Employee Activism on the Rise: The Most Important Issues to Employees and How to Respond with Empathy

More and more businesses are finding that employees are driving activism around topics and issues in the workplace that are important to them. In fact, 59% of employers expect employee activism to increase even further.

But what are some key topics that could trigger employee activism in the workplace? And what can employers do to address them? We’ve outlined four of the most important that are likely to circulate in conversations and must be addressed.

Cost of living and pay concerns

The cost of living is a huge concern to residents of the UK, with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) finding that consumer prices are 3.4% higher compared to the previous year. Pair this with the Labour Market Outlook: Winter 2023/2024 from the CIPD finding that basic pay increases are expected to fall to 4%, which is the first decline since spring 2020.

As the gap between the cost of living and salaries grows, it’s likely that employee activism will focus on seeking increased pay. It is important for businesses to take note of how this might affect headcount in their workplace, as talented workers will begin looking elsewhere for better pay, which could, in turn, damage their reputation.

Sustainability and environmental impact

As public perception of sustainability becomes more prevalent, so does that of workers throughout the UK. A research by KPMG found that 20% of UK office workers would turn down a role if environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors of a business were deemed as ‘lacking’. This shows the shifting importance of prioritising sustainability in business strategies when looking at employee retention and attraction, especially to avoid activism.

There are several ways that employers can emphasise their commitment to sustainability and ESG, such as investing in more energy-efficient solutions and developing greener products and services through the materials used for production and packaging.

Ben Mercer of Leisure Lakes Bikes, a leading retailer of quality road bikes in the UK, has outlined where offering a cycle-to-work scheme could help promote their sustainability commitments: “Encouraging workforces to embrace different ways of commuting to and from work helps to promote sustainability as a major concern from employers, particularly to move away from relying on motor vehicles. Not only does cycling offer a carbon-less travel option but promotes travel that can benefit both physical and mental wellbeing, which exercise like cycling is deeply connected with.”

Automation, AI, and job security

Emerging technology, while exciting, offers a daunting look into the future for workers across various industries who may fear that their jobs are at risk of becoming automated. IPPR analysis found that as many as eight million jobs in the UK could become at risk of AI fully displacing the human element of the job.

It’s important for businesses to engage with and integrate emerging technologies into strategies to stay competitive within their respective industries. However, it’s crucial to outline to employees that the human element is still essential to processes and operations. Refocusing the perspective from human replacement to working aid is one way to encourage workers to experiment with AI and automation tools to streamline monotonous and repetitive tasks and focus more attention on higher-value ones.

Equality, diversity, and discrimination (EDI)

One subject that shouldn’t fall down the list of priorities for businesses to avoid an increase in employee activism is equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) strategies. Data from Barnett Waddingham found that around 72% of HR directors and C-suite professionals who were surveyed outlined that employee demands for EDI focus were of concern for their business.

Businesses that invest in diversity and inclusivity have been found to actually perform better, with a McKinsey report from 2023 finding that companies within the top quartile for ethnic diversity are improved by as much as 27% financially compared to competitors. This is why it’s important to consider candidates from various backgrounds when recruiting.

Discrimination doesn’t just extend to gender, race, and ability, as social discrimination is also a factor that must be considered. This extends to mental health and wellbeing not being supported by employers, which could lead to employees seeking a new job elsewhere. Employers expressing their support for individuals with neurodiversity issues and mental health concerns, both in hiring and within their current ranks, could help build more empathy within their company for their day-to-day struggles.


By addressing complex topics instead of avoiding them, you can create a culture of communication and better engage your employees. This helps human resources departments explore options and strategies to prioritise happiness within the workplace and build for the future.