The what...

The rising tide of employee activism is a fast growing dynamic that is already re-shaping some businesses and redefining the worker/employer relationship.

But it's also a powerful force with the potential to significantly change the world.

In those organisations with more power than some countries, taking a stand against management decisions and business practices can influence society at a global level.

It's a phenomena that transcends (and maybe transforms?) traditional labour organisation. While there are downsides (activists can't negotiate contracts) the upsides - they don't need to negotiate contracts! There's no unwieldy rules to follow, no requirement to consult, and no administrative burdens. The reputation of the organisation can be up for dispute all with the click of a (share) button.

In case you're thinking it - this isn't a few rogue apples. It's an emerging dynamic that challenges the traditional workplace zeitgeist. A dynamic that falls squarely in the domain of leadership and HR. [In some respects, it's the hallmark of the value created by HR, and the trust employees have in HR, the business and the leadership].

“Companies are being democratised. Employees increasingly feel that organisations belong to them. When they see an issue they don’t like they want to force their employer into taking action... Speed is everything.”  Emma Rohsler, Partner, France, Herbert Smith Freehills.

In fact, 95% of (these) companies expect a rise in the number of employees using social media such as Twitter to raise complaints and concerns about their company over the next five years.

So what? Now what? (the organisational view)

  • How well do your leaders understand the impact of employee activism on your business?
  • How will you genuinely address worker concerns before they spiral into protests?
  • What business decisions do employees get a say on? What's the process?
  • What boundaries are in place for activism?
  • How does employee activism change the employee employer relationship?
  • What if you saw activism as a sign of high employee engagement? How would that shift your thinking on interventions and solutions?
  • If employees are 'human resources' what kind of activist responses might this worldview incite?
  • How can HR and leadership create a new bridge of mutual understanding and appreciation between employer and employees?
  • If employees feel disillusioned with the business - how will you know? (Hint, current employee surveys are often shallow, they don't capture this kind of sentiment  #PeopleSurveyTheatre).
  • How can the rise in activism drive (real) advancement in diversity, inclusion, and equity?
  • What are the consequences of enforcing punitive surveillance measures on employee activists?
  • How might this impact recruitment and retention?
“We are joining together—temps, vendors, contractors, and full-time employees—to create a unified worker voice... we want Alphabet to be a company where workers have a meaningful say in decisions that affect us and the societies we live in (Reps from the recently formed Google Alphabet Workers Union). Image - Forbes 2019

So what? Now what? (the worker view)

  • Are you familiar with Voluntary Employee Resource Groups alongside organisational values? Does your org have ERGs?
  • What internal processes are in place to enable the employee voice and harness employee ideas?
  • What are the implications in your org for speaking out?
  • What forums are in place (if any) to discuss employee concerns?
  • Do these processes allow for fair treatment and issue resolution?
  • What's your 'change threshold'? How far would your organisation need to veer from its (and your) values before you would speak up?
  • What might you look for in new organisations that you join in the future?
  • Does your org/prospective org have a #SureveillanceReputation?
  • Are there any patterns of activism with your peers, or like organisations and industries?
  • Are you familiar with the Fair Work rules around his topic?

Pockets of the future in the present...

Few Walmart employees heed call for walkout over gun sales
Walmart is one of the largest retailers of guns and ammunition in the world. After two recent shooting incidents, the company says its policy on gun sales has not changed.
Led by Sue Bird, WNBA players wear shirts in support of Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler’s Senate opponent
WNBA players wore black T-shirts that read “Vote Warnock” to games on Tuesday in support of Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler’s opponent — an idea that came from Storm star Sue Bird.
Tatte Bakery CEO To Step Aside Amid Employee Allegations of Racial Bias
The move is just “step one” to improving the company’s culture, says a former Tatte employee.
Wayfair Employees Stage Walkout To Protest Sales Of Furniture To Border Facility
The employees walked out after Wayfair refused to back out of a $200,000 sale with a contractor furnishing a federal detention center for child migrants.
How Google workers secretly built a union
And why one labor leader says Google organizers have ‘sparked a fire that is going to spread throughout the entire tech industry.’
Salesforce Employees Objected to Its Immigration Work. CEO Marc Benioff’s Response Was Brilliant
Faced with the choice to give in to employee demands or ignore them, Benioff did neither.
A Googler who brought down Google’s AI ethics board says she’s now facing retaliation
One of the leading figures in the movement to disband Google’s AI ethics board says she and other employee activists are now being punished for their activism. In an e-mail circulated internally within Google and obtained by Wired, Meredith Whittaker, who leads Google’s Open Research and cofounded t…
Salesforce Staff Ask CEO to Revisit Ties With Border Agency
Hundreds of Inc. employees signed a letter to Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff criticizing the company’s contracts with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, the latest in a series of staff protests at technology firms over government work.
‘Amazon isn’t going away, and neither are we.’ Employee group presses ahead on climate and race
An Amazon employee group has taken some hits recently, but vows to keep fighting for members concerned about the company’s impact on the environment and people of color. The company’
Lewis Silkin - Influencers are unionising what do you need to know
As the power of the influencer increases, as does the importance for brands to not only find the perfect talent for their campaign, but to ensure a happy and long-lasting relationship.

“We’ve seen for a long time that employees want to work for companies that have a soul,” but sponsoring community service days and 5-K race sponsorships aren’t enough anymore...employees want their leaders to think more broadly about how their actions shape the world."
Elizabeth Good, a manager at Wayfair.

This trend card is part of the Work Futures Card Deck (coming soon!)