If you’ve been following entertainment news over the last couple months, you know that the Writer’s Guild of America has been striking in protest of low wages/residuals and job instability since the beginning of May. In a nightmare scenario for Hollywood, that movement has recently been paired with a strike from the Screen Actor’s Guild protesting similar conditions for small-time actors.
Strikes like these can be divisive, especially when they begin to affect the average person’s day-to-day lives. This Hollywood strike has been fairly well-received by the public, as the worst consequence would be delays in film releases. Not all strikes are as black and white, however…
…especially if your job has you on the other side of the picket line.
If you’re a human resources professional or a manager, there’s a small chance you’ll one day find yourself facing a striking workforce. You may be someone who has the power to bend a knee to their demands, or you may just be someone on the corporate team’s sidelines. Either way, it’s a tough spot to be in.
The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of significant strikes end up being on the right side of history; from the Pullman Strike of 1894 to the UPS worker’s strike more than a century later, many such strikes are landmarks for the modern state of worker’s rights.
If you do happen to be a mid-level HR pro surrounded by something like today’s actor’s and writer’s strike, then there’s not much advice we can give other than to do your job and support the side you agree with privately. (You could even cross the picket line if you feel passionate about it.)
Not all strikes are industry-wide news stories, however. Some are across a few branches of a small business or a particular segment of a big business, and can come with more specific demands than wage increases. If you find yourself on the other side of a small strike, chances are you can help make a change. Should you relent?
Now, while strikes are usually for the greater good, there IS such a thing as an unreasonable strike. If, say, a hospital struck to earn a four-day work week when they’re currently short staffed, it makes sense that corporate may raise an eyebrow.
Every strike is different, but the results of fighting against a strike are always the same. A company will always lose loads of productivity, of course, but there are more consequences than wasted time. The longer leadership stays stubborn, the more resentment builds among your strikers, and the more permanent damage your company culture sustains. It may become too bad to repair.
Additionally, if this strike gains local attention or even media attention, the company’s brand gains a bad reputation among its customers. The public will almost always be on the side of the strikers. All that effort put forth and damage sustained doesn’t even guarantee a company victory – plenty of strikes have lasted months before the picketers got their way.
We haven’t even mentioned the idea of firing the strikers because it’s such a plainly terrible decision. It’s heartless, poisons brand reputation, and can make rehiring very difficult.
So what should a company do? 95% of the time, they should appease the strikers right away. Even if their demands are a bit “much” from the company’s point of view, it will be infinitely better than starting a long war that no one really wins. If you’re lucky, a quick wrap-up might even help workplace culture and employee engagement overall – they’ll see that you have their interests in mind and that their issues were more a result of a lack of awareness than abject maliciousness.
If you and your company truly believe that the demands of the employees are unreasonable, it still could be in your best interest to give in right away or at least set up a meeting to compromise. One slight budge from the strikers could be enough to make the handshake worth it.
You, dear reader, may not be in a position to help either side very much. If you are, though, your takeaway should be to let the strike succeed – the lost productivity and culture is almost never worth it. If your name is Bob Iger, you may be too far gone to advise.