Union Vulnerability – What You Need to Know

You know you need to conduct regular vulnerability assessments to improve employee engagement and identify the risk factors of union organizing, but convincing the C-suite is challenging. There’s a good chance the CEO, CFO, or COO will say there’s no need to rock the boat by asking employees many questions that could encourage them to think about problems or challenges at work. If they aren’t complaining, goes the thinking, why give employees an opening? 

This is the kind of thinking that enables unions to take companies by surprise. Keeping in touch with employee feelings, perspectives, needs, and challenges has never been important to employee engagement, reducing turnover, attracting top talent, and developing a positive organizational culture that promotes staying union-free. Now you have to convince the top leadership tier that regular vulnerability assessment audits by leaders and regular employee vulnerability assessments are key tools for increasing employee engagement and staying union-free. How do you make the best case for administering a vulnerability assessment in a nonunion organization or a unionized organization with potential bargaining units that chose to stay union-free in the past?

Developing the “Why”

Your goal at the moment is to present the “why” of union vulnerability assessment. The “how” of union vulnerability assessment comes later. One of the interesting aspects of assessing vulnerability is that it’s not just about union vulnerability. A key selling point is that assessment tools provide insights into things like employee morale, level of respect employees feel and whether managers show favoritism. It can also include feelings about safety and compensation and benefits, problem managers who have stayed below the executive level’s radar, social issues of concern to the workforce, working conditions, employee voice, job performance evaluations, and so much more. It identifies weaknesses in Human Resources and talent management policies and management practices. 

The organizational vulnerability assessment audits your managers complete are coupled with employee assessments. The employee assessments will trigger a review of internal factors that are specific areas of employee concern, like recognition programs and compensation schedules. The leadership vulnerability assessment audit considers internal and external factors that make the organization more susceptible to unionization, like operating in a pro-union state and active union activity in the area such as protests. The employee and leadership assessments can also identify gaps in what leaders believe is true and what employees feel and believe.

Find out if your company is vulnerable to union organizing!

Big Picture Tool

This information is important to know in the pursuit of high employee engagement, crucial to staying union-free. Managers are not likely to correct weaknesses if they don’t recognize them. The employee vulnerability assessment is a feedback tool that guides management’s efforts to address issues before they become major problems leading to unionization. It’s also a “big picture” tool. All too often, front-line supervisors throughout the organization have their own unique issues without realizing it’s a company-wide issue.

For example, a particular department has a group of employees who are very dissatisfied with the manager. Still, the department continues to meet goals, and people are afraid to complain because they fear losing their job or other opportunities. There is general discontent in a different department over work-life balance because of the manager’s scheduling methods. Each specific group of employees may have issues, like diverse employees feel excluded from career opportunities or women believe they have no voice in the organization because their ideas are seldom recognized. Remote workers may not feel connected to the non-remote workforce, and the gig workers are secretly talking about protesting over a lack of fair compensation and job security.

Urgency of the Times

In today’s workplace climate, the vulnerability assessment has taken on an urgency. New influences on employee morale and satisfaction include:

  • Worker concerns about various social issues, like social inequities, the inclusion of diverse employees, biased application of compensation, need for flexible benefits, etc.
  • COVID-19 inspired fears about safety in the workplace concerning personal health, return-to-work fears, long-term job security, work schedules, unemployment, financial stress, job stress in the workplace, and related to learning remote work.
  • Changing employee expectations due to changing workforce demographics. Millennials and Gen Z want to work for an organization that they can trust and that is responsive to employee needs. They want an organization that gives employees a voice (including feedback) and takes action when appropriate — rather than making empty promises (i.e., will increase diversity in the management level by 20% and nothing changes), etc.

The vulnerability assessment looks for insights into these areas because organizational policies and inclusive leadership have a major influence on employee interest in unions. It’s seldom one factor that leads to unionization. In fact, it’s many, but like a big puzzle, the pieces must be assembled into a single picture. 

It’s also integrating internal and external factors that influence things like employee morale and employee engagement. Sometimes, they are very subtle. The employee goes home and listens to a friend talk about how great his company’s management is, and the Open Door Policy and the fact managers quickly follow up on issues presented to them. The employee goes to work the next day with the realization it’s impossible to say the same things about his/her management. Management doesn’t discover this discontent until they conduct a vulnerability assessment. 

