Civil Unrest

8 Employee social media protest trends in 2020 for risk management professionals to remain aware of

The Rise of Employee Social Media Protests

Employee protests have been around ever since companies have been around. The  methods adopted in conducting protests have been quite diverse; right from  maintaining a moments silence to silent gatherings, sit-ins, walkouts, joint petitions,  sloganeering etc. However over the recent few years, the evolution of employees using  social media to voice their concerns has increased significantly.

The primary objective of conducting protests has pretty much remained the same over  the years - To gain the management’s attention on an issue or issues which the  protesting employees disagree with and push the management to take necessary  action. When it comes to gaining attention, social media is a powerful medium. The  word can spread very quickly to a large number of people and in the process attention  can be captured rapidly.

However, another factor which has seen employees increasingly prefer using social  media as a medium to voice their concerns is the modern day workforce which mainly  comprises Generation Y (also referred to as the Millennials) and Generation Z. These  are generations which are regarded as highly tech savvy owing to their upbringing in  the digital era.

The expectations of individuals belonging to these generations goes much beyond the  typical remuneration, bonuses and other perks; these are individuals who expect much  more from their employers. According to a finding from the the Society for Human  Resource Management 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition, the Top 10 Workplace  Trends for 2019 were:

  1. Fostering the relationships between workers and robots
  2. Creating flexible work schedules
  3. Taking a stand on social issues
  4. Improving gender diversity
  5. Investing in mental health
  6. Addressing the loneliness of remote workers
  7. Upskilling the workforce
  8. Focusing on soft skills
  9. Preparing for Generation Z
  10. Preventing burnout

Given the trends above, it is no surprise that the 8 Employee Social Media Protest  Trends in 2020 have revolved around:


In this article, we look at some of the more significant case studies of employee social  media protest trends since January 2020. Awareness of these trends would help risk  management teams work proactively with various stakeholders within the organisation  (and in some cases outside the organisation too) to foresee such potential protests and  manage them effectively.

Protests Trends

1 - Company’s Stance on Climate Change

Climate change, one of the most burning subjects of contemporary times is something  which has seen progressive governments and private corporations act proactively. For  those companies who have shown limited concerns towards climate change have also  found themselves in a position where they have had to take actions albeit unwillingly  to project an image of a responsible company.

One of the biggest names who has witnessed strong criticism from its employees has  been Amazon. Not just for its perceived limited approach to tackle the challenge of  climate change but also on its external communications policy.

In January, more than 340 employees participated in a protest against the company’s  external communications policy and an apparent threat of termination that was issued  to two of its employees for speaking publicly against the company’s policies on climate  change.

The incident led to the terminations of certain individuals however the employees did  manage to garner public and media attention around the issue.

2 - Perceived ‘Inhuman Approach’ in Laying Off Employees

Managing employee layoffs has always been a sensitive matter however employee layoffs owing to COVID-19 has taken a whole different meaning. While a number of  businesses have been compelled to resort to retrenchment of employees, doing so  sensibly has never been more important than now.

At a time when uncertainty and fear amongst the global population is widespread,  companies laying off employees need to adopt an approach which is more humane.

A number of companies have been accused of resorting to abrupt layoffs. In some  cases, layoffs have happened via email. IndiaBulls, a large real estate company in India  and Cult.Fit an Indian fitness company are two such cases out of several others wherein  employees felt that they were let go in a very ‘inhuman’ way.

In the case of IndiaBulls who apparently issued pink slips to around 2000 employees,  it witnessed employees taking to Twitter to vent their anger. Protesting employees  used a hashtag called #indiabullsresign; the volume of tweets using this hashtag was  significant enough to gain a trend on Twitter.


In the case of Cult.Fit, employees took to LinkedIn and Instagram to express their anguish.


3 - Failure to Provide Safe Working Conditions During COVID-19

While providing employees with a safe working environment has been a priority for  most responsible companies, COVID-19 has pushed companies even more; especially  those who have remained operational to do much more to ensure the wellbeing of its  employees.
Regardless of how many COVID-19 specific safety measures get implemented, the  potency of the virus is such that nothing can be 100% foolproof.
A number of companies have witnessed their employees contracting the virus, in some  instances the cases have proven to be fatal.
Amazon, Target and Walmart are some examples where employees have voiced  concerns over their safety. Amazon saw employees in as many as 74 warehouses in the  United States being infected with COVID-19 and also resulting in the death of one  warehouse manager. According to a report by NBC News, hundreds of Amazon tech  and fulfillment center employees called out a sick Friday virtually by organising an all  day live-stream on Facebook and YouTube to protest against unsafe working  conditions.
In Germany, a group of doctors held a nude protest to draw attention towards the lack  of personal protection equipment which puts them at risk of contracting COVID-19.  Their protest which has been termed Blanke Bedenken, or Naked Qualms has gained a lot of support on Twitter under #BlankeBedenken   

4 - Company’s Stance on Hate Speech

In late May, Facebook witnessed significant internal discontent amongst a section of  its workforce after a post from President Donald Trump which was considered  incendiary on which Facebook had chosen to not act against.

