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The Activist Employee: Why Business Must Learn to Listen

<p>Did the many thousands of Occupy protesters who took to the streets last year to protest corporate malfeasance think to turn the finger to their own employers first? What happens if and when they do?</p>

The Occupy Wall Street protestors marked 2011 with their resilience. With thousands of participants peacefully demonstrating outside the doors of some of the country's very large corporations, what can be next? Will employees become activists and take their protests to the workplace?

Of the thousands of Occupiers, how many of them are employed? By whom? Where? According to their own blogs, Twitter channels, etc. they were protesting inequalities and malfeasance. Did they think of turning the finger to their own employers first?

While this has the potential of being inflammatory, the truth is employees are assets and can turn things around in an organization with the right strategy.

Employee Activism: Disruptive or Participatory?

CEO of Causecast Ryan Scott recently predicted that 2012 will be the year of the "employee activist." I sat down with him to delve deeper into the concept of the employee activist. He explains:

"Companies need to embrace not just the causes that are related to their bottom lines but also the ones their employees are passionate about.

"If companies embrace the social issues important to their customers, they should also support the causes that their employees are passionate about. Study after study shows that employee engagement directly leads to increases in performance and decreases in the probability of departure, and one of the best ways to engage employees is in purpose-driven work. When organizations align their workforce behind a larger social mission, everyone wins - the employee feels more empowered, the employer develops a deeper relationship with its workforce, and the cause benefits from more efficiently directed activism."

The need for this kind of positively directed activism is why Causecast developed its Employee Impact Platform, a cloud-based interactive web solution that enables corporations to achieve "cause integration" through automated volunteer and fundraising systems. The turnkey cause technology, which aligns an organization's entire workforce with its social mission, is available now to companies of all sizes.

With the economy showing no signs of a fast recovery, most employees are truly thankful to have a job. Any intelligent observer will think twice before giving up a lucrative job that pays the bills if nothing else. But reform movements and activism for change can build quickly. So, how does a socially responsible employer embrace an active employee base?

Do Your Employees Know You Are Listening?

There isn't any one simple undertaking that can avoid a disruptive employee base. There are several, and depending on your company's scale, culture and organizational design, a combination of the following can help ensure employees are being listened – and engaged:

1. Philanthropy: With Causecast's launch of its Employee Impact Platform, employees can vote on (and contribute to) how their companies allocate their philanthropy. This sends a strong message to the employees that they are being heard ands also improves morale, boosts empowerment and encourages loyalty.

2. Board of Directors: According to my governance guru, Ira Millstein, a Senior Partner at Weil , "A Board could have on its agenda a report about employee attitudes including recommendations." Getting the Board involved would increase the value of employee voices.

3. Idea Captures: While I will cover this topic in much more detail at next week's GreenBiz Forum in San Francisco, setting up a formal program to capture good ideas creates a forum for listening, recognizing, implementing and rewarding. Simple low hanging fruit.

4. Town Halls: Create an open forum where employees have the opportunity to be heard ahead of leadership. Like a shareholder meeting. After all, they are one of your majority stakeholders if not shareholders.

5. Fresh Air Forums: The Town Halls don't have to be within the walls of the company, they can also be out in the fresh air. For example, on a monthly basis at APS Pinnacle West, an officer of the company (which may include their CSO Ed Fox) leads a lunch walk open to all employees to support healthy life styles and informal dialogue.

The Power of Employees: A Captive Audience

Here's the thing: Embracing your employees and empowering has a direct correlation to your bottom line and your sustainability as a business. Why not embrace what employees want – which if targeted and addressed astutely can closely align with your organization's long-term strategy – and harness their energy and enthusiasm as a captive and collaborative audience?

Nowhere else will you find an audience as bought in (they chose to work for you) and as committed (they opted in for benefits) if they truly believe in your organization.

Occupy photo via Shutterstock.

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