Five Ways for Compliance to Deal with the Rise in Employee Activism and Politics at Work

In less than two weeks, sixteen US states will vote in the primaries to nominate the candidate that will represent their party in the November election. Brexit has officially begun, although it is likely to take years to actually finish. And “cancel culture” is in full effect, with employees and consumers boycotting brands they believe to be acting unethically or in contravention of their personal beliefs. As politics heat up, some people inevitably bring their feelings publicly to work. This can cause incivility, bullying, the outcasting of individuals, retaliation, an uncomfortable work environment, and a host of allegations of violations of the Code of Conduct.

The uprise in political statements at work and personal activism isn’t imagined – its acceptance in the workplace is relatively new. Why has this trend begun, and more importantly, as compliance professionals, what specific actions can we take to ensure a workplace culture that adheres to the company’s values and is a comfortable workplace for everyone to be? Let’s find out.

The Stats: People Feel Empowered to Act Against their Company

Beginning about 2012, the “bring your whole self to work” movement began to pick up steam. The idea was simple: we shouldn’t compartmentalize ourselves into a “work version” that constrains who we are as a total human being. In 2018, there was a book written about how vulnerability and expression of pain and joy lead to creativity. The movement has empowered people to speak up about their concerns, which can be very positive for the speak-up culture the compliance team wishes to nurture when it comes to unethical conduct. Unfortunately, some people interpret this movement as a license to engage in incendiary conversation and rude behavior.

A study done by Weber Shandwick found that the majority of US employees believe they have the right to speak up at work about issues that impact society. In fact, nearly 40% of US workers said they have raised their voices to support or criticize their employers’ actions regarding a controversial issue affecting society. Fully 82% of millennials believe they have a right to speak up against their employer. One of the troubles with this is that not everyone will agree with what is “right” to speak out about.

The internet and competing news channels have given rise to the normalization of name-calling and the polarizing of society around political identity. When people bring this to work, the culture can sour quickly. Here’s what Compliance can do about it.

No. 1: Be Aware of what You Can and Can’t Do Legally…