The news story about the CEO held hostage in China by employees has me thinking about the potential next new uprising — employees. We’ve seen leaderless revolutions spring up everywhere around the world recently but we have not really seen employees take matters into their own hands like this. Of course we have labor unions that strike and protest but they usually have contracts with employers and have set rules for negotiations. Employee preceptions are such an important driver of reputation that any mishandling or media attention (offline and online) related to dissatisfaction can seriously damage a company’s reputation.
Going back to the hostage American CEO, Chip Starnes, of the specialty medical supply company based in Florida — he was held hostage in his office for several days because employees were worried he would not pay severance as the company laid off some workers to move their functions to India where labor is less expensive. The CEO bought the factory 10 years ago so this was not a new relationship although it is hard to tell what the relationship between employer and employee actually was. As hostage, Starnes spent some time being kept awake and hungry, all under less than ideal conditions. Starnes sent an alarming cellphone video of the situation to his brother showing employees gathered around an executive-like chair in the middle of a hand-drawn circle on the pavement outside his office cell. Once compensation for employees was properly negotiated, he was set free although he has not left China as employees await a check clearing for their employment packages.
On one hand, the CEO and his company’s reputation for doing business in China was damaged (perhaps not damaged but certainly placed in doubt) but I’d add that the reputation of the business environment in China was also placed in harm’s way. And all of this was inflicted by employees who rose up and took matters in their own hands. We’ve seen other employee-instigated anger at employers such as confidential leaks, badmouthing online and boycotts but rarely something this drastic. Employee as activist could unfortunately be the next reputation-damaging trend.