Employees Are Demanding Corporate Social Responsibility. Posting About It on Social Media Won’t Be Enough.
After the #PullUpOrShutUp hashtag went viral in early June, companies everywhere were treated to a serious wake-up call. The flash social media movement brought instant attention to corporations’ racial breakdowns — and boycotts weren’t far behind for organizations that chose to look the other way.
Yet customers aren’t the only people scrutinizing organizations’ approaches to social justice. Employees themselves are starting to point fingers publicly when their employers “talk the talk” externally but don’t follow through and “walk the walk” behind closed doors.
No entity’s too big or powerful to be held under a microscope, either. The Wing, a women’s networking community that had snagged serious investor interest, underwent significant upheaval after its CEO resigned and workers’ stories of marginalization hit the press. To the organization’s credit, the leadership team swiftly responded by making significant operational and hiring changes. On the other hand, Amazon hasn’t been as fast at counterbalancing allegations of oppressive, unsafe working practices, which were said to disproportionately affect minority employees.
In other words, team players are no longer willing to sit by and allow their companies to jump onto social responsibility bandwagons without any intention of backing their words with actions. Employees want insights into diversity numbers and need to see an outline of inclusion steps and policies. They also want to know that the employers they work for train everyone to improve their cultural sense of fairness (and quite frankly, empathy).
Can empathy be a part of corporate culture? Yes. But sadly, it’s missing at many organizations. According to annual Businessolver research, just about two-thirds of workers would define their companies as being empathetic. That’s a problem for the employers because 57% of employees also said they’d jump ship to work for less compensation at a place with stronger emotional intelligence.
What does this all mean? Basically, the season has arrived for leaders to avoid social and cultural missteps by actively taking steps to change the way they do business. Otherwise, they could find themselves at the wrong end of an op-ed, social movement, or even a lawsuit. But this should go further than just avoiding criticism or revenue losses. With all the power they hold, leaders should strive to do this important work.
To avoid the pitfalls that come from ignoring what matters most to your workforce, try these strategies:
1. Stand behind the deeper meaning of your messaging.
When COVID-19 came into the picture, people began quarantining. Sweeping layoffs impacted a large swath of workers, and nearly every brand posted almost the exact same platitudes. Many were immediately panned for what seemed to be a lack of true sympathy for the public. Their mistake was forgetting that what they sent out to the world would be scrutinized in context, not read once and forgotten.
As you continue to push out communications in response to social issues, make sure to set the industry standard. Back all your words with purpose and truth. You might fool consumers for a while, but your employees will know if you’re being hypocritical. And make no mistake: They won’t be shy about pulling back the curtain if you’re not being transparent.
2. Admit wrongdoing or ignorance when needed.
Did your company make historic errors, even if it was through benign neglect or misunderstanding? Step up and vow to do better. It’s OK to be honest; after all, no organization or person can be perfect. Talk about the many ways you’re focused on improving as a company, and share your insights with all personnel through emails, videos, and other types of intranet posts.
Your communication doesn’t have to be lengthy or involved to be powerful. Even admitting you don’t have the answers yet but are searching for them demonstrates that you’re taking a stand and not wallowing in silence. The fabric of society has ripped, and looking the other way isn’t an option. Besides this, empathetic top-down messaging through channels dedicated to employee communication can only strengthen and enrich your culture.
3. Engage your workforce when revamping internal work policies.
Now is the time to conduct a full internal audit of all processes with select workers, managers, and leaders. After examining where you are today, you can begin to make changes (such as developing a well-considered diversity and inclusion program). Be sure to incorporate both short- and long-term goals for any projects you undertake so they’ll have an improved chance of achieving measurable success.
After you make policy and procedural changes, release them to your workers for review. Then, ask for (and respond to) feedback. You might discover that you’ve missed the mark on a few ideas, and that’s fine as long as you’re an active listener. Companies that seek and use employee suggestions tend to foster stronger, more loyal staff bonds than those that make decisions in vacuums. Share this information on the company intranet so it’s transparent and public for everyone. This holds people accountable and ensures they know exactly where to go to find policies, review data, and ask any questions.
Corporate representatives keep talking about the “new normal,” but it involves more than just wearing face masks, using hand sanitizer, and staying six feet apart. Tomorrow’s “normal” will include scrutiny of employers by watchful employees, and rightfully so. You have the power to make a marked difference. Make sure you’re taking your business’s social responsibility seriously and not just treating it as a marketing checklist item.
Internal communicators are meant to be authentic voices and allies for every employee. It’s important that employees are able to voice their thoughts openly and in a safe space. It is the responsibility of leadership to listen and ask questions to make not only the intranet but also the company a safe space.
About the Author
Dhiraj Sharma is a serial entrepreneur and technology enthusiast who’s passionate about promoting purpose and meaning in the workplace. Dhiraj is the founder and CEO of Simpplr, a modern employee intranet software provider that helps companies engage their workforce by transforming employee communication. The results are telling: Customers increase employee engagement, improve productivity, and reduce employee turnover. Most importantly, employees are happier and more successful.