2019 has been a year of employees making their opinions known. Just look to when Amazon warehouse employees made a case for workers' rights by walking out during the company's Prime Days. Poor working conditions made headlines and workers had something to say. Selecting these busy shopping days was a strategic way to get a message to company leaders.
Wayfair employees also went on strike this year in an effort to let their employer know they didn't approve of mattresses and other supplies being sent to Texas immigrant detention centers. Employees at Google also made it clear that they didn't agree with their company's socially impactful decisions or practices.
Entrepreneurs and employees that I talk with say workers spoke out a lot more this year than in years past. Why now? Social media plays a big part because it gives people more confidence to speak out. The public uses it to influence brands more now than ever before. Many entrepreneurs say they're not always sure how to handle the greater power their customers or employees have.
Now is the time to consider how to address those growing voices. It's become harder to "agree to disagree" with customers or employees. Instead, consider another approach with your talent so you avoid a PR disaster.
Create a comfortable space for internal discussion.
Before employees feel frustrated with you as their employer, provide them with a comfortable space at the company to speak their mind. This could take the form of a town hall meeting, for example.
In this format, everyone can share an opinion, which lets you better understand how they feel and what they believe in. Letting your employees talk can help diffuse some of the emotions involved.
Then, start talking through the issues and asking people what they'd like to see change. Addressing the issue in-house can help you avoid facing a crisis publicly. During this process you may see why it's important to keep your talent happy and reflect similar values.
Alternatively, you may find a solution together through discussion that benefits everyone involved.
Find common ground and start changing.
No matter what the approach, there may be certain differences of opinion that remain. However, you can focus less on those emotions and more on areas of shared values. Remove the anger or frustration from the situation. It helps everyone see the issues that led to the emotion, rather than escalating it into something like a walkout.
You can also use the situation as an opportunity to make key changes that employees want. For example, I know one CEO who gradually changed the pricing structure for delivery drivers at his company, partly due to public and employee opinion. Lingering requests over this and other issues contributed to growing frustration. Once employees started seeing leaders take action, their frustrations began to decrease.
Don't promise what you can't deliver.
Employees won't forget what has happened in the past, and you shouldn't either. Instead, take advantage of the quick changes you can enact now and acknowledge that other changes will come in the future. This is an opportunity to call on your employees to submit suggestions for how the company can work together to address unresolved issues.
Consider the social impact of decisions before acting.
In the case of Wayfair, leaders' strategic decisions sent a political message that wasn't shared by everyone in the company. While Wayfair may have had the best of intentions to provide social assistance to communities, it might've been better to be more selective and not get involved in such a politically charged situation.
For example, a company could provide assistance to the homeless, veterans, or other groups in need. There are many organizations that could use assistance that aren't political. Ask employees for their input on a social situation they feel passionate about.
"Opinions are like elbows."
It's an age-old saying that still holds true. We all have opinions, and they're all important and need validation to a certain degree. Not everyone can understand or accept everyone's opinion. But, as a business owner with both internal and external audiences, try your best to respect the opinions of your employees. Acknowledge them through active listening and mindful actions that don't create unnecessary conflict.