Corporate Advocacy of Social Issues Can Drive Employee Engagement

Communications on societal issues can drive employee engagement — if they focus on what matters to employees, are authentic and demonstrate value.

Deciding when and how to engage on social issues can be a minefield for corporations, but when a corporation has decided to communicate on a contentious issue, it’s critical to make sure employees respond positively to the strategy. Done right, these communications can pay significant dividends for employee engagement.

When corporations do take a stand, they can expect an increase in the number of employees who go above and beyond the call of duty

“To maximize the likelihood that employees will respond positively when you engage on societal issues, be clear on what issues matter to employees and craft appropriate and authentic messages,” says Richard A. DeLisi, VP, Advisory, Gartner.

Your Stakeholders Expect You to Take a Stand

Most stakeholders, especially employees, respond positively to organizations that engage on social issues.

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Many employees want their company to engage

Employees, especially through resource groups and other affinity networks, have become increasingly vocal in urging organizations to communicate on societal issues. 

In a recent Gartner study of more than 30,000 people worldwide, 87% of employees said businesses should take a public position on societal issues relevant to their business. Seventy-four percent said businesses should take a position on issues even when they aren’t directly relevant to their business. 

Another Gartner survey indicates that when corporations do take a stand, they can expect an increase in the number of employees who go above and beyond the call of duty at work. This discretionary effort is a key component of employee engagement. 

The 1Q19 Gartner Global Labor Markets Survey revealed that 18% more employees showed high levels of discretionary effort at vocal employers than at companies that stayed silent. And 60% of employees reported improved engagement among peers after witnessing employer involvement in societal issues.

Listen to employees first, then engage

But amid this pressure to engage, it’s important to be discerning:

  1. Select issues that matter to employees. Employees are more likely to support employers addressing issues that impact their day-to-day working experiences (e.g., living wage, pay equity, time off to vote and sexual harassment) than unrelated issues (e.g., climate change or hate crimes). However, sentiment depends on a host of variables, including geography, so employers need to conduct rigorous listening exercises to gauge employee sentiment.
  2. Create messaging that maximizes positive employee responses. Employees are most likely to respond positively when the communications have been authentic, and have made a difference on the issue. Ensure messages provide evidence as to how your company is taking action on issues, and articulate the rationale for engagement through company values and business goals.

Be authentic and show you made a difference

To drive a positive employee response, the first imperative is to be authentic. In Gartner’s study of the general population, stakeholders are:

  • 11 times more likely to respond positively when they believe the company stayed true to its values,
  • 4.5 times more likely to respond positively when they believe the company’s engagement was consistent with its business goals,
  • and 6 times more likely to respond negatively to a message that they believe to be inauthentic.

Another key differentiator is showing the value of your contribution. Among the general population, people are 6.9 times more likely to respond positively if they perceive the company’s communications actually made a difference on the issue. 

Early research on the employee-centric perspective suggests responses are similar to those of the general population, so stakeholders are likely to reward companies that are authentic and present evidence of how they support the societal issue — and are likely to punish companies whose message seems hollow.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.


Gartner Communications Leadership Council clients can read more in Navigating Employee Expectations: How Company Engagement in Contentious Issues Affects Performance.

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