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What is employee advocacy and why HR should care

Employee advocacy is a lot like brand advocacy. It happens when your employees love where they work and willingly shout about it. Let's say you found a new café that served the best coffee you'd ever had. You'd tell your friends about it, write a review online, and go there regularly, right?

Updated 12th August 2023

This is an example of consumer advocacy. But advocacy isn't just for consumers. A business' employees have the potential to be some of its biggest, most influential advocates. Telling all who will listen how great their employer is and how good their product, service, or solution is.

What do we mean by employee advocacy?

Employee advocacy is when your people willingly and organically promote your organisation. It goes far beyond telling your staff to like all of the business's social posts. 

Genuine employee advocacy stems from someone's intrinsic emotional attachment to their work. This comes from a two-way relationship between employer and employee build on a few central pillars: trust, development, and pride. All help to build better engagement in work.

As a result, highly engaged employees with strongly aligned goals are more likely to be advocates. Employees are also more likely to advocate for workplaces with great support for employee wellbeing. And provide them with a strong social connection with their colleagues.

One reason you can't fake employee advocacy is that it isn't a process. It's an outcome of many complex things. Advocacy is an outcome of our experiences and our outlook on work. So even if press-ganged, employees will show their true colours at some stage if they're not being authentic.  

The benefits of employee advocacy

If employees feel invested in and passionate about their work, it reflects well on whatever service they're providing. Strong employee advocacy will benefit organisations in several ways:

Workplace culture

There's a mutually beneficial overlap between employee advocacy and good workplace culture. Understanding your staff needs and providing emotional support can drive productivity. It builds a brand that employees want to advocate for. When an employee strongly supports the goals of their organisation, it gives them a stake in the company's success. This sense of shared ownership can push people to do their best work. In turn, this grows stronger emotional ties to a business.

Talent acquisition

Employees are seen as being able to speak authentically about a company's practices due to personal experience. In 2018, the Edelman Trust Barometer found that staff were more trustworthy than companies. This shows how a high level of employee advocacy is essential for maintaining a great company culture. One where top talent might thrive.

Whether you're advocating for your workplace or not, employees have a big influence on the perception of company culture. If they dislike their job or their place of work, it's going to give a negative impression to potential applicants.

Also, if employees do advocate for your company, they will want to land great candidates by sharing job posts with their network. Who knows, their old friend from school may be the perfect person for that role in finance.

Being an ethical business

Since 2018, employers have become the last remaining trusted institution, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer. But that doesn't mean you're out of the woods. People are more conscientious than ever. 63% of employees and consumers agree with the statement, "I buy or advocate for brands based on my beliefs and values."

So, if you invest in employee advocacy as an ethical employer, staff are more likely to earnestly share that philosophy with customers and clients. And that's great word-of-mouth for getting the attention of like-minded consumers and potential job applicants.

Quality of service

An employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) is a metric used that can be to assess employee experience and advocacy. As a result, it can also impact the more traditional Net Promoter Scores that are used to track customer sentiment. Forbes highlights the very direct link between employee experience and customer satisfaction

Employees who advocate for an organisation tend to be more aligned with its goals. As a result, they're driven to provide an excellent service. While employee engagement and experience aren't the same, overall experience significantly impacts an employee's ability to engage with their role. 
Forbes reports employees at companies with great customer service were 1.5 times more engaged than those with lower satisfaction. Companies with said engaged employees outperformed competitors by 147%.

Long-term loyalty

What is employee advocacy, if not a form of employee loyalty? If your staff members have high eNPS scores, it's a green flag that they feel loyal to the organisation. 

Employees who are advocates for your business are likely to be highly invested in their roles. According to Forbes, more than three times as many recruits from employee referrals were still at their jobs three years later than those who came from job boards.

Improved engagement

Staff who advocate feel more engaged in their role. For example, Altimeter asked it's staff how they felt after sharing work related content on social media. The most common response was "I feel more connected and enthusiastic about the company I work for."

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How do you improve employee advocacy?

Here's the real question. Because trying to force employees to advocate isn't effective at all. It's more about creating the kind of workplace that employees want to advocate for. Employees who have a sense of autonomy and control are more likely to be engaged in their work. And therefore, more likely to become an advocate.

Employees will want to advocate for a business that engages them on a regular basis. When employees feel like they're contributing to success and work culture, it helps them to take pride in and ownership of those things. All of this relies on two-way feedback, which is an essential tool for giving voices to your would-be advocates.

It all starts with psychology

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) suggests people have three intrinsic needs driving them to change:

  • Competence
  • Relatedness
  • Autonomy

Competence is fairly easy to understand. People feel the need to learn and master different skills to achieve their goals and access new opportunities. SDT suggests that this is what causes people to become invested in work that challenges them. That's because it gives them the feeling of room to grow.

Relatedness is an important aspect of both wellbeing and our workplace experience. Employees who are highly connected to their peers are more likely to advocate. If they recommend it to a friend, they're not just suggesting a satisfactory employer. They're inviting someone to join their social group.

Nurturing a culture that targets both competency motivators and relatedness are therefore important. 

But autonomy might be the most relevant aspect for us to talk about.

Autonomy is key to employee advocacy 

When employees feel in control of their work, it drives them to get emotionally invested in it. So, if you really want employees to advocate for the brand, give them a sense of personal responsibility. Ownership and accountability over their own tasks and goals can go a long way.

If you want your employees to have sense of autonomy, then having good communication and regular feedback is absolutely essential. Don't expect employees to have a sense of control over their work if they can't raise issues with their manager. Or worse, don't see outcomes from them sharing their experiences.

It's not enough to have the occasional one-to-one meeting. Managers need to check in with employees regularly to solve the problems blocking their work. And ultimately, impeding their engagement. Supporting personal growth through regular feedback can not only boost advocacy, but also reduce turnover for your organisation.

Committing to employee autonomy means you have to refrain from breathing down their necks. Micromanagement is just as bad as no management, after all. It's about finding the right rhythm for checking in with people, and letting trust build naturally from there.

Grab a copy of our latest best practice guide: Employee Engagement in a Remote Working World to support your employee advocacy programmes.