Sometimes it seems like everywhere you turn, a company is taking another political stance or harping on a new buzzword. Hollywood, Big Tech corporations, and even car companies feature slogans that feel brazenly partisan. Many on the right have reacted to this new phenomenon by asserting that Americans don’t want an openly political marketplace. However, as more people find purpose and belonging in their work, conservatives should feel encouraged that “do-gooding” can be a profitable and desirable business model.
The issue of “woke capitalism” at this scale is a novel problem for conservatives of all stripes. The uniformly left-wing bent of companies such as Facebook, Hollywood, and Amazon engenders a particularly high level of concern. Some argue that this new era of political activism is wholly unwelcome, since most consumers think business leaders should stay out of politics. This has led to a refrain often chanted by conservatives: “Get Woke, Go Broke.”
Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence aside, there is little statistical evidence that activist politics hurts the bottom line. For example, the NBA has seen a decline in ratings in the last few years, allegedly because of its involvement in politics. However, the ratings drop is not that simple. 38 percent of NBA fans said they are watching less basketball because it is “too political,” but 32 percent said they are watching more.
It’s true that a product’s quality and cost are the most important things for buyers. The 2021 Global Consumer Trends report from Qualtrics found that two-thirds of consumers primarily care about product quality and customer service when making a purchase. However, 16 percent of respondents pointed to community service as the motivating factor behind their patronage. That’s not an insignificant percentage.
While the dialogue about viewers and consumers is important, what if we have been looking at this issue backwards? Despite the supply-side economics of many conservatives, most of the concerns raised focus on the demand side of woke capitalism. Critics target how woke capital affects customers by making products worse, or how Americans are being inundated with liberal politics. But the American people are not just passive consumers of products and information.
The more important report to come from Qualtrics this week was its 2021 Employee Experience Trends Report. They found that the employees care about the values of their company far more than consumers do. Employers who cared about doing social good were more likely to keep employees engaged and improve retention. In fact, being proud of a company’s broader social impact was more important to employees than their future career goals.
The idea that employees find meaning through their work is not new and has been widely shared by intellectuals on the left and right. Karl Marx identified meaningful labor as perhaps the single most central feature of human existence. In his “Ten Conservative Principles,” Russell Kirk argues that merely earning a wage is not the goal of a true conservative. Rather, he asserts, “to be able to see one’s work made permanent . . . to have something that is really one’s own” is part of the conservative mindset.
Thus, even if consumers only cared about the quality and price of a product (which they don’t), employers still need to reassure employees that their effort isn’t being wasted. This is a feature of the human condition, not a bug.
We can see this occur in the marketplace. Starbucks has an image of being “more than just coffee” and boasts an 82 percent employee-retention rate. An internal survey showed employees want to “work in a place where I feel I have value.” Employees feel important at Starbucks, and the company’s CEO believes that is tied to their support of progressive policies.
Starbucks shows how considering the larger social impact of a company can improve a company’s bottom line. The 2021 Consumer survey found that “the parity between low prices and societal action demonstrates that for consumers, concerns about how businesses operate are almost as important as buying products cheaply.” Community activism doesn’t always hurt sales, and there is very strong evidence that retaining quality human capital is crucial for business success.
Americans don’t want partisanship in the marketplace, because it divides people and breeds distrust. However, conservatives can prioritize political purposes without falling into partisanship. Take Chick-fil-A, whose Christian origins and local community support help employees stay loyal to the company. Chick-fil-A’s market share has exploded in recent years. The company is built on an identifiable culture that helps its employees feel good about their jobs. It’s why a shocking 90 percent of employees want to continue working at Chick-fil-A.
Similarly, the Black Rifle Coffee Company has grown in recent years because of its image as a pro-America, pro-veterans, organization. Black Rifle sells a quality product, but the brand definitely helps bring in both customers and employees.
Some companies go too far with their partisanship, but conservatives may have been looking at the problem of “woke capitalism” in the wrong light. Americans don’t want a Republican coffee or Democrat sandwich, but high-impact workers want to feel like their effort is making a difference. Sometimes, that requires taking political stances. Black Rifle, Chick-fil-A and others (like Hobby Lobby) must be businesses first. But if being a business and having values means, for them, supporting veterans or local churches, what’s wrong with that?
Small businesses are being overwhelmed by national conglomerates and tech giants that are “getting woke” and profiting off high employee engagement. Conservatives should feel empowered to go local and build successful businesses centered around their conservative community causes.