Weber study notes growing clout of 'employee activists'

More than one in five staffers are "employee activists" - workers who publicly defend and advocate for employers - while one-third have high employee-activist potential, according to a study from Weber Shandwick released on Wednesday.

NEW YORK: More than one in five (21%) staffers are "employee activists" – workers who publicly defend and advocate for employers – while one-third (33%) have high employee-activist potential, according to a study from Weber Shandwick released on Wednesday.

Employee activism is a growing social movement ignited by the digital and social media era, said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber. She defined members of the movement as those who make their engagement visible, defend employers from criticism, and advocate for them both online and offline.

Weber partnered with KRC Research to conduct the four-month study, "Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism," ending in October 2013. Through an online survey of 2,300 employees in 15 global markets, the research explored the employee activist movement to help organizations understand what it takes to "catch the rising tide of employee activism," Gaines-Ross added.

"We have noted that employee activism is a big trend in the employee-engagement world, and since we know employee engagement is at the top of most CEOs’ agendas these days, we did this research to prove this is really a trend companies need to start watching," she said. "Many companies are focused on employee satisfaction and engagement, but this movement is several degrees further along the spectrum."

The report also found that half (50%) of employees post messages, pictures, or videos on social media about their employer, while one-third (33%) do so without encouragement from their bosses. Thirty-nine percent have shared praise or positive comments online about their company. Sixteen percent have also shared criticism or negative comments online about their employer, and 14% have posted something about their employer in social media that they regret.

One in three employers is encouraging their workers to use social media to share news and information about their organization. That number will grow quickly, according to Gaines-Ross.

"Right now, companies are hesitant to put branding in the hands of employees, even though employees are already out there doing that," she said. "But a lot of new software apps and platforms are being developed to help companies provide employees with messages and train them on how to use social media. If you train employees and give them access to social media tools, you will have an army of supporters out there."

The study also found that there is "significant upheaval" in the workforce due to pervasive organizational changes, with 84% of staffers having recently experienced a major transformation, such as leadership turnover, mergers, acquisitions, or financial slowdowns. Only 42% of staffers can describe to others what their company does, and just 37% can reiterate the company’s goals.

"In the PR industry, we are responsible for all stakeholders, and employees are one of the most important stakeholders," said Gaines-Ross. "If you have employees who are actively supporting you, caring about your causes, helping you recruit the best people, and marketing your products, you have something no one else can compete with."  

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