If You Don’t Ask, They May Not Tell

It really comes down to this: If you don’t ask, in some manner, what your employees are thinking and feeling, how can you possibly know if the factors that create interest in unions exist in your organization? This question is the basis for approaching senior management. Top-down support for doing regular employee assessments is crucial because:

  • Assessments inform supervisors and front-line leaders of employee perspectives and serve as leadership training tools by identifying areas of weakness and opportunities for improvement
  • It ensures assessments really are performed regularly when managers and supervisors are held accountable by senior leaders
  • Assessments identify changes in vulnerability over time
  • Lets employees know senior management is proactively seeking information about its employees, and the employee voice is heard at all management levels
  • Assessments assist with developing positive employee relations policies and programs
  • Helps identify the departments and employee groups (departments, demographics, in-house, and remote workers) most vulnerable to union organizing
  • Assessments identify the specific issues of most importance to employees

There is another important reason for regular employee vulnerability assessments and leadership vulnerability assessment audits. Senior management gets advance information on issues a union is most likely to use to get a foothold in your business. 

For example, company policy on paid leave is changed, and employees are unhappy about the change. You learn about that unhappiness through the assessment and take the appropriate action, including digging deeper into the reasons employees don’t like the policy. Senior management preempts potential union activity.

Leveraging Data Analytics for Answers

Employers are not legally allowed to directly ask employees about potential union activity or their perspective on unions. You can share the organization’s perspective on a preventive union organizing website. The National Labor Relations Act protects employee rights to participate in union activities without interference from employers. If a supervisor asks an employee if he or she supports a union or whether coworkers are thinking about voting for a union organizing campaign, it will be interpreted as having a chilling effect.

The best way to get the information you are seeking is through the vulnerability assessment. The surveys can produce data analytics that drills down to details about the employees who are likely to unionize while maintaining employee anonymity. A carefully constructed survey can produce data analytics that let leadership know which group of employees are at risk of unionizing based on their location, department, supervisor or manager, demographics, and engagement level. Data analytics can identify a number of correlations, like a department’s average compensation to union support’s strength. 

The vulnerability assessment can also produce data analytics that measures whether employees, to name a few items:

  • Believe they have positive relationships with management
  • Feel included
  • Believe they are respected and valued
  • Have work-life balance
  • Believe their compensation is fair
  • Believe the benefits packages meet their needs
  • Are rewarded for good performance
  • Have a voice in the organization

The point is that vulnerability assessments are not explicitly asking about interest in unions. They are identifying the status of specific employee engagement factors with the knowledge that low employee engagement can drive interest in unionization. 

Assess Your Employees

Sophisticated algorithms can utilize any internal and external data the company chooses, including data from other companies in the industry or data from unionized companies. Perceptyx, an employee survey company, developed a union vulnerability index that incorporates millions of survey responses and industry sources to serve as a benchmark for evaluating responses or predicting outcomes. Any composite vulnerability index developed for measuring union vulnerability identifies employee exposure to factors increasing unionizing likelihood. 

Employee vulnerability assessments, coupled with a union vulnerability audit completed by leaders, like UnionProof’s Risk Assessment Questionnaire, become powerful tools for keeping employees engaged and unions out.

Assessing employees rather than only doing pulse surveys of leaders makes sense. A manager or front-line supervisor can easily be unaware of employee issues or concerns. In fact, doing an employee vulnerability assessment and pulse surveys of leaders can let senior management know whether its leaders are doing a good job of engaging employees. A leader may indicate everything in the department is great, while employee assessments indicate there are serious issues that need addressing. Pulse surveys are useful for a quick check but should not be used as a standalone tool. 

When approaching the C-suite, one strategy is to use organization-wide employee pulse surveys to collect information to support the request for administering more detailed vulnerability assessments. Pulse surveys can then trigger vulnerability assessments whenever an issue develops.

Feedback is Vital

It’s not enough to collect data and present data analytics to managers and supervisors. There must be follow-up and feedback, important to giving employees a voice. If employees complete vulnerability assessments and never get feedback, the opportunity to engage the workforce is lost. Communication is a vital aspect of this process.

  • Tell employees you’ve identified things that need attention
  • Communicate what you’re doing to address these areas
  • Communicate again when the issues have been corrected, or a process is in place to address those issues regularly
  • Show appreciation for the honesty of employees to strengthen trust
  • Reinforce the Open Door Policy, so employees know they don’t have to wait for an assessment to address serious issues

As you develop a strategy to convince executives that vulnerability assessments are needed, explain their many advantages. Since most business executives are always interested in seeing things through a financial lens, they show the cost of unionization, which far exceeds the cost of vulnerability assessments. Stress the company’s information lacks about its employees, putting it at risk of being blindsided by a union.

Two Types of People

UnionProof and A Better Leader have a complete set of tools to stay union-free, including the LaborLook leadership training websites for union avoidance to the organizational Vulnerability Assessment Questionnaire to a host of information tools for staff and leadership. In the end, staying union-free requires two basic types of people: trained and responsive leaders and engaged employees.

About the author

Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.