How to make a changeX

Once you’ve identified a change you’d like to try and make at your company, where do you begin?

Below is a quick step-by-step guide to engaging in workplace advocacy around the kinds of environmental and social issues discussed here. We’ll add more over time. Note that these are only general tips; context is everything. Company cultures differ, some issues are more sensitive than others, so think carefully about the particular aspects of your workplace when seeking to make change. You also need to think carefully about the risks [link] of speaking up.

Find colleagues to collaborate with

The first step to pushing for change is to start speaking directly with colleagues. Are they aware of the issue? Do they feel strongly about it? Do they agree with your proposed solution? Test your ideas and arguments, be prepared to re-evaluate your stance in response to new information. Encourage them to get active and start talking to others.

Look if there are existing employee bodies that are working on the issue or related ones: green teams, employee resource groups, staff committees, groups or individuals that run volunteer activities or donation activities. Also seek out staff whose jobs directly overlap with what you’re trying to achieve and those with jobs focused on corporate impact. This should improve your awareness of what the company is already doing, its plans, barriers to more ambitious actions, how you can help.

While you might want to start with the already converted, broaden your reach as much as possible to get colleagues from different parts of the organisation on board. You don’t want to be dismissed as an unrepresentative minority of employees.

Bringing colleagues on board should be an ongoing step. The more colleagues you have on your side, the more credible and powerful you all will be.

Raise the issue in group settings

Try to get this issue on more colleagues’ radars, including more senior decision-makers. Tteam, department-wide or even company-wide meetings can be suitable venues to raise questions, as can internal online discussion forums.

This is a way to raise awareness among more colleagues about the issue, who may then choose to get in touch with you. It also signals to management that this is an issue that employees are taking an interest in and creates a subtle pressure to take positive action. At least initially, the focus should be on posing questions (What are we doing on this issue? Could we be doing more?) rather than making demands. Understanding management’s perspective can help you frame your arguments.

Formalise your asks

Once you have a sizeable group of co-workers that support your aims, and you have gotten as far as you can from individual, informal critiques of the company’s stance, now is the time to escalate.

Perhaps the most common way that employees have tended to escalate their concerns is via a petition or open letter, drafted by a subset of workers, circulated among colleagues who can add their name to the list of signatories, and then shared with the CEO or chair of the board of directors. The benefits of this approach is that it gives workers space to articulate their arguments in detail, and demonstrate the breadth of support for their proposals.

Other measures workers may consider include:

  • Employee survey: Request management to send out a survey to all employees to understand their views on a topic in aggregate. Employees should be involved in the design of such a survey. Where management is unwilling to undertake such a survey, workers may consider distributing one anonymously.
  • Request a town hall: This can create a more deliberative space for workers and management to discuss how the company is approaching an issue and come closer to an agreement on a path forward. These are most effective when employees are not just allowed to pose questions but are allocated time to present counter-views in more detail.
  • Walkout or work to rule/go-slow: One of the most direct ways in which workers can express their dissent is by collectively walking off the job, or performing only the minimum work required under their contract. Workers should be cognisant that such action is legally protected only under certain circumstances [link].

Undertaking a single action without a broader plan is unlikely to cause a company to act on worker concerns. Don’t treat actions as “one and done”; workers should maintain momentum by taking firmer actions in the absence of progress from the company.

Going public

The growing number of media reports of employee activism, public letters and whistleblowing can make it seem that going public is the default way in which workers should push their companies to change. However, it depends.

Keeping employee advocacy internal, at least initially, can communicate to management that your goal is to make positive change rather than to shame the company. It reduces the risk of retaliation. It can also make management more cooperative in a bid to avoid the reputational damage of workers’ concerns becoming public knowledge

However, if after a reasonable period there are still few signs of progress it may be time to consider going public. Companies are keener than ever to show they are doing well on environmental and social issues to customers and investors; evidence that employees disagree with that assessment can be a powerful catalyst for change. The Tech Worker Handbook gives detailed advice on how workers can work with the media to bring attention to an issue. [insert image?]

Beyond the media, dissatisfied employees may alert prospective employees about poor ethical practices at their workplaces through review websites such as Glassdoor.

Reach out to company stakeholders

Many of workers’ concerns about their companies’ impacts will be shared by other groups with whom workers can make common cause. Workers can increase their influence by contacting and collaborating with other groups with influence over the company.

  • Investors: Research who are the top shareholders of your company and consider getting in touch. Many investors engage with senior management at companies they invest in to improve their environmental and social performance. Some workers have collaborated with investors on shareholder proposals.
  • Policymakers: Workers have filed whistleblower complaints with regulatory agencies, have responded to public policy consultations that affect their company.
  • Workers have also targeted speakers at company events, groups that their company is sponsoring, and their company’s customers to increase the pressure on companies to meet worker demands.

Join a union

At any stage in the process above, if it’s a motivating issue for a sufficient number of employees, consider joining a trade union [link]. Unions can advise on tactics for influencing management at your workplace, help protect you from retaliation, and can act as a medium to show collective worker strength.

Many unions are unaccustomed to helping workers with environmental and social issues with respect to their employers - ask about their experience in this area and how they can support you with your specific goals.