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Half of Millennial Employees Have Spoken Out About Employer Actions on Hot-Button Issues

- The Millennial Workplace Revolution Has Begun: New Weber Shandwick-United Minds Study Identifies Millennials as the Generation Most Likely to be Employee Activists -

NEW YORK, May 29, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- In an increasingly complex and turbulent world, nearly four in 10 American employees (38 percent) report that they have spoken up to support or criticize their employers' actions over a controversial issue that affects society. These are Employee Activists. Millennials are the generation most likely to be Employee Activists (48 percent), a rate significantly higher than that of Gen Xers (33 percent) and Boomers (27 percent). These findings come from Employee Activism in the Age of Purpose: Employees (UP)Rising, a survey commissioned by global communications and marketing solutions firm Weber Shandwick, in partnership with United Minds and KRC Research.

Have ever spoken up to support or criticize employer's actions

over a controversial issue that affects society


Total U.S.
Employees

Millennials

Gen Xers

Boomers

%

%

%

%

Yes

38

48*

33

27

No

59

49

64*

70*

Prefer not to respond

3

3

3

3

*indicates significantly higher than other generations

"Weber Shandwick has been taking the pulse of CEO and corporate activism for several years now. As societal issues mount and political rhetoric stirs up emotions in the workplace, a new generation of Millennial employees may feel compelled to speak out more often in the hopes of making a difference or impacting their employer's point of view or policies," said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick. "We wanted to help companies better understand the risks and rewards of this new workplace dynamic to ensure that corporate reputations do not find themselves on shaky ground if no one is taking the employee feedback seriously."

When asked to describe in their own words what they supported or criticized their employers for, topics varied and answers reflected both support and criticism. Some employees mentioned social issues pertaining to areas such as LGBTQ rights, gender equality, the environment, sexual harassment and discrimination. Other employees mentioned work-related issues such as pay, work environment, treatment of workers and business policies.

Employees See Justification in Employee Activism
The vast majority of U.S. employees surveyed believe employees are right to speak up about their employers, whether they are in support of the employers (84 percent) or against (75 percent). The belief that employees have a right to speak up in support of their employers is consistent across generations (85 percent of Millennials, 84 percent of Gen Xers and 84 percent of Boomers). Millennials are the only generation that think employees are just as right to speak out against their employers (82 percent) as they are to support. Support for employees speaking up against their employers declines with age. Seventy-six percent of Gen Xers and 65 percent of Boomers believe employees are right to speak up against their employers.

Right of Employees to Speak Up


Total U.S.
Employees

Millennials

Gen Xers

Boomers

%

%

%

%

In support of their employer

84

85

84

84

Against their employer

75

82*

76

65

*indicates significantly higher than other generations

Employees may think employees are right to speak up because of the impact they can have. Eight in 10 Employee Activists (79 percent) – those with experience in speaking up – agree that employees can make a difference by speaking out on controversial issues that affect society. A similar rate (75 percent) agree that employees can make an even greater impact on our world than the leaders who run organizations.

"The propensity of Millennial employees to feel that employees have a right to speak out against their employers' actions on societal or workplace issues requires leaders to manage their work force differently," said Kate Bullinger, president of United Minds, a change management consultancy within Weber Shandwick. "Because of the ubiquity of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, the wide variety of topics that can activate employees to speak out must be considered on a nearly daily basis today."

Employee Activists Seek to Influence Employees and Senior Management
Among recent Employee Activists, the most common targets of their attention were inside their organizations: other employees (46 percent) and top leaders at the organization (43 percent). However, approximately one-third of those who took action were also hoping to get the attention of the general public (35 percent). They were less likely to want the attention of financial investors (12 percent) and the news media (11 percent).

Employee Activists were primarily seeking to influence their employer's positions, policies and actions (54 percent). Many were also hoping to influence public opinion generally and their employer's reputation (46 percent).

Employee Activism is Not Without Risk
While employees are in favor of activism, there is a perceived risk that accompanies it. Approximately eight in 10 employees (79 percent) agree that those who speak up on a controversial topic against their employers are risking their jobs. This view is consistent across generation (78 percent of Millennials, 79 percent of Gen Xers and 78 percent of Boomers). Even Employee Activists think doing so can put one's job at risk (80 percent). There is also a perception among some employees that those who publicly criticize their employer are usually just trying to cause trouble (36 percent).

