Anyone in the US who has recently had a work meeting derailed by their coworkers talking politics knows that the elections coming up on November 6 are attracting far more attention and interest than midterm elections normally do. The political environment in the US remains highly charged and polarized, while these elections are seen as having particularly high stakes. Poll watchers are expecting voter turnout to be high, partly helped along by a growing number of employers giving their workers paid time off to vote on Election Day. Beyond that, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor reports, they are actively encouraging their employees to go out and vote:
At Cava, the Washington D.C.-based chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants, its 1,600 workers will get two hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day this year if they request it in advance, a nationwide perk for its workers. For the first time, Tyson Foods, the meat company, has launched a company-wide voter registration initiative, with many of its plants participating in an effort to register employees and offer details about early voting, absentee ballots and voting locations. Levi Strauss & Co. has named volunteer “voting captains” in each of its offices and distribution centers to hold registration drives and educate workers; it’s also giving employees, including retail workers, paid time off to vote.
Organizations that give their employees time off on Election Day, whether they make it a holiday or simply let staff take a few hours off to vote, do so for a variety of reasons. At some companies, this decision stems from a culture of social responsibility; at others, it may be part of an effort to improve their public image. Though few companies take public positions in favor of a particular candidate or party, still others may be hoping that their employees vote a certain way. It could also help boost employee engagement and perceptions of the organization; a recent study by O.C. Tanner found that US workers who get time off to vote have more positive things to say about their employers than those who don’t, HR Dive reported last week:
The Time to Vote campaign, announced on September 24, is a nonpartisan effort aimed at increasing voter participation in the US by getting companies to enable or encourage their employees to vote. Some 140 CEOs have signed on to the initiative, including the heads of some of the country’s largest private employers:
The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, recently as low as 36 percent, and one of the most common reasons that people give for not voting is that they are too busy, or have work and life demands that prevent them from voting. To change this paradigm, a diverse coalition of companies including Kaiser Permanente, Levi Strauss & Co., Patagonia, PayPal, Tyson Foods and Walmart are coming together, starting with the November elections, to increase voter turnout.
The Time to Vote campaign also aims to increase awareness about the steps employers can take to allow time for their employees to vote. The companies joining this campaign are committed to increasing voter participation through programs such as paid time off, a day without meetings and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting. And all of them care about their workforces and supporting democracy.
Whereas many countries hold elections on weekends or make voting days public holidays to ensure that most voters can take part, election day in the US is observed on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and is not a national holiday.
CEOs are human beings and have their own political beliefs, but they also oversee employees whose politics can vary widely and differ greatly from their own. Emotions have run particularly high throughout the US presidential campaign that concluded in last Tuesday’s election, and we are now hearing from the companies we work with that many of their employees were stunned by Donald Trump’s victory and have had extreme emotional reactions to it. This Chicago Tribune feature on how local employers have been handling the aftermath of the election gives an indication of what leaders are dealing with:
Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, the law firm’s Chicago-based workplace consulting arm, said some Clinton supporters were calling company employee assistance programs and “reporting depressing thoughts or even sinking feelings of doom” after nights spent in a “Facebook-fueled sadness spiral.” One marketing firm, he said, reported that employees were experiencing stress reactions such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath and sweaty palms.
On the victorious side, some Trump supporters were celebrating, Weiss said. He described a cargo hauler based south of Chicago that reported “high-fives and cheers as well as some over-the-top gloating,” including terms like “losers.”
Given these extreme reactions, many CEOs are now deciding how to communicate with their workforces about the employees are experiencing. But before any communications are sent, CEOs need to realize that what they say either has the opportunity to refocus their workforce and move them forward or to alienate their workforces and create a productivity drag.
The past few days have given us a couple of high-profile examples to learn from. GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney attracted some controversy with an email to all employees on Wednesday denouncing some of the Trump campaign’s rhetoric and seemingly urging employees who agreed with it to resign. As Ross Kelly explains at Chief Executive, that email prompted some backlash:
It’s Election Day in the US, and the decisions voters make before the polls close may have major consequences for America and the world—beginning with a likely hit to productivity in American offices today. Mathilde Pribula, a partner at the HR executive search firm Frederickson Pribula Li, knows her employees have been distracted by the campaign and doesn’t care; indeed, she writes at Fast Company, she’s glad they’ve been so engaged with it:
As an immigrant, I’m enthralled by the American electoral system. It’s fascinating and complex, and as President Obama recently conceded, “Democracy is messy.” Being an American means taking your civic duties seriously, even when that gets stressful or all-consuming. And given the historic nature of this election, I actively want my employees to pay attention. In fact, I’d be disappointed if any of them weren’t. As a manager, I’m fully aware of the costs involved, but I pride myself on hiring bright, inquisitive, and passionate employees. How could any American with those qualities not be engaged this election cycle? …
Last week, outdoor clothing and gear retailer Patagonia joined the wave of US companies giving their employees election day off to ensure that they are able to vote. Patagonia went one step farther, taking an explicit political stance in its statement announcing the decision. Without explicitly urging its employees or customers to cast their ballots for any particular candidate, the statement expressed hope that they would vote with an environmentalist conscience:
“During a time of catastrophic environmental crisis, when America needs strong leadership to confront the fundamental threat of climate change, voter turnout threatens to reach historic lows as people are turned off by the ugliness of politics,” said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. “As a business, we have a unique ability to take a stand and choose to prioritize the health of the planet over profit, and I think it’s important we take that opportunity when it truly matters. We want to do everything possible to empower citizens to make their voices heard and elect candidates up and down the ballot who will protect our planet.”
Other organizations are taking steps not only to enable their employees to vote, but to actively encourage them to. The Chicago Tribune’s Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz showcases some of the innovative ways Chicago-area companies are doing so:
Edelman, a marketing firm with about 600 employees at its Chicago headquarters and 3,000 nationwide, is keeping its 14 U.S. offices closed until 11:30 a.m. on Election Day so that employees can spend the morning voting. Employees who show off their “I Voted” wristbands or other proof that they turned in a ballot will get a doughnut — part of the company’s “Donut Forget to Vote” campaign. (“Powder to the People,” says one poster.)
Election day is not a holiday in the US, and employers are not required by federal law to give employees time off to vote, though many states do grant employees the right to take time out of their workday (with no pay penalty) to perform their civic duty if they don’t have free time while polls are open. Still, this state of affairs means that a substantial number of eligible voters, particularly hourly wage-earners with inflexible schedules who fear losing pay or getting fired if they leave work to vote, are effectively disenfranchised. As another complication, many schools are also polling sites and may close on election day, putting working parents in a childcare bind.
This year, nearly 300 tech companies are banding together and giving their employees election day off, in the hopes of starting a trend and lending support to the movement to make election day a national holiday, Brian Fung reports at the Washington Post:
In what may be the most coordinated effort yet by tech companies to change a downward trend in U.S. voting behavior, some industry officials say they hope their stance on Election Day will spur other businesses — and maybe even the federal government — to follow suit.