How to get employee activism working for you

Progressive firms have recognised the importance of employee engagement for some time now. An engaged employee will act in a way that furthers your firm’s interests. We know that firms with high employee engagement levels have better financial performance.

What is employee activism?

Employee activism is a step beyond employee engagement. If employees are engaged, and they make their engagement visible, they are employee activists. They will praise your firm offline and, far more visibly these days, praise the firm online. Your engaged employees will now interact with your brand on social media and write about their experiences in their blogs.

In the same way that social media interaction from clients can make or break your brand, what your employees are saying about you online can sometimes be even more powerful. Clients and potential clients will assign a lot of credibility to an employee’s ‘inside information’. Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, released Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism.

“This survey of 2,300 employees worldwide reveals a rising social movement ignited by the digital and social media era: employee activism. Employee activists are more than just engaged employees. They make their engagement visible, defend their employers from criticism and act as advocates, both online and off.”

The survey found a sizeable segment of employees – 21%, (i.e. employee activists) – who are all taking positive actions, from 12 possible actions, including “Recommended employer to others as a place to work”, “Encouraged others to buy company’s products or services”, “Voted for employer in a poll or contest”, or “Made positive comments about employer where others could see or read them”. For a workforce of 5,000, this means that approximately 1,000 employees are enthusiastically letting others know they stand behind their employer.

What drives employee activism?

The survey found that leadership is the number one driver of employee activism.

“Significantly, we learned that leadership is most important for influencing employee activism, but not to the exclusion of other organizational activities and characteristics. What this means is that leadership plays a critical role in 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.”

Internal communication was the second highest driver of employee activism, followed by HR/Employee development, and corporate social responsibility. Unfortunately, the survey also found that employers severely underperformed on these drivers.

The power of social media in employee activism was also measured by the survey. There is a direct correlation between ‘socially-encouraging employers’ and employee activism. Employers who encourage the use of social media by employees have a higher level of employee activism.

“Although social media is not included in the driver analysis, its force can’t be ignored. Our survey found that one-third of employers – 33% – encourage their employees to use social media to share news and information about the organization. This sounds risky, but this 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).”

What do you need to do?

  1. Focus on building employee engagement.

The key to a positive corporate culture is trust. Employees need to trust the leadership team and, equally, leaders need to trust employees to do the best job they can do. Employees need enough space to determine the best way to complete a task within a reasonable amount of time. The default position should be trust first, unless someone does something to lose that trust. Employees shouldn’t have to earn trust. If they are qualified, and satisfied all of the recruitment criteria, they should be allowed to get on with doing the job they were hired to do.

Ultimately, your engaged employees will deliver exceptional service to your clients, which, in turn, creates brand engagement and brand loyalty, so it’s worth spending time and money on developing and implementing employee engagement strategies and initiatives. A formal employee engagement program can create brand engagement and lead to increased firm performance.

  1. Encourage your team to use social media.

Instead of implementing policies to try to prevent team members from using social media at work, more and more firms are incorporating their employees’ social media enthusiasm into their marketing.

When your team is on social media anyway, it’s only a short step to encourage and engage employees in social media marketing and create new social media ambassadors for your firm.

As your employees promote your firm, values, and culture on their own social media accounts, make sure they are empowered to maintain their individual voices. Genuine posts are more important than marketing speak. Encourage them to be honest and portray the firm in a positive light as they add their own spin to a post or topic.

  1. Measure employee engagement and monitor sentiment online.

When conducting staff satisfaction surveys, or employee engagement surveys, companies often don’t ask the right questions. Surveys should be asking meaningful questions linked to drivers of engagement. They should be measuring the employee’s level of trust in management, satisfaction with their job role, and things like connection to the vision of the organisation. Surveys should be conducted frequently – annually, quarterly, or even monthly, and can be large annual surveys, covering everything, or quick snapshots in particular areas of focus. The outcomes should be quickly publicised within the organisation and areas of improvement acted upon as soon as possible, or investigated further.

