Employee Activism Is On The Rise. Here's What This Means For Organizations.

What Is It? Does It Impact You? Are You Ready?

Why It Matters

Employees are increasingly promoting social justice causes at work and during the work day. At the same time, organizations are facing a growing expectation to act as activists. As the imperative to engage with social issues through the workplace intensifies, so too does the need to start thinking about how to do so effectively.

It could be called the year of the walkout.

Last year saw a monumental rise in employee activism, with workers holding some of the world’s largest organizations—Google and Amazon among them—to account on a diverse spectrum of moral and political issues.

Some companies skipped ahead of the curve, taking active stances on ethical, policy, and social issues. In the U.S., we saw this with Apple and Starbucks.

This engagement is something Canadian employers can watch for and leverage to promote vital social, political, and environmental causes.

At the same time, companies are mindful that this arena is a sticky wicket.

The Rise in Employee Activism. What does it mean for the world of impact. More on Future of Good. Photo: Josh Howard
Employee activists can use social media and mobilize movements in support of causes both inside and outside the organization.

Those very same employees can also organize walkouts and publicly voice their disagreement with company decisions or policy.


Navigating the new landscape of employee activism is going to be a delicate balancing act, to be sure.

In response, best practices are being put forward, from fostering open conversations about difficult topics and building employee goodwill, to taking stock of your values, and developing a philosophy that is responsive to new experiences with corporate activism.

In fact, trailblazers across industries have come up with innovative ways to support employees’ social consciences.

  • One US company, Big Wheel Brigade, responded to an employee’s request to attend a strike by announcing two days paid leave for social justice actions for all employees.
  • Patagonia, well-known for its long history of environmental activism, offers bail for employees arrested while peacefully protesting.
  • Burton Snowboards has gone as far as covering the costs of employees’ travel expenses in order to participate in protests.

In addition to policy-oriented approaches, several digital activism tools are emerging to broker social action between employee and employer worlds.

By facilitating employee volunteerism and employee campaigns, Causecast and Coworker.org are two examples of exciting platforms that are inspiring a new generation of digitally empowered employee activists and social impact-oriented employers.

With the rise of employee activism, it becomes more important than ever to create such innovative policies and digital forums for open dialogue and action.

Blindly jumping on the bandwagon is no longer an option. Silence is no longer golden.

Keep in touch with your employees. Ask about what issues they care deeply about. Allow them to openly communicate their core values. Develop strong internal communications processes to hold your organization together as it is challenged by the blurring boundaries between personal and professional lives.

Doing so can only increase the odds of creating a more socially engaged and effective organization, one that can ignite social justice movements and inspire change in the world.