How Are You Handling Employee Activism?

BY Kathy Crosett
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As a business leader, you may still be getting used to the idea. Younger consumers will do business with your company if you show authentic support for a social cause. These same activist consumers could also be your star employees. Attracting and keeping these employees requires specific action on your part.

In a SmartBrief column, Denise Lee Yohn underscores the high profile action taken by PayPal’s CEO last year. Once he became aware of North Carolina's new law that discriminated against the LGBTQ community, he backed away from plans to open a new center there. This action is another example of how top-​down support for social causes is growing. As a result, employees are noticing. So are consumers.

But what should you do when your employees demand that you take a stand? It’s an increasingly common situation, as the CEOs of Salesforce and Amazon discovered. Back in the day, employees wouldn’t have made these kinds of requests. Two important trends have changed today’s employment environment. The first is that younger employees, those in the millennial and Gen Z groups, have been raised to speak up. When they see or hear something they don’t agree with, these employees are accustomed to taking their protests to social media. The second trend is the result of the current condition of the employment market. Skilled employees are in short supply. After you spend time and money to attract talent, you don’t want them walking out the door, especially because of a short-​sighted decision on your part.

When your employees ask you to take a public stand, don’t ignore them. Acknowledge the request and start talking. Make sure you understand your employees' request. As a leader, you want to be sure any change you make supports the company’s core values. In some cases, it might make sense to adjust the company's values. If you can’t support a request, explain why. Going forward, keep the channels of communication open and solicit employee input on other potential initiatives to show you're serious about activism.

Your employees want to make a difference. You can help them achieve their goals and score a positive outcome for your business and for  society.