Why Engaging with Social and Political Issues Is a Non-Negotiable for Your Employee Value Proposition

February 23, 2022

Contributor: Mary Baker

Otherwise, you risk failing to both retain and attract new employees.

In short:

  • Gartner research shows 65% of employees want to work for organizations with a strong social and environmental conscience.
  • HR leaders must advocate for their organization to respond to social and political issues as part of their employee value proposition (EVP). 
  • Organizations that remain silent on these issues risk their ability to retain employees and attract new candidates.

More than ever, employees are quitting their organizations — in part, because of a perceived lack of alignment across personal values and organizational shared purpose. Gartner research finds that employees overwhelmingly (82%) believe it’s important for their organization to see them as full people, not just as workers. They want their employers to support their holistic well-being, which extends to advocating for the issues they care about. Further, 65% report they would like to work for organizations with a strong social and environmental conscience, which includes making statements about and taking action on the social and political issues they care about.

Download now: Reinvent Your EVP for a Postpandemic Workforce

Yet, HR leaders struggle to determine when and how to take action in the wake of an overwhelming number of issues and various corresponding viewpoints.

Navigating Social and Political Issues Is a Non-Negotiable

“With power shifting so radically in favor of employees and candidates, organizations that respond to, and drive action on, social and political issues that employees care about —  and are relevant to the business — will have a stronger EVP, making it easier to attract and retain employees in today’s war for talent,” says Jenna Zitomer, Senior Specialist, Research at Gartner.

As the stewards of talent, you must advocate for your organization to respond to social and political issues as part of your EVP. Here’s how.

Understand who to involve in your social issue decision making

Many organizations choose whether to respond to social or political issues based on consumer brand risk or fear of political backlash alone. However, this approach leaves out the lived impact of the issue on the organization’s current and future employees, inside and outside of the workplace. Include employee voices in the conversation to help leaders understand what issues matter and how those issues affect different employee populations.

“Listening to employee voices on different social and political issues contributes to the employer’s EVP as one that humanizes, respects and values employees, while also improving employee connection to the organization by creating a sense of shared purpose and enabling employees be part of decision making at the highest levels,” says Piers Hudson, Senior Director, Research at Gartner.

Understand how to structure the conversation to determine what issues warrant action

Determine what warrants action by convening a group of diversified, expert stakeholders to discuss decision factors. This group should encompass leaders from across different functions and business units, as well as employees.

The organization’s top-level principles should be the guide to ensuring any determined response or action aligns with the organization’s mission and purpose. It’s important to weigh the impact of the issue — and the organization’s response — on different segments of the organization’s people, business and community.

When in doubt, return to core values

When an organization doesn’t have a framework in place for when and how to address social issues, focus on the core values that drive it and its leaders, employees and decisions. To determine whether your organization to respond to a social issue, ask:

    1. Do the organization’s core values align with either side of the issue at hand?
    2. What type of response would allow us to live our values and bring about positive change?

Recognize global implications of social and political issues and responses

Many social and political issues affect employees and communities around the world, even if the spark or catalyst that ignited a movement occurred in a specific region or country. As organizations determine whether action is warranted, HR leaders based in the U.S. who work for global organizations must be sure not to focus only on issues in the United States. 

Gartner research finds that more than half of employees globally expect their organizations to speak out on issues that matter to them, proving this sentiment is not limited to the U.S.-based workforce.

Understand the different types of action an organization can take

Stakeholders do not expect organizations to respond to each social and political issue with the same level of action. Organizations choose how to engage based on the specific issue, who it affects, the severity of impact and its relevance to the organization, and alignment to its mission and values.

Ten, or even five, years ago, many organizations would not have responded at all to issues that did not directly concern them or their industry. Today, 68% of employees believe that organizations should step up to fix society’s problems when governments fail to do so. Organizational responses can span appealing to the government to altering business practices to donating money to a cause or initiative.

Activate employees to be change agents

Organizations that want to respond to an issue, but are unsure what type of action feels right, can crowdsource ideas from employees. When an organization acts as the catalyst that enables and empowers employees to be agents for change, it explicitly connects individual action on social issues to the employee experience, rather than something an employee does separate from work. This contributes to ensuring employees feel a shared purpose with their employer while helping them affirm their values and identity.

Need further convincing? Gartner research reveals that employees who feel highly connected to their organizations are more than five times as likely to stay at their organization than their less connected peers.

Equip managers to provide support 

Managers are critical to the individual employee experience and are instrumental in ensuring organizational responses to social and political issues align with employees’ lived experience, rather than serve as an isolated statement from the organization’s most senior leaders. Managers can create a psychologically safe environment where team members feel comfortable discussing how a given issue affects them personally and professionally. This sets the tone for how psychologically safe employees feel on their teams and has important implications for the entire workplace.

Employees who experience high levels of psychological safety at work are nearly two times more likely to work and innovate more easily, and are significantly more likely to stay at an organization than those with low levels of psychological safety.

“Leaders often worry about and avoid conversations at work that center social and political issues, usually out of fear of saying the wrong thing. Instead, organizations must equip leaders and managers to engage with employees with empathy and vulnerability,” says Zitomer.

Communicate the action/response and its impact

Two-thirds of HR leaders report that their organizations take action on societal issues beyond making a statement, yet a Gartner survey of 5,000 employees worldwide says otherwise — less than one-third of employees report that their organization takes action on societal issues beyond making statements.

To bridge this gap, build internal awareness about actions taken by:

  1. Leveraging leader and manager communication channels in addition to corporate messaging.
  2. Encouraging employees to participate in organizational initiatives and share their experience with others.
  3. Building a narrative around organizational initiatives that tie to the company's history and values.
  4. Regularly sharing the business and community impact or organizational initiatives with employees.

Ensure your organization communicates its actions externally to attract candidates — especially Gen Z candidates, who rank purpose as a greater reason to accept a job than compensation.

Today’s social landscape no longer allows for organizations to remain silent on social or political issues — doing so will have an increasingly negative impact on employee retention and candidate attraction.

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