Most organizations understand that employee engagement is critical to long-term success. In spite of this realization, many organizations struggle to create and sustain an inclusive work environment. One of the consequences of such failure is the emergence of employee insurgent movements. What is an employee insurgent movement? A form of employee activism where employees rise in revolt of an organization’s leadership that they deem unworthy of position or respect. When there are large pockets of employees who feel disengaged and not included in the day-to-day operations of an organization, they start to move toward employee insurgency.
Employee insurgent movements can take many forms. In today’s tech savvy world, employees take to blogs and websites to air internal dirty laundry and lambast leadership. Some employee insurgents attempt to seize leadership of employee affinity groups to push personal agendas. Some turn to media outlets, congressional representatives, and labor unions to help shine a light. There are individual EEO complaints and class action complaints. The list of organizational warfare tactics are endless.
The good news is that most employee insurgents are usually good employees who may have been overlooked, minimized, mistreated, undervalued, or disregarded. They are mostly the creation of dysfunctional organizations riddled with poor leadership and management. Many feel as if they have been discriminated against for one reason or another. In some cases, that may well be true, but in many instances, it is a case of bad management. NOTE: Bad management can look like discrimination based on whom it affects and at times, bad management can be discriminatory.
How can organizations reconnect with these individuals and leverage their energy for positive outcomes? My suggestions:
- Address poor management and leadership – this may be difficult if the individuals who need to deal with the problem are the problem. This is where D & I professionals have to step up and deliver the tough message. Hopefully, you have cultivated an open and honest relationship with leadership. If you are considered apart of leadership, not addressing the issue may damage your credibility. Leadership should be mutually accountable to act in an acceptable manner.
- Discrimination cannot be tolerated – D & I professionals need to work in collaboration with Human Resources and EEO (if these functions do not fall within your portfolio) to ensure the organization is engaging in proactive prevention. Remember, teaching is repeating until learning takes place. If the learning does not take place, then disciplinary action needs to be considered and administered , in an appropriate manner, to deter future behavior by those involved and those watching.
- Challenge organizational assumptions – make sure decision-making and communication is based on facts not biased assumptions that intentionally or unintentionally exclude some from the benefits of employment and upward mobility.
- Mentor, mentor, mentor – develop a mentoring culture that helps to connect employees across organizational boundaries, levels, and occupations. Mentoring can help reengage employees who have “checked out.” To be successful, mentors and mentees need to be properly trained and supported through the mentoring process. Leadership needs to participate and embrace mentoring as a value added benefit. (NOTE: Leadership has to mentor broadly, not just their friends or favorites.)
These are a few general ideas. Each organization has to consider the problems that exist in their specific organization and how those problems contribute to the nature of the employee insurgent movement they are experiencing. Each organization has to ask if they are breeding a culture of inclusion or a culture of insurgency.