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Embracing a New Approach to Employee – Employer Relationships

Employees as citizens: could it work?

3 months ago   •   3 min read

by Alisa Gorokhova

As Mike Klein points out in his excellent article “Employees as Citizens – moving beyond a transactional approach to workplace relations”, online tooling has the potential to create platforms that will enable employees to function as effective workplace citizens. Why is this a good thing? Well, according to Mike, involving your employees in the workings of a company on a more profound level leads to the incorporation of the expertise, experience, and even aspirations of employees in the formulation of key company decisions. All of these are inherently beneficial to modern day companies for a variety of reasons.

But more on that later.

Firstly, what does employee citizenship mean for workplaces? Even without formal recognition as such by the company, several constants hold true.

With regards to your employees’ relationship with you, their employer, treating your employees like citizens means that your company has to be accepting of the fact that they have the ability to embrace or resist (or twist!) any message or instruction they receive, with whatever organic consequences can result from such actions. This is perhaps the scariest part for any company. After all, you’re essentially giving your employees free rein to confront you about your decision-making. Fifty, even thirty years ago, such thinking was unheard of.

With regards to your employees’ relationship to each other, workplace citizenship recognizes that employees also have free rein to share completely unconstrained opinions with their coworkers, with whatever consequences that may result in. As an employer, you have to be prepared to be comfortable with acknowledging that the level of autonomy and democracy is far greater than conventional business thinking has ever been willing to accept.

Why, then, is it a healthy thing for employers to view employees as citizens and to treat them as such?

In my work in internal comms, I always remind management and C-levels to listen to the “foot soldiers” within their companies. Not only are they the ones doing the work that brings the company profits, but they are also on-the-ground witnesses. They’re the ones that see and experience first-hand the consequences of the decisions made by the higher-ups, both with regard to how these decisions impact clients, and how they impact the employees. From an operational perspective, discord in either field can cause the company irreparable damage.

From an innovation perspective, listening to your developers, your technicians, your sales people, your product managers, etc. at every chance you get could not be more important. They’re the ones that know what’s out there, what’s being developed by your competitors, and what people actually want to buy. Giving people with such vital information at their fingertips a voice and the right to take a stand within your company is invaluable, especially given that so many people may not be comfortable proactively seeking out the opportunity to contradict their superiors under normal circumstances.

Most importantly, treating your employees as if they are citizens introduces them to the concept of having a deeper, more personal connection with their workplace. It encourages them to lose the 9-5 mentality and commit on an emotional level to seeing the company succeed. Everyone wins in this scenario. Not only are employees happier and engaged with their workplace, they are also less likely to leave for greener pastures.

Another core principle of employee citizenship, and perhaps the hardest pill for employers to swallow, is that treating your employees like citizens means giving them a higher level of latitude to act and communicate internally, and providing tools and platforms to enable this appropriately. Without this additional level of freedom, and without working tools, any promise employers make to treat employees like citizens will fall flat on its face.

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