This content was originally posted in Community Voices for MinnPost. You can view the original article here.
2020 has been a year like no other as we all face the challenges of a global pandemic, social justice crisis and economic instability. These challenges are creating new barriers to voting as we head into the 2020 elections. It’s never been more important for businesses to empower employees to be involved in the election process and have their voices heard through voting.
Business should not be a barrier to voting
Voter turnout in U.S. national elections is much lower than most established democracies, with about 60 percent of the voting-eligible population turning out in presidential election years. When people are asked about barriers to voting, the overwhelming majority cites work and school schedule conflicts. Business leaders can join together to ensure work schedules are not a voting barrier for employees.
The 2018 midterm elections provide an excellent example of the positive impact businesses can have. Voter turnout was the highest of any midterm election in the last century, and the number of organizations encouraging their employees to vote is cited as a contributing factor to this increase.
The general election is in full swing, and gone are the days of keeping political discussions out of the workplace. Gartner Inc. released survey findings earlier this year that show 78 percent of employees are discussing politics at work. Forty-seven percent of employees report being distracted because of the presidential election. And those findings came out before the pandemic became a primary concern for people.
Business leaders can channel that political energy by focusing on the nonpartisan issue of voter engagement and empowerment. A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that organizations that chose to support get-out-the-vote efforts not only helped get more voters to the polls, but also experienced increased brand awareness and stronger employee engagement.
Supporting employees to vote
COVID-19 has changed the way many of us work and is changing the voting process as well. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 50 percent of registered voters expect to have difficulties casting a ballot. Here are some ideas businesses can implement to increase voter turnout and support employees to make their voices heard – whether they are working in the office or remotely.
- Join business community voting groups. The company I work for, Beehive Strategic Communication, is one of 800+ businesses contributing to the organizational culture shift needed to increase voter participation in this year’s U.S. elections. We are active members of the MakeTimeToVote.org and ElectionDay.org, nonpartisan movements — led by the business community — with a singular goal: to increase voter participation.
- Share voter resources. Share nonpartisan resources to support and empower employees to vote – whether in person or through mail-in ballots. BallotReady previews local ballots and helps users vet candidates. Vote.gov helps employees understand the different ways they can vote, including important deadlines.
- Grant paid time off. Declare Nov. 3 as a paid company holiday to provide every employee the flexibility to vote and participate in Election Day (e.g., election judges, poll drivers, phone bank callers and door knockers). Beehive has given employees eight hours of Voting Time Off (VTO) to be involved with the 2020 election in whichever way they choose. Many other Certified B Corporations we’ve spoken with are doing the same.
- Offer election day flexible schedules. If you can’t declare election day a holiday, allow employees to work flexible schedules. Start early, end early, start late, end late — whatever schedule will best allow them to vote.
- Declare “meeting-free” blocks of time. If your office is open on Election Day, make it company policy to avoid scheduling meetings during the first and last two hours of the workday (or better yet – the whole day) to ensure employees have time to vote, especially in an election year in which longer poll lines are anticipated.
- