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Workplace activism isn’t a new concept, but one which has been amplified in recent times by social movements and the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is increasingly becoming a defining feature of the workplace. With a heightened awareness of workplace rights, along with changes in technologies and communication channels, employees can become activists within their workplaces very quickly.

Our Employment & Incentives team are advising businesses on these types of issues, as organisations respond to, manage and pre-empt legal risk. They are also working with businesses as they adapt to changing societal expectations and the evolving mindsets of their workforces.

Find out more about Workplace Activism and the key issues for employers to be mindful of below.


What is workplace activism?

It describes the actions taken by workers (individually or collectively) to speak up, not only about working conditions, but also broader societal, environmental and political issues, which the workforce think organisations should be taking a stance on (irrespective of whether the issue relates to the organisation’s main business purpose). “Activism” is not a defined term. It has a wide range of connotations and can mean something different to different people (in the same way “culture” does). What one person might view as activism to drive change and challenge assumptions, another might view as rebellion, disruptiveness, or even radicalism.

Micro-activism vs macro-activism?

Activism can take many forms. It does not always need to be in the form of strikes and protests (macro-activism). It can be as subtle and collaborative as working groups coming together to influence change, or action taken in response to workplace engagement surveys (micro-activism).

Why does it matter?

Boards and management need to be aware of activist issues and consider workplace activism as part of long-term growth and sustainability, and as part of general risk-management. Workplace activism is grabbing the attention of shareholders and consumers. These issues can impact share price, drive consumer trends, affect the ability to list or float, hit the balance sheet and even drive changes in the law. Being neutral or apolitical can be interpreted as being privileged or unaffected by such issues.

A business threat or a positive driver for change?

Workplace activism has the potential to add value to the business and benefit organisations. It can drive change and challenge assumptions. It can be used to understand different voices and opinions, challenge the status quo, and help organisations respond to change. It can also be reputationally harmful if not managed properly and present legal risk. Restricting activism can deter issues being reported, harm morale and motivation and lose key talent. Suppression of activism can be unlawful.

Workplace Activism: Are you Ready? In conversation with Nicola Rabson and Jillian Naylor

In this video, Nicola Rabson and Jillian Naylor discuss workplace activism, what this means for businesses, and what you can expect from the Linklaters Employment & Incentives team.

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