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Employee activism is ever increasing in the workplace. Gone are the days of simply clocking in and out. Today’s employees want a say in what the company does and believes. So, they resort to employee activism. And employers need to respond appropriately.

Employee Activism Defined

Employee activism involves employees speaking up on social issues involving their employer. It’s a response to employer actions and policies that employees deem as socially unjust. For example, after the El Paso mass shooting, Walmart employees staged a walkout over the store’s gun sales. These employees saw gun sales as a factor in gun violence and felt Walmart shouldn’t sell guns. So, they acted out.

Employee activism usually occurs because of three reasons. First of all, an employee may have been wronged by the employer. For example, if the company discriminates against the employee. Or, employees may see someone else being wronged. Finally, they believe that their company should act more responsibly. Either way, employees see social injustice committed by their employer, so they bring attention to the issue through action.

How To Respond

Once employee activism has taken place, a company must respond. Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to respond.

The Wrong Way to Respond

Here are some examples of the wrong way to respond:

  • Ignore the issue
  • Try to remain neutral or apolitical
  • Offering pat answers or quick fixes
  • Punishing employee activism.

Any of these responses will be catastrophic for a company.

The Right Way to Respond

Instead, a company should:

  • Listen to their employees
  • Do something about it
  • Ensure it never happens again.

Now, that seems easy to do, but it’s not. It requires admission of wrongdoing. And, listening to employees requires opening up open channels of communication. Furthermore, it involves building trust.

The Best Cure is Prevention

Trust is hard to build once a wrong has been committed. Therefore, a company needs to be proactive in addressing employee activism. Having a positive employee activism policy in place will set the tone for how your company responds when employee activism takes place.