Are you vulnerable to union organizing?
Take our 5-minute quiz to identify both internal and external factors that impact unionization – and get tips on how to become union-proof.
Are your leaders aligned with the company vision?
From Implicit Bias to Managing Change, your leaders need training that moves the company forward.
How engaged are your employees?
This free assessment will guide you to the right strategy to create employee advocates.
Management Consulting Services
Check out our proactive strategies that support positive employee relations.
Tagged with: Disengaged Employees,
Digital employee engagement is not a trend. It's an organizational success factor because it enables a high level of collaboration among employees, two-way communication between employees and management, networking, virtual social connections, access to employee training and development opportunities, increased inclusion and belonging, and increased productivity through better messaging, strong employee voice, and improved workflows.
Any time employee engagement is strengthened, there is the added benefit of making a union unnecessary since the workplace culture is defined by transparency, sharing, and feedback flowing between employees and leadership. For organizations already enmeshed in a union organizing campaign, digital communication becomes the core of the strategy to prevent union organizing from leading employees to vote for a union. The campaign-ready website is only one digital employee engagement tool to leverage and can be enhanced by adding other electronic avenues for information sharing, communication, and feedback.
Digitization is often discussed in the context of improving workflows and productivity, which undoubtedly contribute to employee engagement. But digitization can also become a robust employee engagement strategy because of the variety of digital tools available today and the fact that younger employees expect employers to utilize digital communication platforms and tools to communicate in real-time, ensure access to management, and streamline access to Human Resources policies and benefits plans to name a few employee needs and expectations.
Digital employee engagement is not achieved with one tool, platform, or electronic resource. It is a well-thought-out integrated set of resources designed to meet goals that include:
Creating a positive employee experience is one of the most important steps you can take to develop an engaging workforce culture, an environment where unions aren't needed. Digital technologies are used in recruitment, training and development, employee recognition, work streamlining, and engagement surveys. The technologies enable reaching all employees, which promotes diversity, equality, and inclusion. They are culture-building because they ensure employees are involved, productive, collaborative, and "seen."
It all comes down to excellent communication within the workforce. The employee experience is a journey the employee takes while engaged with your organization. The digital employee experience is the holistic employee experience as it concerns the performance of technologies that include networks, devices, and applications and employee sentiment as a user. The employee sentiment aspect is an important aspect. All the expensive technologies in the world are not useful if you don't give employees a quality user experience.
If the digital employee experience does not empower employees as much as it increases productivity, it's not successful. As digital experts at VMware explain, the digital employee experience is the "employees' perceptions and feelings from their interactions with the digital tools they use to perform their jobs."
How does this relate to preventing union organizing? Employees with a positive perception of the organizational culture and who believe management provides the resources they need to do their best work are unlikely to be interested in introducing a third party. The Academy to Innovate HR (AIHR) explains that the digital employee experience is employees interfacing with technologies for:
Digital technologies are more than work production tools. In the post-pandemic period, the digital employee experience became a more significant influence in the employee experience which is the intersection of the physical experience, the digital experience, and the cultural experience. With the growing importance of the digital employee experience, labor relations will have to adapt to make a union unnecessary. Balancing the human with the digital is a modern leadership skill.
Before you can decide how to strengthen your organization's digital engagement to prevent union organizing through improved employee engagement, you need to clearly understand the current communication process, systems, and tools in place. The best way is to perform a digital communication audit. The audit is not focused solely on preventing unionization. It's a way to identify gaps in your efforts to develop a positive employee experience through communication personalization, bringing the many other benefits described earlier.
First, ask if your organization's digital communication is tailored to meet employee needs and expectations or was implemented to push information to the workforce. A digital engagement audit begins with identifying discoverable employee expectations through actions like taking employee engagement surveys, talking with Employee Resource Groups, and holding meetings.
You may discover your employees want mobile communication and access to Human Resources information via an app that offers more than finding information like accumulated vacation hours and enables personalization. Personalization is the ability of an employee to access organizational information relevant to personal needs and to get intuitively tailored information based on their position and search patterns. For example, a millennial employee regularly checks on optional savings programs for long-term retirement planning while trying to make a decision. A personalized experience would offer algorithm-driven helpful suggestions and information to make the employee's decision easier.
The digital engagement audit may ask each employee questions like the following:
The digital engagement audit also includes an asset audit. You can't deliver the best communication experience without adequate and responsive technology. The digital communication system should be efficient, utilize current technology, and reach all employee segments.
Assessing digital employee engagement is a crucial strategy for developing an effective communication system that works during union organizing. The assessment leads to strategy development for improvement. The current communication gaps will take on new importance when a union organizing campaign is in progress.
You can develop a matrix of current communication channels and tools and whom they reach. Your campaign-ready website won't be 100 percent effective if all employees can't access it. Remote employees are susceptible to exclusion from messaging unless you ensure they are included. The same principles apply.
