freedom to contribute, flex and be creative as people work hard to help the organisation deliver against its corporate goals.
Every day within organisations, employees are naturally and energetically talking to each other about their experience in the workplace – the good, and the bad. This gives leaders of organisations a choice to make: whether to tune in and actively listen, engage and act on the information and suggestions being made; or to leave these conversations confined to the watercoolers, canteens or private WhatsApp groups.
The choice of actively listening and engaging with your employees leads to empowerment. A positive force that arises from truly caring about employee experience, and being able to demonstrate that you work together with inclusivity, transparency and agility at the heart of your day-to-day operations.
Alternatively, failure to listen can lead to employee activism against the organisation. The negative force that can arise from disengaged employees disgruntled that their wellbeing is not being actively considered or nurtured by the organisation.
Actively listening and engaging employees provides massive opportunities to work closer together – to deliver improvements to both employee experience and the performance of the organisation. It’s a win-win.
The alternative is having far less awareness of emerging issues, and the risk that small niggles will grow into significant problems, with employees making their voices heard through leaving, negatively influencing other employees, or potentially speaking out in public against the organisation. As we have seen, this can lead to significant brand and reputational damage.
My experience from working with organisations both large and small over the last 25 years, is that to really thrive and perform at an optimum level, it is crucial to establish a culture where people are encouraged to speak up, engage and improve together every day.
Employees are going to talk regardless – it’s natural. Harnessing these conversations and improvement opportunities internally is surely far preferable to employees eventually speaking out against the organisation via the numerous public-facing platforms that are readily accessible to us all.
Consumers increasingly make spending choices based on brand reputation, purpose and social impact, so now more than ever its key to embrace employee empowerment – to use their expertise and passion to help your organisation optimise its performance, grow and adapt to the relentless pace of change that has become normal in our modern world.
Paul Reid, CEO and co-founder, Trickle