Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party may occupy opposite sides of the political spectrum. But these two protest movements share some common ground. And the overlapping, seething sentiment amounts to a warning sign for companies to shape up as employers, sellers and stewards of the community.
The growing worldwide protests of the "99 percent" and their fury at big banks seem on the surface to be the antithesis of the U.S. Tea Party. After all, the Tea Party, which jumped on the scene about two years earlier, directs its anger at government.
What these two social movements have in common, however, is distrust of large institutions. And the institutions distrusted might surprise you. For example, a good many Occupy Wall Streeters have their doubts about the federal government. An informal poll of the New York protesters found that 54 percent do not believe that the Obama stimulus program was a good idea. And although Republicans generally are considered pro-business, 56 percent of them think that major corporations have "too much power."
Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party reflect broader frustration with an uncertain economy and a sense that the little guy is at the mercy of larger forces. For example, the percentage of Americans who have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in big business has slipped from 28 percent to 19 percent in the past decade. Confidence in the U.S. Congress has fallen during the same period from, 26 percent to 12 percent.
To their credit, Americans of different political stripes are not sitting passively in the face of economic problems. They are speaking up and fighting back. And that has implications for employers.
In particular, big companies have serious work to do to maintain good reputations or repair damaged ones. This includes companies' "employment brands." At least one Ivy League student appalled by Goldman Sachs' behavior has called for an end to recruiting visits by the financial services giant.
What's more, companies can expect people to sound off against them for misdeeds and mismanagement like never before. Employees, customers and others continue to make their voices heard at sites such as Glassdoor.com, Yelp and TrustLink, not to mention LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
It's not all scary for firms in this new era of transparency and talking back. Companies have an opportunity to step into the malaise and help solve problems. A study from last year found that 63 percent of consumers globally want brands to make it easier for them to make a positive difference. Think of the way Starbucks is planning to collect donations to spur U.S. job growth.
As long as the job-less recovery and the "job-more economy" persist, anger and anxiety will continue to fuel Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. These movements are two faces of the same frustration. Wise companies will heed it, raising their game and their goodness.