From the perspective of labor relations, remote employees are some of the most vulnerable to labor unions. The Buffer 2022 State of Remote Work report found that 56 percent of remote workers said how they collaborate and communicate change. Fifty-one percent (51 percent) said there are more video calls. Regarding preventing union organizing, it's important to note that 53 percent said their work hours changed, and 45 percent said how they do their work changed. Forty percent (40 percent) said they work more hours, and 61 percent said they are in more meetings.
These responses led to only 52 percent saying they feel less connected to co-workers. While 77 percent indicated their employers have the technology for remote team collaboration and communication, only 51 percent said their company helped them connect with colleagues for work.
Nicole Miller, the Director of People at Buffer, said, "Connection and teammate engagement in a remote environment requires twice the effort of in-person workplaces. Individuals and companies need to orchestrate opportunities for meetings, discussions and fun. While this happens more naturally around a physical water cooler, the digital space requires coordination and sometimes a little bit of strong encouragement to overcome the social barrier of talking to teammates you otherwise don't have much overlap within time zone or work responsibilities."
In practice, there are unlimited ways to implement and strengthen employee engagement through digitization. The best approaches improve the employee experience, don't complicate work or communication, and align employees across functions. Some companies must start from scratch and redo the entire digital approach to developing positive employee relations. Still, there are also simple steps that you can take because they increase the human element.
An amazing array of digital tools is available today, like the short-form video you find on sites like YouTube and TikTok. It's an ideal format for sharing information and connecting with employees (especially the younger ones) in a way they prefer. The short-form videos can have any content, from entertainment to informational content, which can add energy to the employer brand and prove managers understand employee interests. IRI Consultants shares advice on using TikTok for business that every employer should read because it adds a new element to employee engagement, but there are dos and don'ts.
Labor unions are using social media sites like TikTok to engage employees. Attorney Daniel Schwartz has followed how unions are using social media and makes the point on an IRI Consultants' ProjectHR podcast that more generations than Gen Z are now using TikTok, and companies must adapt their messaging to keep up with how people consume media. He expands on the topic in his blog, The New Digital Campaign for Your Company's Workers.
One of the digital paths to enhancing employee engagement is to ensure you understand the social media tools employees and unions are using and use the information to improve employee communication and the response to union organizing if you discover it's in progress.
A few other suggestions to enhance employee engagement include:
Leadership training in digital employee engagement is necessary. Some organizations add new technologies and don't prioritize training. Too many assumptions are made about leadership skills. Once your leaders are trained, they become coaches and trainers for employees, supplementing any online training provided. Everyone works as a team. Collect data from feedback and use it to enhance the digital employee experience.
Employees can still become disengaged despite excellent digital tools. The digital tools can be implemented and the analytics produced, but employees still need to be satisfied. Adding technologies without considering how the quality of the work experience and the relationship between employees and management is improved can lead to disappointing investments in technologies when the employee engagement metrics don't budge.
The employee experience is a combination of the digital experience and the human experience, and as author, researcher, and speaker Joe McKendrick in Forbes points out, they can intersect. For example, the digital experience should enable employee voice and participation in decision-making. The digital experience should support a positive culture. Tim Manahan, Executive Vice President of Citrix, says, "Employees today don't want jobs. They want to do meaningful work and spend purposeful time in the office. Investments made over the past two years to get employees working safely and securely in a remote world and maintain business continuity have set the stage for greater agility and accelerated innovation. The technologies companies used to digitize their businesses to survive have given way to new business models – from telemedicine and virtual learning to the metaverse - that are enabling them to thrive."
In the same Forbes article, David Rock at the NeuroLeadership Institute says that "companies successfully pivot to a platform-first virtual model" but "leaders need to be more deliberate about the markers of their culture, be more intentional about onboarding new people, and above all, more focused on skills of managers at all levels."
The level of employee engagement is directly connected to the risk of employees wanting to join a union. Increasing employee engagement does not guarantee they won't join a union, but it's the ultimate strategy for minimizing the risks. Digital technologies are essential in engaging employees and responding to union organizing that begins despite all your efforts.
The campaign-ready website is the core platform around on and to which other digital engagement support tools are added. You can expand on it in different ways to support a transparent and engaging organizational culture in which management's messaging is widely distributed and accepted. The website presents the organizational position and facts about unions, but it takes more than a website to reach all employees and convince them not to unionize. Some of the digital tools that supplement the campaign-ready website include:
Don't forget that non-digital resources are good for reinforcing a message, like posters, wallet cards, and letters sent to employee homes.
As technology is embedded deeper and deeper into people's lives, digital employee engagement is quickly becoming necessary for preventing union organizing, responding to union organizing, developing a positive organizational culture, and strengthening positive employee relations. Employing digital engagement tools should be a thoughtful process based on a well-designed strategy to meet employee needs. Contact IRI Consultants to assist with communication assessments, developing a strategic plan for digital employee engagement, and developing all the critical digital and non-digital tools for sharing the company perspective on unions and responding to union organizing.
Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.