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Generational Differences in Dealing with Activist Employees


Joanna Dodd Massey Ph.D., MBA


Career and Workplace

With over 25 years of experience in the media industry at companies, such as Conde Nast, Lionsgate, CBS, Viacom, Discovery and Hasbro, Joanna Dodd Massey, Ph.D., MBA is a C-level communications executive and Board Director. She has managed brand reputation, corporate turnaround, crisis communications and culture transformation. Currently, Dr. Massey is a communications consultant, as well as Founder & CEO of The Marketing Communications Think Tank. She is a corporate speaker and trainer, as well as author of the books, "Communicating During a Crisis," and "Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace" (TVG Publishing, 2020).

I wrote a blog about this very topic recently called  It Isn’t about Money: Employee Activism Is Gaining Traction as Workers Speak out Against Employers.


Labor unions traditionally protect workers from abusive conditions, demand better pay, benefits, hours and safety. However, it was unthinkable—even just a few years ago—that individuals would speak out against their employers about business practices other than labor issues. Yet, that is exactly what is happening.


Millennials and Gen Z are empowered by technology to have a voice and they use social media to amplify that voice like a megaphone. We have not seen activism like this since the Hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s and 70s.


With a hyper focus on issues—such as, climate change, equality and transparency—millennials and Gen Z comprise more than 50% of the workforce. These two generations are speaking out against unfair and unethical practices by their companies.


Baby Boomer and Gen X managers may object, because they feel attacked and unappreciated. Human beings are hard-wired to resist change and to dig into our positions deeper when attacked. We can thank the amygdala and the unconscious brain process it supervises for that biological reality. (I can go into this further in an interview, if wanted.)


But digging-in won’t change the activism and it won’t help the company. In an economy with an unemployment rate hovering around 3.6% to 3.7%, the answer is not to fire them and get new employees. That was a response we would have seen in the 1980s.


In an era where we have two generations that care deeply about social issues, more than they care about money, 50 years of brand equity can be lost in 5 seconds with a negative image or video that goes viral.


As I tell businesses, the most important asset on your balance sheet is your human capital. Your company is not defined by its brand and logo. That is your calling card. Your company’s personality is defined by the people who work there at any given moment and that personality changes over time.


Being a company today is not easy. The rules have changed and major corporations are scrambling to change with the times. Here are three tips for being the best brand you can be:


Be transparent

Communicate often

Listen to your employees’ concerns—in today’s world, employees are your brand’s first line of defense in a crisis, as well as the ones who will rat you out when you are doing something sneaky


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