To measure levels of employee activism online, you can measure social media sentiment. Some social media management tools offer algorithms or filters to make it easy to gauge sentiment. With social listening tools, sentiment analysis features will measure and report on the tone or sentiment of your social mentions. Some tools feature a level of detail to allow you to determine if they are employees.

Employees are already using social media platforms to express their opinions of you as an employer, regardless of your social media policy, so wouldn’t you rather they were positive comments about you and your firm’s culture? Creating a team of employee activists can have an even greater effect on your brand than your external marketing, so spending time and money to better engage your employees can be more cost effective than some external branding activities.

Employee engagement = Brand engagement

satisfaction_meter_03

According to Wikipedia “Customer engagement (CE) is an effect, a reaction, a connection, a response and/or an experience of customers with one another, with a company or a brand”. The key word is “connection”. It’s all about connection. You want your clients or customers to connect with your brand. In B2B, and also in B2C, you need your customers to connect with your people in order for them to connect with the brand. It doesn’t matter if the connection is made in person, via social media, or just through reading your content. The human element is always there.

So, if humans count, and customers want meaningful, authentic connections with the people within your organisation, then you need your employees to be authentic and genuinely care about the interactions they’re having. The only way this will happen is if your employees are engaged. They need to feel engaged with the work they are doing day-to-day. The more engaged they are, the more effort they will apply to the work you would like them to do (including interacting with customers). This also applies to non-customer facing staff. Whatever job they have to do within the organisation will ultimately affect the product or service, regardless of what that is.

Published studies like the Aberdeen Group’s EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT: PAVING THE WAY TO HAPPY CUSTOMERS go a long way to demonstrating the direct correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. In the report they state,

Engaged employees positively influence the buying behaviors of customers, leading to higher customer loyalty and profitable growth.

Aberdeen concludes through the research, linking employee engagement measures with customer satisfaction levels, that,

Companies with formal employee engagement programs are indeed enjoying the fruits of their labor in fostering an environment where employees are motivated to satisfy clients.

When we take this a step further and connect customer satisfaction with brand engagement, we conclude that employee engagement is intrinsically linked to brand engagement. Satisfied, happy, engaged employees equals satisfied, happy, engaged customers. So, you can have a direct and positive affect on your brand by implementing a formal employee engagement program.

When developing a formal employee engagement program, here are a few things to consider:

Better employee satisfaction surveys

When conducting staff satisfaction surveys, or employee engagement surveys, companies often don’t ask the right questions. Surveys should be asking meaningful questions linked to drivers of engagement. They should be measuring the employee’s level of trust in management, satisfaction with their job role, and things like connection to the vision of the organisation. Surveys should be conducted frequently, annually, quarterly, or even monthly, and can be large annual surveys, covering everything, or quick snapshots in particular areas of focus. The outcomes should be quickly publicised within the organisation and areas of improvement acted upon as soon as possible, or investigated further.

It must come from the top

Even the most sophisticated engagement program will fail without the support of a company’s senior leaders. Leadership is a significant driver of employee engagement and therefore the company’s culture. Employees look to the senior leaders for guidance, so it’s crucial that leaders actively support these initiatives.

It’s all about trust

The key to a positive corporate culture is trust. Employees need to trust the leadership team and, equally, leaders need to trust employees to do the best job they can do. Employees need enough space to determine the best way to complete a task within a reasonable amount of time. The default position should be trust first, unless someone does something to lose that trust. Employees shouldn’t have to earn trust. If they are qualified, and satisfied all of the recruitment criteria, they should be allowed to get on with doing the job they were hired to do.

Ultimately, your engaged employees will deliver exceptional service to your customers, which, in turn, creates brand engagement and brand loyalty, so it’s worth spending time and money on developing and implementing employee engagement strategies and initiatives. A formal employee engagement program can create brand engagement and lead to increased company performance.