Recently, Google had a massive walk-out – about 20,000 employees – over its handling of cases of sexual harassment and misconduct. It’s part of a shift we’re seeing in tech environments in what some are branding, “tech worker activism.” Employees in the tech space seem louder than ever, essentially saying, “You may be Google, but we have the rights and power to get the things we want.”
People are quick to talk about broken company cultures, but in my view, it’s not purely about that. There are a variety of poorly managed cultures in many places where employees still aren’t walking out the door.
No, here’s what really drives the activity: Any time you have organizations that generate as much wealth as Silicon Valley has generated, that wealth is fairly widespread. In the process, you create an environment in which all kinds of constituents are going to demand something from these organizations. One simple understanding is because these companies can afford it as they have ample resources (i.e. Google).
Therefore, it’s my assumption that we’ll only see more movements toward companies that have accumulated sufficient wealth and seemingly aren’t doing right by their employees in some form or fashion. We will see more activism and more litigation. Whether it’s going to be specifically against Facebook, Google, Amazon or another prominent name, any kind of “winner” in this society is going to be under pressure, either to satisfy additional demands or share the wealth/resources they’ve accumulated to a much greater degree.
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Externally, these companies are really good at delighting their customers and maintaining high profit margins. However, the internal situation at times tells a different story – such employees represent a type of “customer” that needs to be heard too. The more that a company’s talent perceives itself to be in a position to make demands, the more demands will be made. And these demands can run the gamut from mishandling of sexual harassment cases to complaints that there is not enough space per person to work.
Consequently, as your organization scales upward and accumulates wealth, you can expect that a spotlight will shine on not only your culture but also your level of consistent communication with employees on the issues that are of the highest importance to them. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that this challenge is only reserved for the likes of massive companies such as Google or Facebook.
Thinking optimistically, an environment of ever-increasing employee demands doesn’t have to be something you constantly fear. In fact, if the challenge can be embraced by your management team and handled successfully, it can be an opportunity to strengthen the relationships you’ve strived to nurture with your team. Communicate with them early and often. Listen to team members when they bring forth concerns. Collaborate with them to address their needs. Demonstrate actions that show you’ve taken the appropriate steps to meet those needs. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything a group of employees demands but ignoring such demands is hardly a suitable option either.
All of which could lead to great things in the name of your recruitment and retention efforts too.