A number of its employees took to Twitter to publicly criticise the company’s stance.  Tweets from influential Twitter handles such as @jasontoff and @stirman received  more than 190,000 likes and 16,700 likes respectively.



5 - Company’s Approach Towards Racism

Although an age old issue, racism only continues to dominate headlines across the  globe. Social media has served as the most potent platform for activists to further their  anti racism movements. Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a popular example.
The modern day workforce expects its employers to take a stance of non-tolerance  towards racism and does not shy away from expressing its displeasure if they find little  or nothing being about matters concerning racism. Even if that means that the issue  may not be directly related to the company, in a number of cases employers are  expected to adopt a strong stance on significant events such as the killing of George  Floyd.
In the wake of the George Floyd killing, there have been a number of cases where  individuals belonging to various organisations have made insensitive comments on  social media. Some have had a racial undertone, while some have been clearly  discriminatory however in most cases, the employers chose to fire those employees.  Boeing and FedEx are two examples of companies who adopted a zero tolerance  approach towards instances of racism.
While at Adidas, a group of employees who started a sort of movement against the  company’s approach towards handling the issue of diversity led to the resignation of  its global head of human resources. One of the employees took to Instagram to voice  his thoughts.

6 - Company Being Supported by Investors From a Country  Considered as an Adversary

Amidst growing sense of nationalism which has been witnessed across several  countries, there have been a number of instances wherein employees have been vocal  on their employer having business ties with companies belonging to a country  perceived as an ‘adversary’.
The recent India - China border escalation is a case in point which has led to a part of  the population in India which has called for a ban on Chinese products.
Zomato, an Indian food tech company which has investments from Chinese investors,  saw some of its employees hold a physical protest for accepting Chinese investments.  Although this was a physical protest, images from this protest were circulated  extensively on social media platforms, and received coverage from major news outlets  which further drew attention towards the protest.


7 - Company Allegedly Concealing Critical Information Which  Should be Made Public

The growing expectation for companies to maintain transparency has never been much  greater than it is today. However, transparency tends to be interpreted differently by  most employees.
Especially in times of a crisis, such as COVID-19, a company is expected to be uber  transparent in the interest of all its stakeholders - employees, customers, shareholders  and many times the general public.
In one such case in the United States, the employee of a rehabilitation center was  terminated for posting on social media about the facility turning into a COVID-19  treatment centre.
According to the employee, the center’s decision to not make that information public  was incorrect and she was of the opinion that such information should be made public  which led her to share the information on social media.

8 - Company Attempting to Quash Employee Voices on Key  Social Issue

Freedom of speech is something that is not only considered critical by most modern  day workers but it is also something which is seen as a right. While a number of  employees may find it acceptable for their employer to not participate actively on a  key social issue, they would find it completely unacceptable if the employer tries to  sabotage or discourage their participation on an issue which is important to them.
Nearly 150 employees of the ad agency Periscope in Minneapolis staged a walkout in  protest against the parent company who allegedly interfered in the agency’s  communications over #BlackLivesMatter.

While the protest was in the form of a physical walkout, it stemmed from the parent  company’s attempt at sabotaging the participation of Periscope and its employees on  social media in support of #BlackLivesMatter.


8 Takeaways from the 8 Employee Social Media  Protest Trends

  1. Employee social media protests are here to stay and only grow.
  2. Successful protests will make it to the tabloids and receive attention on social  media platforms quickly.
  3. Only a section of employees will participate; very few will lead.
  4. Avoiding or delaying addressing the issue being raised by protesting employees  is not a good strategy; it would most likely backfire.
  5. Most times, issues raised are addressable.
  6. Adopting a human approach shall gain more significance.
  7. Some employees will remain dissatisfied, no matter what.
  8. Managing employee social media protest is not just limited to good PR. There  are multiple consequences hence requiring the attention of multiple  stakeholders.


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