A new, groundbreaking global study conducted by Weber Shandwick reveals a rising social movement ignited by the digital and social media era – employee activism. Employee activists draw visibility to their workplace, defend their employers from criticism and act as advocates, both online and off. One in five employees (21%) is estimated to be an employee activist, and another 33% have high potential to be employee activists. As the movement grows at an increasing speed, employers have an enormous opportunity to engage and capitalise on these powerful advocates, or risk missing out on an important group of supporters and, at worst, fail to curtail detractors who have the potential to upend company reputations.
“The employee activist movement should not be underestimated,” said Micho Spring, Weber Shandwick’s Global Corporate practice chair. “Identifying and activating employees willing to rise to levels of extraordinary support for their organisations will certainly be an important priority for CEOs.”
Weber Shandwick partnered with KRC Research to conduct Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism. Through an online survey of 2,300 employees covering 15 markets worldwide, the study explores the employee activist movement to help organisations understand what it takes to catch the rising tide of employee activism.
“These findings are especially relevant for employers across Asia Pacific. Employees in this region are particularly passionate and will actively share their point of view. We know from our conversations with clients that employee engagement is top of their priority lists and building on employee activism is going to be a new way forward,” said Tyler Kim, Head of Corporate and Crisis, Asia Pacific.
Social Media Ignites Employee Activism
As business leaders know, the impact of social media on an employer’s reputation is now an everyday reality. What some employers don’t fully realise is how critical social media is to employee engagement and how it fuels employee activism. Here are some eye-opening facts from employees in the study:
- 50% post messages, pictures or videos in social media about their employer. In Asia Pacific, it’s higher with nearly three in five employees posting about their employer (59%)
- 39% have shared praise or positive comments online about their employer. In Asia Pacific, 45% of employees have been positive about their employer, online
- 16% have shared criticism or negative comments online about their employer; in Asia Pacific it increases to 19%
- 14% have posted something about their employer in social media that they regret. In Asia Pacific, this proportion is higher again with 20% admitting they’ve posted something about their employer in social media that they regret.
Some Employers Have Joined the Movement
Our survey found that one-third of employers – 33% – encourage their employees to use social media to share news and information about the organisation. (Employers in Asia Pacific are even more active with 40% encouraging employees to use social media to share company news and information.) Social encouragement has an outsized impact on employer advocacy among employees. For example, employees with socially-encouraging employers are significantly more likely to help boost sales than employees whose employers aren’t socially encouraging (72% vs. 48%, respectively). The report provides many examples of the benefits of encouraging employees to “socialise their employer brands” and the simple ways in which employers are doing so.
Unrest in the Workforce
To understand the roots of this movement, it is important to recognise the challenges facing employees today. There is significant upheaval in the workforce due to:
- Pervasive organisational changes. More than eight in 10 employees (84%) have recently experienced an employer change such as a leadership turnover, extensive lay-offs, merger/acquisition, financial slowdown, etc.
- Ineffective internal communications. Only four in 10 employees can describe to others what their employer does (42%) or what its goals are (37%). In Asia Pacific, this drops to 32% and 29% respectively
- Weak employee engagement. Only 30% of employees are deeply engaged with their employer. This low level of engagement is not surprising given the acceleration of change combined with poor communications
- Employees are on the defence and often serve as “first responders.” Nearly six in 10 respondents (56%) surveyed have either defended their employer to family and friends or in a more public venue — such as on a website, blog, or in a newspaper.
The Weber Shandwick Workforce Activism Spectrum™
Using segmentation modeling, all survey respondents are sorted by their reported actions toward their employers – both supporting and detracting. The Weber Shandwick Workforce Activism Spectrum™ model identifies six distinct segments of employees.
The report includes an Employee Activism Tip Sheet, prescribing strategy and underlying tactics for launching an employee activist programme for each of the six segments of employee activists. Weber Shandwick has also developed a tool that classifies an organisation’s employees into these six segments based on five easy-to-answer questions.
“The internet and social media are game-changers for employee communications, giving employees an amplified voice. The opportunity for organisations is to harness the exuberance of those employees who see it as their responsibility to be reputation advocates,” according to Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick.
Kim added, “With the explosion of mobile internet penetration in many Asia Pacific markets, social media activism in the workplace has enormous positive potential. Organisations and brands need a strategic approach to truly benefit from this increasingly valuable audience.”
Take our Employees Rising quiz to find out where you fall on Weber Shandwick’s Workforce Activism Spectrum, or click on the infographic below for more information.