If the word ‘activism’ in conjunction with your business sparks concern, listen up:
Employee activism is not a dirty word. If you find it in your business then you find yourself with a fantastic opportunity. When met with the right attitude, employee activism can turbocharge a company’s path to its goals.
Employee activism: a positive catalyst for change
In the last few years, major social and environmental injustices have bubbled up into the public conscience like never before. Movements like #Metoo, Black Lives Matter, Fridays for Future; all global, viral campaigns that forced the likes of you, me and the majority of businesses and brands to take an honest view on how they’re confronting these environmental and social challenges head-on.
Today, there’s no shortage of activists shaking up business operations in every sector, and many believe this movement will only grow. According to a recent survey of ~400 cross-sector C-suites worldwide, some 80% predict a rise in workplace activism in the next 3-5 years.
Whether it’s calling time on a lack of diversity in the workplace, or how a company walks its environmental talk, I believe this can only be a good thing. It means the days of paying lip service to corporate responsibility are long gone.
Before I charge on, let me raise my hands and admit that Pawprint hasn’t got this quite right, yet. We desperately need diversity of thought in and around our operations, and we’re working hard to change that—an employee-led project, I might add.
This brings me on to my next point; the workforce we see now (Gen Z and Millennials, in particular) don’t expect change to simply happen. They want to be actively involved in driving it forward. In other words, the future workforce is keen to step up and collaborate with their employers as willing agents of change. Wouldn’t it be such a waste to ignore that?
Why employee activists in your workplace matter
Employee activists may be best defined as anyone motivated to stand up for what is right. Businesses and leadership that are able to connect with – and positively leverage – this kind of energy hold the potential to redefine (or upgrade) their vision and culture. From a sustainability perspective, having smart, enterprising employees looking to drive change is one of the best assets a company pursuing net-zero carbon targets can have.
Now, while this kind of activism can be stimulated through company initiatives, it often rises organically out of self-determined individuals impassioned to make a difference. If these employees are met by leadership and stakeholders with an open mind and willingness to collaborate, they can quickly become vital agents of change. Not just from an operational perspective but also helping to galvanise a broader movement.
How can leaders harness the energy of employee activists to reach sustainability goals?
There are myriad ways that leaders can support employee activists – and harness the positive energy and impact to be had from this kind of worker. A great place to start is making the commitment and time to listen. This means creating spaces for employees to freely share their views, concerns, ideas and forge strategies for how things might be improved.
Some companies also establish what’s known as ERGs – Employee Resource Groups – to craft solutions for businesses that actually align with their purpose and vision. ERGs are like powerful microcosms within businesses, capable of understanding and addressing sustainability issues often better than the leaders themselves.
Second, take advantage of the many forms of technology that help to invite more open collaboration and align entire companies on the key issues that employee activists are raising. Use digital surveys and message boards, or build a comments or sustainability forum into your company intranet to actively encourage opinion sharing. Of course, there’s also Pawprint, which allows you to measure your workforce’s performance when it comes to smashing those sustainability goals.
Next, it’s about making sure your designated eco leadership has the tools needed to implement company-wide change. A good example is also close to home; one of Pawprint’s employees was passionate about turning us into a B Corp. To support her, we set up a B Corp panel that combines leaders (who can make bold decisions) and other passionate employees (who can help get stuff done). The shifts I’ve seen happen at Pawprint since we set this up are astonishing and entirely employee-led. You will even find people working out of hours on this stuff, out of choice. And guess what—we're now proudly certified!
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a growing fire in people to make the world a better place. As leaders – all you need to do is give them a worthy platform.