What is employee activism and how can mobilization facilitate this?

Forward thinking companies of all sizes aspire for employees to be proactive in their approach to the workplace. A recent survey and subsequent report, conducted by Weber Shandwick describes an employee activist as ‘as an individual who draws visibility to their workplace, defends their employers from criticism and act as advocates, both online and off.’ In a world where general media and social media consumption are fundamental to purchasing decisions, employee activism – if channeled correctly, is surely a good thing?

Delving deeper into how exactly to describe employee activism, the paper refers to consensus building and gives employees a public window to air their grievances. John Lewis, as a good example, publish a regular newsletter and includes an employee’s complaints section. This not only gives employees the opportunity to be heard, but also provides an official outlet for any grievances, and since staff turnover at John Lewis is 17.7 per cent (very good when compared to retail industry average), one can conclude this is part of a generally very effective employee engagement strategy.

In her book, 7 Hottest Trends in HR Technology, Meghan M. Biro argues that everything HR related in the workplace should be mobilised. According to Meghan, “There’s a new generation of talent coming up that views desktops as a relic from the past.” Although this might be an extreme view, current statistics from leading consulting firm Gartner do support this. Globally, the BYOD market is expected to grow to $181.39 billion by 2017 – the market was worth only $67.21 billion in 2011. That’s almost a 200 per cent jump in six years. The shift will undoubtedly impact how employee activism progresses.

So how can mobilization facilitate employee activism? Back in 2011 most corporate communication was delivered through internal intranets, though Forrester Research at that time showed that “just 43% of enterprise employees access an intranet every day. Worse, 35% of don’t even use their intranet on a monthly basis”, this is a far cry from what intranets were initially supposed to promote when they were first launched on a mass basis back in the mid 1990s.

In 2014 many organisations have now adopted an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) like Yammer, Jive, Socialcast or Chatter. These facilitate employee activism by allowing people to connect and interact instantly. ESNs can be accessed on mobile, tablet and desktops – giving users the opportunity to spend time actively engaging rather than using Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. This is especially useful as it’s a case of software developers responding to employee-led trends and building enterprise-level software based on what employees enjoy in the consumer software sphere.

Technology firms are developing other mobile apps, aside from the ESN model, which have found their place within enterprises. These apps act as tools to allow people to be more social and to have a different type of communication than used to be possible.

In the future, the employees who currently regard desktops more as workstations for very specific activities will expect timely, relevant updates to whichever device is in their hand. This combined with the increase in working from home, will result in less of a divide between working hours and leisure time – and employee activism, aided by mobilization will result in a more engaged workforce. Traditional Intranets will continue to be used for activities like archive storage, with a greater emphasis on clarity and responsive web design – and staff will be able to access all sorts of company materials wherever they are, on whatever device.

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