Millennials want to work for companies who share their values and they feel it is in their best interest to let their employers know where they are falling short. As a result, some tech companies are going green, and while this is good news, don’t attribute any of it to altruism. Companies in any industry exist to turn a profit, and in order to turn said profit, each company needs to be able to hire and retain top talent to innovate and stay ahead of the competition.
Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing employee activism at the big tech firms, some of it inspired by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. Workers from Amazon, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Square, and others walked out in September of 2019 to protest the lack of environmental initiatives by their employers. In response, Google and Amazon drew up climate pledges that they indicated would put them in compliance with the Paris Climate Accord provisions.
Amazon also tried to silence activists, firing two employees for being outspoken about Amazon’s inaction on climate change and the treatment of warehouse workers during COVID-19 lockdowns. The company instituted a policy that employees could not criticize Amazon without prior approval. It seems that Amazon was willing to risk squashing employee activism despite findings that disruptions from employee activism could affect revenue and reputation.
Hiring in an age of activism
Employees want to work for companies that don’t contribute to the climate woes of the planet. Candidates with options to choose for whom to work may look at the carbon footprint and climate promises as one criterion of where to accept an offer. This is especially true of millennials, who, in a LinkedIn survey in 2018 said that they would consider a pay cut to work for a company that championed the same values as them. Climate change is one of those values. People don’t want to be associated with a company that is contributing to climate change.
Employers can be proactive about their culture and commitments to social issues. They can make sure their projects align with the company’s stated values. Where relevant, they can seek out employee input to make sure they are aware of the societal issues that are resonating with employees. Leaders should also pay attention to what employees are saying. Listen early and listen often to what they are telling you. They want to bring something to your attention that they feel you are ignoring or don’t know about, and lots of bad press and hard feelings can be averted by actively listening and responding to employee demands. Activism is here to stay. Companies who pay attention and channel what they learn into becoming responsible corporate citizens will also be more successful with their customers and beacons for top talent.