Closing the Engagement Gap

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 8.19.53 PMEmployees can be a very big recruiting resource

A recent report by PR firm Weber Shandwick — Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism — has a lot to say about the potential for tapping employees as a recruitment resource.

The report is based on a global survey done by the firm. The survey found that engaged employees can become activists for their employers. They can be an employer’s best advocates, promoting the company as a great place to work. Many employees actively defend the reputations of their employers. More than half of all employees surveyed reported defending their employer to family or friends or in a public form like a website or a blog.

But they can also be its worst opponents. Just read the reviews on Glassdoor for proof of both.

None of this should be a surprise, but what’s most interesting in the report is that employee advocacy is a largely untapped resource.

For starters, the majority of employees report that they feel treated like mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed B.S.) by their company’s leadership. Fewer than 30 percent report that they are being communicated with, listened to, and kept in the loop. Only about 17 percent highly rate communications from management. As a result, only about 40 percent can explain to others what their employers do or what the company’s goals are. It’s tough to be an advocate for your employer if you’re clueless about what it does.

Activism

Whether employers like it or not, employees are talking about them online. The social media genie has long been out of the bottle. Almost 90 percent of employees use at least one social media site for personal communication and will use it to “air their likes and dislikes of their jobs, bosses, and organizations.”

The survey finds that 50 percent of employees often post messages, pictures, or videos in social media about their employers. More employees (39 percent) have shared positive comments than have shared negative comments (16 percent). But just 21 percent are committed to take only positive actions on behalf of their employers. So four out of five employees are not activists supporting their employers.

Much of the gap has to do with employees not feeling engaged with their employers. Less than a third of all employees report being highly engaged. The upheavals of recent years involving layoffs and financial crises have left many employees feeling utterly jaded, with many feeling that they are simply not valued.

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Employee activists exist across a spectrum of activism ranging from ProActivism to Detractors. ProActivists are highly social and conduct the most positive actions. Detractors all  take negative actions against their employer. There are some defining characteristics of each. ProActivists are largely millennials, have a college degree, and work in managerial type jobs. They have the highest employer engagement level. Detractors, on the other hand are most likely women, lack a college degree, work in  physical/manual jobs, and highly have long tenures.

Growing ProActivists

So how to get more employees to become activists on behalf of their employers? Employees report that leadership is the most important factor. Leaders who are trustworthy, value their ideas and opinions, and make the company a good place to work are most likely to find employees supporting them. That includes communications — more frequent and truthful, whether conveying good or bad news.

Those who aren’t already Pro Activists are more likely to become one and be more inclined to use social media to share news and information about their work or employer if they were given easy-to-understand guidelines and access to social media at work and helpful tools. For example, Zappos encourages employees to include company information and opinions on social media posts. The company also has a Twitter aggregate of all employee Twitter feeds which serves as a word-of-mouth platform for recruitment.

But dealing with detractors is no simple matter. It isn’t easy to fix negative leadership trust perceptions. Consequently it’s best to have some online monitoring tools in place to flag behavior that is in violation of the company’s social policies.

But better to try and get them to be positive, or at least not be overly critical. An employer’s options to deal with negative comments are limited. The U.S. National Labor Relations Act affords employees the right to discuss their wages and other terms and conditions of employment, both among themselves and with non-employees. Such activity is protected whether the employees’ statements were communicated via the Internet or social media, and may include complaints and criticisms about a supervisor’s attitude and performance, use of a company name and logo to communicate with fellow employees or the public, and communications with reporters about wages and other terms of employment.

Welcome to the brave new world of employee activism.

Raghav Singh, director of analytics in Korn Ferry's products group, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His current role includes developing data and analytics products to support candidate sourcing. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.  

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