Whether public or private, consumers care very much about company stances on certain political, social and cultural issues. Money talks, and consumers want to know that who they’re supporting with their hard earned money in turn supports the issues they care about.
If customers feel a business isn’t “doing the right thing”, they’re very quick to announce evidence on social media of this transgression, and few are forgiving. There are “right and wrong” ways that companies can handle these incidents, either showing the public that their faux pas was an accidental mistake, was blatantly wrong, or is a false accusation.
Unfortunately, responses that make efforts to “right the ship” can sometimes result in board members stepping down, CEOs being fired, or brand value decreasing. In this day and age, where this all happens so quickly and publicly, should companies get involved with social and cultural issues?
The long and short of it is….well, it depends.
As a public company, the general advice is to tread carefully. Because shareholders are involved, and large amounts of money is at stake, taking a stance on a social issue could result in a decrease of investments (but they could also increase). Many shareholders may not feel supportive of the way a company chooses to express support or disdain on a social issue and can back out, with a vengeance.
Likewise, with social and cultural issues, more than likely your company is just as divided as the nation. Employees may feel that the company is taking a stance against something they firmly believe in, and may feel concerned about the longevity of their career if that information is known. They may worry about discrimination if they have different cultural or political views than management, and that they may be overlooked for a promotion, when in fact, could be doing a great job.
- Some employees may leave, as they feel a deep connection that the work they do (and who it’s for) is a personal reflection of themselves. Simply, they may not want that association for fear of public repercussions, as well.
You could also make a stance that would encourage employees to never leave if they feel they strongly agree with company views, or felt protected under public statements.
- Some employees may generally be uncomfortable, as they may not pick a polarized view, and stand somewhere in the middle. They may then feel a pressure to show whether they are “for or against”, when it’s not in their nature to overlap personal views with work life.
There generally is a large risk here of losing employees who are valued for their work, but may have differing stances socially.
Keep in mind, employees are still individuals with their own feelings – the stance being expressed could be offensive to their own culture, history, or family heritage.
If you do choose to get involved, as a company, there needs to be an understanding with how far that involvement stretches.
Are you just making a post on a social media site? If so, are you prepared with backlash or what people may dredge up if you weren’t as supportive of these same (or similar) issues in the past? If you do make a social media post, there needs to be consideration for what comes next, including the provocation for more action than just “words”.
Some companies choose to show support with money, by making donations to causes, and others may take it further to give employee time to support those causes. Generally, the latter may be more accepted in the workplace, as people who would like to contribute would have a chance for hands-on work, without the sense that it’s “all or nothing” from everyone.
There are other considerations to be had, as well.
- If a company is able to express their views, are the employees allowed to, as well?
- Is the floor open for public debate in company sponsored forums, or at company events, to allow employees to proclaim their own thoughts?
- What if an employee chooses to miss work in support of these views, and furthermore, if employee absences are excused for showing support, can they be excused for showing allegiance to the opposite side?
The can of worms is slowly opening here, and can become difficult to manage if a company does not plan out each aspect of how they want to handle things. There need to be clear expectations set on if employees can participate in protests, and whether they can happen during working hours. There should also be clear communication on if repercussions can be had for social media posts of their own – simply, can someone lose their job for posting what other employees may find offensive?
Whether a company chooses to get involved or not is just one piece, but they should make absolutely certain they are not violating laws or rights of their workers in the process.
There are no universal rules about worker’s rights, and the extent to which employees choose to get involved in social or cultural issues, can indirectly affect their right to work if proper communications are not held regarding these expectations.
In the end, a company has to decide what is best for them, but it should be considered carefully and with more than the emotion of the moment. There is a lot at stake, and you have to be willing to face what comes when you’re willing to take a stand!