ZEITGUIDE TO THE EMPLOYEE REVOLUTION
There’s a revolution arising in the workplace, as employees, demanding to make their voices heard, grow more empowered.
Driving this, in part, is the growing imperative for businesses to have great EX, or employee experience. More than offering flexible work hours or kegged cold brew in the office, great EX means providing a workplace where everyone feels safe, respected, heard and fairly compensated.
The most notable example of this has been the response to the #MeToo movement, and how it’s led every industry to self-examine the behavior of its leaders and employees.
But that’s hardly the only issue employees are being increasingly vocal about. Here are three other areas where we’re seeing the workforce pushing back.
Tech Workers of the World, Unite?
Many rank-and-file employees in the tech industry are raising questions around the “why” and the ethics behind the products they’re building, prompted by concerns over the use of new technologies in surveillance or in military settings.
Pressure from employees led Google not to renew a partnership, dubbed Project Maven, with the U.S. Department of Defense that involved using AI to analyze videos and images, information that could be used for targeted drone strikes. Amazon continues to face calls from employees to terminate contracts supplying police departments with facial recognition technology.
At risk of alienating employees and potential new hires, tech companies are facing pressure to be more forthright about their intentions regarding, or to pass outright on, ethically questionable projects. But there are limits to this worker power. Despite blowback and employee resignations protesting its efforts to build a censored search engine, Dragonfly, for the Chinese market, Google is barreling ahead with the project.
“Throughout Google’s history, we’ve given our employees a lot of voice and say,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently at the WIRED 25 Summit. “But we don’t we don’t run the company by holding referendums.”
Politics in the Workplace
More and more companies have been taking stances on divisive political issues, betting that the love gained from consumers supporting these stances will outweigh any backlash. And increasingly, brands are finding that customers want them to make their values clear.
So, where does that leave employees?
Per surveys by workplace review site Glassdoor, company values still fall behind salary, commute times and work-life balance in terms of how employees rate their work. But it may, says community expert Scott Dobroski, affect which candidates apply in the first place. “It’s going to have a recruiting impact,” says Dobroski. “You can also see quality candidates applying to those roles perhaps because of that. And then, if they get hired, perhaps even staying longer.”
And while companies can’t tell employees where to stand with their own politics, they are increasingly having to address the political affiliations of their leadership. Facebook dealt with employee backlash after vice president of public policy, Joel Kaplan, openly supported Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In weighing the impact of their political involvement, execs don’t just have to answer to their customers, they also have to justify themselves in front of their teams.
Show Me the Money
But it is compensation, of course, that is the foremost concern for employees. At the end of the day, it still boils down to the paycheck. Despite corporate tax breaks and a strong economy, wage growth has been only slightly greater than the rate of inflation. In fact, per a survey of 1,500 companies by consulting firm Mercer LLC, only 4 percent indicated putting a part of the savings from last December’s tax-code overhaul towards salary increases.
We forecast that in the future we will be seeing even more employees demand employers show them the money. It may take the form of direct activism (as we’ve seen to exert pressure on major employers like Amazon), but it could also manifest itself through the most effective method employees have for communicating their dissatisfaction—leaving. Unsurprisingly, compensation is still the biggest reason for employee churn.
So, what will come next? Will employee turnover motivate employers to reach into their tax savings to provide pay bumps? Will workers continue to gain more and more agency? Or is it just a matter of businesses biding time until they can replace each of us with a robot?
For now, EX will remain a key ingredient for businesses to remain relevant and competitive. A company’s technology, content or customer experience is only as good as the talent behind it, after all. Those businesses that pay mind to ethics, politics and fair compensation for employees will remain best positioned for future success.
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