Learning & Development

The Tightrope of Corporate Activism

Business and politics have always been extremely intertwined, but that interplay—at least on the part of corporations—has perhaps become more visible in recent years. Younger generations, which make up increasingly greater proportions of the workforce, tend to demand more from their employers in terms of how they respond to a wide range of political and social issues.

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For Younger Employees, Corporate Social Responsibility Matters—A Lot

“Workers had a lot to talk about this year—from COVID to Black Lives Matter to the Great Resignation,” writes Sam Caucci in an article for International Business Times. He notes that 46% of the workforce now represents the millennial and Gen Z cohorts—cohorts that, he says, are “interested in not just getting paid to work, but also in how their work impacts their community.”

Consequently, organizations should expect these younger workers to continue to demand more of the companies they work for, including taking a stand on important issues—and there’s evidence to support this.

In 2021, Caucci says, “we saw this on 1Huddle. The most in-demand games were on social justice topics. We saw workers voice interest in more learning and training opportunities around everything from voting rights to diversity topics to inclusive leadership.”

Walking a Tightrope

The conundrum for business leaders is that political and social issues tend to be polarizing. Taking a vocal position that is embraced by one segment of the workforce might alienate another segment. Business leaders need to be careful about reflexively embracing political and social positions by jumping on the bandwagon based on a gut feeling.

Instead, leaders should treat political and social activism, particularly vocal expressions of that activism, as any other major business decision that requires careful thought and consideration. Often, the best course of action may be to do (and say) nothing at all. At other times, inaction may be a costly mistake.

More than ever, younger generations of workers want their employers to stand for something more than just a balance sheet. Unfortunately for employers, not all of those employees want their employer to stand for the same thing. Navigating the demands of employees with respect to social and political activism will increasingly become a tightrope for leaders to walk and, like walking a literal tightrope, will demand appropriate care and balance.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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