Guidelines for Navigating the New Wave of Employee Activism
Weber Shandwick recommends that organizations consider the following guidelines:

  1. Embrace employee activism as a positive force to propel your reputation and your business as an open and transparent organization. Employers need to align with the next generation of employees and their concerns about society and the workplace. The fact that many publicly speak out about their employers' views and actions, whether it is to support or criticize, is an opportunity to build common ground.
  2. Ensure your corporate purpose and culture are known from the point of applicant interview and onboarding through employee tenure. Two-thirds of employees (65 percent) say that if they were considering a new job, they would take into account an employer's stance on societal issues. Employee expectations must be aligned with the organizational culture from the outset. Employee activism can quickly become a reputation builder or destroyer in an era where employees have the motivation and means to raise issues if they become disillusioned and trust is not built from day one.
  3. Be mindful of what is on employees' minds. Leaders should regularly gauge what is happening in the workplace or how the broader environment is likely to impact employees' attitudes toward company actions and point of view. An employee culture audit and open forums where employees can safely speak their minds or debate current issues are beneficial.
  4. Cultivate a listening culture. Since the majority of employees believe that they are taking a risk when they speak up to support or criticize their employer, leaders should think about how they can motivate employees to share their opinions internally first. Better collaboration and easy-to-use communications tools will encourage employees to share their opinions internally before going elsewhere.
  5. Establish a response protocol. Employees who reach out to leaders to voice their opinions on a controversial or sensitive issue expect an acknowledgement or response. Setting up a process for responding, including who will respond and how to respond, will help build a culture of receptiveness and potentially deter future problems.
  6. Clearly articulate and communicate your company's values. Employees expect employers to do business and take action in line with their corporate values. These values will provide the company with a compass to determine when to speak out.
  7. Make your company's values part of the solution. Defining the returns you bring to shareholders, customers and employees is no longer enough. In this environment of political gridlock and disruption, companies are expected to contribute to addressing society's complex challenges, whether they exist internally in the workplace or externally in broader society. Companies must be part of the solution or run the risk of being perceived as part of the problem.

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About the Research
Weber Shandwick and United Minds partnered with KRC Research to conduct an online survey in March 2019 among 1,000 employed adult Americans. Employees work full-time and in organizations with at least 500 employees in a variety of industries and at different job levels. The survey described employee activism to respondents as follows: "Some companies and other organizations have recently experienced something called 'employee activism.' Employee Activists are people who speak out for or against their employers on controversial issues that affect society. Here are some recent examples of employee activists: 1) A large company's employees walked off their jobs in offices around the world to protest the company paying a large severance package to an executive fired for alleged sexual misconduct. 2) A large group of employees at a company posted an open letter to protest the company's work with a government agency over the current border crisis. 3) An employee of a major media company tweeted concerns with his management's decision to spend a large sum of money on a TV ad supporting journalists' freedom of speech, rather than on employee benefits. 4) Employees of a large retail chain posted comments on their own social media pages that they were proud that their employer removed a certain category of unhealthy products from their shelves."

About Weber Shandwick
Weber Shandwick is a leading global communications and marketing solutions firm in 79 cities with a network extending to 129 cities around the world. The firm's diverse team of strategists, analysts, producers, designers, developers and campaign activators has won the most prestigious awards in the world for innovative, creative approaches and impactful work. Weber Shandwick was the only public relations agency included on the Advertising Age Agency A-list in 2014 and 2015 and the only PR firm designated an A-List Agency Standout in 2017 and 2018. Weber Shandwick was honored as PRWeek's Global Agency of the Year in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, The Holmes Report's Global Agency of the Year in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017, and The Holmes Report's Global Digital Agency of the Year in 2016. The firm deploys deep expertise across sectors and specialty areas, including consumer marketing, corporate reputation, healthcare, technology, public affairs, financial services, employee engagement, social impact, financial communications and crisis management, using proprietary social, digital and analytics methodologies. Weber Shandwick is part of the Interpublic Group (IPG). For more information, visit http://www.webershandwick.com

About United Minds
United Minds is a management consultancy that specializes in transformation. Leveraging a deep bench of specialists, the company helps organizations deliver positive, lasting change by combining data-fueled strategy and creative communications solutions, engaging stakeholders in every part of the process. United Minds is part of Weber Shandwick, one of the world's leading communications and marketing solutions firms. For more information, visit www.unitedmindsglobal.com

About KRC Research
KRC Research is a global full-service nonpartisan opinion research and strategy firm. A unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG), KRC Research offers the quality and custom service of a small firm with the reach of a global organization. For over 30 years, KRC Research has worked on behalf of corporations, governments, not-for-profits and the communications firms that represent them. Staffed with multidisciplinary research professionals, KRC combines sophisticated research tools with real-world communications experience. For more information, visit www.krcresearch.com

Contact:

Leslie Gaines-Ross

Company:

Weber Shandwick

Phone:

212-445-8302

Email:

lgaines-ross@webershandwick.com

 

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