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Employees want change and can make it happen
Some inspiration and examples from this summer
The consultancy Deloitte recently released a survey of Millennials and Generation Z (collectively, those born between the early 80s and early 2010s), looking in particular at their relationship with work. It contained a few interesting findings:
Nearly 4 in 10 respondents said they have rejected work assignments due to ethical concerns.
More than a third have turned down employers that they feel aren’t doing enough on matters such as the environment, diversity, or mental health.
Only half feel empowered to drive change at work, while one-third say that decisions are made from the top down within their organisations and that their feedback is not often acted upon.
7 in 10 have tried to minimise their own personal environmental improvement, though only 15% feel able to influence their organisation’s efforts on sustainability.
One clear takeaway from this is that the dissatisfaction you might be feeling with your company’s environmental or social impact, and the desire to change it, is probably not limited to you. A significant number of your colleagues, maybe even a majority, are likely feeling the same way. We don’t tend to discuss it; partly because the feeling is so ubiquitous that it’s almost taken for granted, treated as inevitable. And partly because we don’t believe that us lowly employees have the power to change it.
But if enough of us feel the same way, we do have the power to change it. Our companies may not be democracies, but they depend upon our labour and our cooperation to continue doing the things they do. The uptick in strikes and unionisation we’ve seen in the past couple of years show employees are starting to re-learn this. Employees have also used this realisation to achieve social and environmental impact, in companies as diverse as Walmart, Microsoft and Deloitte itself.
What’s missing is often a spark, someone to convert the passive preferences of colleagues for a more sustainable company into the will to achieve it. That spark could be you, even if you’re just a teensy weensy ant:
Don’t let the fact that these are talking animated ants fool you; this is happening in the real world too. Some employees are saying enough is enough. This summer alone provides some varied examples.
Last month marked 2 years since workers took over an automotive plant near Florence, Italy. In July 2021, the workers discovered that they were suddenly being made redundant; their employer blamed the transition to a greener economy. Faced with the unexpected loss of livelihood, they rose up, occupied the factory, and have been crowdfunding to set up a workers’ co-operative manufacturing sustainable cargo bikes and other technology to support decarbonisation.
It’s as good an example as any showing what can happen when workers become aware of their own power and expand the realm of what’s possible. Their counterparts in the UK called off a strike to negotiate with the company and ended up facing mass redundancies, showing the seemingly safest course is not always the least risky.
Don’t feel like taking over your place of work just yet? In less radical but still significant news, a campaign has been launched in the U.S. by ClimateVoice, calling on employees to improve the indirect lobbying practices of their employers. Several American companies are supportive of climate action themselves, and agree that stronger regulation is needed.
However, many of these same companies are members of trade associations with strong anti-climate records, perhaps none more than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which reliably finds itself on the opposite side of any policy that could have a positive impact on the environment. The ‘Escape the Chamber’ campaign calls on employees to push their companies to leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and stop funding their climate obstructionism. Whether your company is a member of the Chamber or not, understanding their political donations and lobbying activities can be worthwhile.
And finally, perhaps as important as knowing when to push is knowing when to walk away. The Financial Times recently (briefly) covered the story of a Shell employee in Germany who became frustrated with the company’s backpedalling on its emissions reductions targets, and decided to throw in the towel. He’s the latest in a long line of fossil fuel workers to have grown weary of their fossil fuel employers’ poor climate record, and moved onto pastures new.
Whether it’s radical collective action, pushing for incremental but achievable reforms, or permanently withdrawing your labour from a lost cause employer, your workplace is a powerful medium for making the world a better place. You just need to find the mechanism that’s right for you.
Join me next week at Crowdsourcing Sustainability’s Climate Jobs Fair, at a session titled “Climate At Work: How to Be A Climate Advocate Right Where You Are”. Tuesday 5th September, 6.30pm BST. If you’re feeling it.