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How to Manage Employee Engagement and Activism


There are all kinds of activists that pervade today’s society and business market, from social and environmental activists, to consumer activists and activist shareholders.

What people have to take into consideration is that those are not the only types of activists. Until now, many leaders have overlooked the new wave of activists that has started to take the business world by surprise – employee activists.

The main question that the business world should ask is: “Are employee activists truly the next wave that leaders need to be ready for?”

A global research study conducted by Weber Shandwick, a public relations firm, and Spencer Stuart, a global executive search and leadership consulting firm, found that employee satisfaction – as a critical metric of communications effectiveness – rose dramatically during a five-year span, from 61% in 2007 to 79% in 2012.

Weber Shandwick strongly believes that employee engagement is central to a company’s success and that to prepare for the future workforce, employers need to turn to engagement and acknowledge and embrace employee activism.

In their study, Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, Weber Shandwick tries to analyze the employee activist movement in an attempt to help organizations understand how to hop on this new wave of employee activism.

Drivers of Employee Activism

One of the main concerns of the research was to discover what drives employee activism. The survey asked respondents to rate their employers on a series of nearly 30 attitudinal statements.

Unsurprisingly, the survey revealed that leadership is one of the most important factors that influences employee activism, but not the only one, as organizational activities and characteristics are also great influencers. This means that leadership is essential for driving employee support, from making the company an employer of choice to building a reputation of trustworthiness and demonstrating that it listens and responds to employees.

By choosing to model themselves around responsiveness, leaders show employees that they value their ideas, as well as their reputation and culture. Internal communications, fair treatment of all employees regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation or cultural differences, and community responsibility are also essential in the quest to deepen employee activism.

Even though social media was not included in the driver analysis, its influence cannot be denied. The survey revealed that 33% of employers encourage their employees to use social media, to share news and information about the organization.

Although it might sound risky at first, this social encouragement has a considerably high impact on employer advocacy among employees. For instance, 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.


Types of Employees

Apart from discovering what drives employee activism, the research also identified six different types of employees:

  1. ProActivists – conduct the most positive actions with nearly no negative actions, have the highest level of employer engagement and are highly social. They are an organization’s brand and reputation champions. They are the most highly engaged segment, with 49% reporting deep engagement.
  2. PreActivists – they engage in more negative actions than ProActivists, their actions are also not as social as those of ProActivists and their engagement level is slightly above average at 34%. Nevertheless, they have a high potential of becoming ProActivists and they are worth investing resources in.
  3. HyperActives – have the most potential to both help and damage employer’s reputation. They are the most engaged next to ProActivists and two-thirds have a job that entails social media, so they are highly social. Because their negative behaviors don’t reflect their high engagement level – 44% -, they can alternatively be thought of as “wildcards.”
  4. ReActivists – mostly take positive actions but also have a high predilection for detraction. They have an average level of engagement, are critical of workplace conditions, and are highly social. ReActivists’ engagement level falls slightly below average – 26%.
  5. Detractors – take negative actions against their employer, are the least engaged and are the most distrustful of leadership. Unfortunately, their engagement level seems almost beyond repair – 12%. What is more, they are not candidates to be employee activists, so employers need to defuse their criticism and lessen their potential reputational harm.
  6. InActives – report low or no employer support or detraction behaviors. They are the least likely to put a great deal of effort into their jobs and few can explain to others what their employer does. A large segment of more than one in five – 22% – employees, exhibit minimal positive or negative behaviors. They are highly unengaged, with an engagement level of just 16%, and little motivates them to do a good job.


Activating Employees

The last chapter of the research is an insight, or rather a small handbook, on how leaders can activate employees.

There are as many types of drivers as there are employees, that is why employers have to take into consideration various aspects of leadership, internal communications, human resources and corporate social responsibility in order to effectively drive activism and reduce detraction.

The research has focused on four main strategies for activating employees:

  1. Accelerate the activism of ProActivists. Ignite the activism of PreActivists and HyperActives
  2. Negate the negatives for ReActivists and Detractors
  3. Communicate in ways that matter
  4. Customize strategies and tactics for each segment

Weber Shandwick’s research Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, was meant to help organizations recognize and understand that they cannot avoid employee activism. Through this research, the organization tried to make employers see that employee activists are the key to fully unlock the potential of an organization and that they should not overlook this aspect.

There is no doubt that employees will continue to rise to new heights of influence, however, the essential part to be remembered is that employers should grab onto that influence, so that they can govern it and maximize its potential.

Learn how to better manage your employees

It is not always easy to ‘read’ employees or figure out what is causing them to experience low levels of engagement and performance. Moreover, even when we find out what’s causing all of it, we might not know how to properly manage the situation in a manner that turns things 180 degrees around, towards higher dedication, satisfaction and ultimately, performance.

As such, The KPI Institute’s training programs, Managing and improving employee performance and Implementing Employee Engagement Programs, are designed to fill in any gaps you might have about or provide you with completely new knowledge on any aspects related to improving and developing your employees’ performance & engagement. One-up on your management practices today!

If you require further knowledge on the topic, feel free to enroll in our Certified Employee Performance Management Professional certification course or download any of our webinars that center around the idea of Employee Performance Management.

Image sources:

How to Measure the Performance of your Human Resources Department
HR performance at Apple, Google and Statoil

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