Are your employees posting about your company online? What are they saying and doing online? Can you help impact what they share? These questions and their answers are at the heart of recent research, which shows:

  • Yes, they’re posting: 47% of UK employees are posting about their employer on social media.
  • Yes, they are sharing more positive than negative info: 31% have shared praise or positive comments, while only 11% say they have shared criticism about their employer online and 9% have posted something they regret.
  • And yes, 54% have defended their employer from criticism.
  • And yes again, you can help impact what they are sharing: By pulling the right levers, companies can activate their employees.

Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, recently conducted an online survey of 2,300 employees covering 15 markets worldwide to dive into the emerging trend of “employee activism.” The resulting report, Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, explores employee activism to help our clients and other organizations understand and harness the power of this rapidly growing movement.

Employees can be an organization’s first and most powerful advocates, and this has never been truer than in the age of social media when most people can easily become (or already are) a global broadcaster.  What’s more, Weber Shandwick strongly believes that employee engagement is central to company success and is the underlying foundation for high-performing companies. Employee activism is the next generation of employee engagement. To prepare for the future workforce, employers will need to build upon engagement and acknowledge and embrace employee activism.

Employee activists make their engagement visible, defend their employers from criticism and act as active advocates, online and off. Sometimes activism is stimulated by the employer, but, more often than not, it rises organically out of self-motivation and determination.

Today’s employees are in a state of upheaval. Our research showed that more than 83% of employees in the UK (and 84% globally) have experienced some kind of employer change in the past few years, e.g. a leadership change, mass layoff, merger or acquisition and/or crisis. That is a lot of flux for the workforce to handle. Additionally, in the UK, only 49% of employees can describe to others what their employer does and only 29% are deeply engaged with their employer. Employers can’t afford to miss the open window of opportunity to build better employee engagement and a better place to work with all this uncertainty.

Our study is particularly relevant for use in strategic planning. We used segmentation modeling to sort respondents by their reported actions toward their employers — both supporting and detracting actions — to develop deeper, more descriptive and more targetable profiles of the workforce.

We identified six distinct segments of employees:

  1. ProActivists – 19% of UK respondents fall into this category vs. 21% globally. ProActivists are the embodiment of employee activism. They conduct the most positive actions with nearly no negative actions, have the highest level of employer engagement and are highly social.
  2. PreActivists – 28% of UK respondents are PreActivists vs. 26% globally. PreActivists take positive actions but not nearly as many positive actions as ProActivists. They also engage in more negative actions than ProActivists and are not as social as ProActivists.
  3. HyperActives – 5% of UK respondents are HyperActives vs. 7% globally. This group is wildcard of employee activism. They have the most potential to both help and damage employer’s reputation. Half of them have posted something online about their employer that they regret, and this group is the most engaged next to ProActivists.
  4. ReActivists – 8% UK vs. 11% global. ReActivists mostly take positive actions but also have a high propensity for detraction. They have an average level of engagement, are critical of workplace conditions and are highly social. Building a better place to work might be the antidote.
  5. Detractors – 19% UK vs. 13% globally. All detractors take negative actions against their employer. They are also the least engaged, most distrustful of leadership and not social. These are the ones where leadership can make a difference and turn a naysayer into a yeasayer.
  6. InActives – 21% UK vs. 22% globally. This group reports little or no employer support or detraction behaviors. They are almost as unengaged as Detractors, are the least likely to put a great deal of effort into their jobs and few can explain to others what their employer does. Additionally, little motivates them to do a good job, even pay increases. A company’s efforts are probably better spent worrying about the other segments.

In terms of how to apply this segmentation model, we have developed a five-step activation guide:

  1. Embrace the new reality of employee activism. Leverage the new reality. It’s clear that employees are using social media as a platform – whether their employers want them to or not. Organizations can either get ahead of the curve or be on the defensive. In the survey, we found that just 27% of employers encourage their UK employees to use social media to share news and info about their work or employer. However, it’s important to note that UK companies which encourage social sharing have employees who are 57% more likely to recommend their company’s products or services to others.
  2. Identify your workforce segments. One size does not fit all. Each workforce segment has different needs and triggers, so a tailored strategy is critical. For example, you can accelerate the activism of ProActivists – these are the people on the front end of the change bell curve. They are most likely to comment on social media positively and also most likely to become brand ambassadors. Additionally, many PreActivists can be converted to ProActivists with the right tools and guidance, and by keeping HyperActives well-informed, their positive actions may overcome negative inclinations. Also, the InActives are the group least likely to take action, so it’s important to recognize that when distributing precious resources.
  3. Activate from the top. Leadership matters. Leaders need to both model the behavior and encourage it in a genuine way. Employees need to see the behaviors brought to life through their leaders and managers. In the UK, only 28% of employees feel that leadership behaves and acts in accordance with the employer’s vision and values.
  4. Flip the right activism switches. Attend to your igniters. When you’re activating the plan, ensure you give your segments the tools and reinforcement they need. This might be through internal communications, human resources, corporate social responsibility and leadership activities.
  5. Encourage social. Have a clear plan and policy. It is imperative to have a clear social policy and plan that employees can use as a guide. These kinds of policies vary greatly based on the company culture.

About the Study

Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, conducted Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, an online survey of 2,300 employees in 15 markets. The research explored the employee activist movement to help organizations understand what it takes to catch the rising tide of employee activism. Employees Rising provides a playbook for activating employees, which includes strategies for accelerating the activism of an organization’s biggest supporters and defusing the negative actions of detractors. You can access the full report here.

Kate Bullinger, global co-lead of Employee Engagement & Change Management, Weber Shandwick