The Dangers of Woke Incorporated

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The pandemic awakened many employees to review their relationships with their companies. On top of compensation, personal value has become a factor of consideration for talents when choosing a company to join.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2022 indicated 60% of employees would choose a place to work based on their beliefs and values.

Adding to this new perspective is the rise of cancel culture. More employees and consumers are exercising their power by leaving or calling out companies that do not step up on societal issues.

With the Great Resignation impacting Asia — 24% of Singapore workers planned to quit in the first half of 2022, and 25% had switched jobs in 2021 — organizations in the region fighting the talent wars can no longer afford to ignore the societal issues.

“Every organization’s strategic plans contain goals that cannot be met without people,” stated Chris Howard, chief of research, Gartner, in a recent article. “And remember, people aren’t just employees. They are your customers and your stakeholders. Increasingly, they drive the organization’s conscience and expect organizations to engage on contentious issues of fairness and equity — in society as well as at work.”

This is one of the primary reasons that is seeing business leaders looking hard at building woke workplaces.

The danger of too much woke

Business leaders are walking a thin line when building a woke place.

On the one hand, they have to deliver on their promises. Woke-washing marketing — campaigns that promise to improve the world but fail to take real actions — can cause real damage to the top and bottom lines. The advertising industry is filled with accusations of woke washing and is continuing to affect the credibility and trust of many businesses.

At the same time, enterprises raising awareness on societal issues through a workplace can easily create conversations that cause discomfort and opposing views, according to Helen Jamieson, managing director, Jaluch HR and Training.

She noted the conversation to encourage responsible behavior, when not well facilitated, could bring the unintended effect of creating additional hostility, groupthink, fear, frustration, or a lack of respect.

“Ironically, wokeness, which should be a real driver of diversity and inclusion, is becoming its enemy,” said Jamieson. “There are increasing numbers of people who feel unable to talk about their religion, life experiences, beliefs or values for fear of upsetting someone.”

She added, at its worst, wokeness could develop the danger of groupthink — the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged and poor-quality decision-making.

“Woke culture contains an aspect of bullying and a message of ‘I am right, and if you don’t agree with me, you are wrong and less worthy’,” she said. “Concentrating on ‘wokeness’ can lead to a lack of awareness and understanding of others rather than a more inclusive world.”

The answer lies in understanding ourselves, Jamieson suggested.

“By understanding ourselves better, we may find ourselves better equipped to work with people who don’t share our views. Then, rather than turning to groupthink, we will open our eyes to a wiser, more inclusive world with the right degree of woke,” she said.

Shift your focus to purpose instead

Instead of being woke that focuses on raising awareness of societal issues, Howard from Gartner suggested businesses can also turn towards being purpose-driven. When a business is driven by maximizing value for its stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, contractors, and society — instead of merely for shareholders, leaders create a workplace for talents and employers to realize their shared goals together.

“People want purpose in their lives — and that includes work. The more an employer limits those things, the higher the employee’s intent to leave. And employees are considering that balance now more than ever,” he said.

Organizations exploring building a purpose-driven business can also refer to U.N. sustainable development goals to begin the journey. These goals aim for a sustainable future built on the responsible interaction of business, society, and people with their environment.

Enterprises should also deeply integrate purpose with every aspect of the business function, noted Harvard Business Review Journal’s author Lily Zheng in the article We’re Entering the Age of Corporate Social Justice. She wrote that businesses should be ready to take a stance and be prepared to lose business from specific groups (like white supremacists), as taking money from them would run counter to its purpose.

“Monetary compensation is important for surviving, but deeper relationships, a strong sense of community, and purpose-driven work are essential to thriving. This is the value that employees expect their employers to provide.” Howard concluded.

Sheila Lam is the contributing editor of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Covering IT for 20 years as a journalist, she has witnessed the emergence, hype, and maturity of different technologies but is always excited about what's next. You can reach her at [email protected].

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