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Workplace activism: Speak up without burning bridges

By Nancy Nzalambi | November 22nd 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Today, there is a lot going on; from the biting coronavirus pandemic to uncertainty over the new educational calendar and getting used to a new way of doing things. It is only natural for you to want to share your views on these important issues and how they affect your job.

Workers through their unions or individually, find themselves at odds with their employers where there are conflicting interests.

When we raise our voices to criticise our employers, we do it believing that we have the right to do so and hope to gain the attention that the issue in question deserves.

The intention is usually to generate social change. Social media has made this quite easy.

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A simple social media post can create a media buzz to a large number of people in the shortest time through the power of influencing.

Research pins millennials as the most likely age group to have the highest number of workplace activists. They are more likely to feel justified to speak up and express the desire to be heard.

Making a difference

Activism does make a difference. Employees are becoming more concerned about whether their employers are making their lives and the world better.

With company structures becoming less hierarchical, employee satisfaction has become more important.

“Today, in a digital world, your worth is your people. You have to put more emphasis on keeping them happy and paying attention to the issues they care about,” says Julia Kanouse, CEO of the Illionis Technology Association.

Activism may propel better business or escalate issues to full blown protests and chaos.

However, regardless of age, most employees fear that speaking up to an employee especially about controversial issues is likely to result in the loss of a job. This fear makes most of us view activists as trouble makers, reckless or people who clearly do not value their source of income.

Balancing speech and organisation policy

Depending on your company’s culture and policy, you should know what is expected of you before engaging in any form of activism. Will the social/political activism in your Facebook posts get you into trouble with your boss?

Keep in mind that the ball game is different in public and privately owned companies. In most cases, so long as there is no conflict of interest, the law is followed and there is no slacking on job obligations, you can freely express your political standpoint.

Civil discussion rarely results into mayhem. Heated conversations tend to cross the line, however. Find the middle ground where you can express your opinion without compromising your job while at it.

Employers embracing activism

“Hiding away in your corner office and hitting your numbers without paying attention to employees’ concerns is a short-term strategy,” warns Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade, an employee experience software company.

Companies that hire diverse groups and catering for their concerns and inclusivity usually report greater employee satisfaction rate. With a cultivated culture of transparency, conflict between employer and employee is minimised.

Even when views may differ, a robust response protocol by companies leads to fair and ethical interactions between employers and employees.

Organisations are nowadays more involved as part of the solution rather than the origin of the problem.

Evading polarised attitude

As the country continues to learn lessons on non-discrimination and encouraging support groups for victimised persons, strategic facilitation of activism at the workplace has yielded positive change.

In the past, companies used to consider stakeholder engagement as a pivotal aspect of evolving, not taking into account that employees are the backbone of the workplace.

Facilitation of employee engagement is paramount to company culture and job satisfaction.

It can go both ways

Effects of employee activism can be beneficial or detrimental. It all depends on the response action.

As a positive force, it can propel an organisation to new heights employee engagement.

Otherwise, the reputation of a company suffers greatly.

Activism may escalate into leaked emails, whistleblowing and protests.


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