When the picket line is inside
An increasing (and increasingly public) number of employee protests at companies like Wayfair, Google and Amazon are putting tech and other companies in the spotlight, and not a positive one. A recent article wonders whether these employees, mostly Millennials, have “killed” being afraid of the boss. What’s certain is that just as they have in other areas, this generation is clear about their demands: and in this case, they demand that the companies they work for to behave in ways that win their approval.
It’s old news by now that standing for something bigger than the products or services you sell is an essential part of recruiting and retaining talent. We know the stats: 86% of millennials (and 71% of professionals overall) would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own, and another 39% say they would actually leave their job if their employer were to ask them to do something in conflict with their ethics or morals. And companies have responded, populating their career sites and employee handbooks with language about their missions to “bring the world closer,” “positively impact the world” and “create the future.”
But what this increased employee activism is making clear is that an organization’s perfectly curated mission statement is worth very little if what’s happening within the company walls tells a different story:
Wayfair says they believe that “everyone should live in a home they love,” but does business with a company profiting from detaining migrant children at the border.
Amazon’s mission is to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company” but they haven’t figured out how to treat their warehouse workers decently.
Google’s unofficial but much touted motto was “do no evil.” That language was quietly wiped away, amid repeated fire from employees for issues ranging from sexual harassment within the company to LGBTQ harassment on YouTube, to Google developing an artificial intelligence drone program for the Pentagon.
It’s easy enough to finesse a company image for an external audience, at least temporarily, but much harder to do so for those on the inside, who see not just what an organization says about itself, but what it actually does. Today, employees function as proverbial canaries in a coal mine, alerting the rest of us to what’s really going on inside the companies they work for, and people are paying attention.
Purpose can’t just be a slick trick to get employees in the door – or it will definitely backfire. Companies that want to keep their employees happy (and their customers and investors for that matter) need to align their purpose with their actions – how they treat their employees, what they sell and who they sell it to, how they treat the environment, and how they behave in the world. Companies that don't will face an employee population ready to take a stand and make a lot of noise. Unlike their canary counterparts, today's employees won't be silenced.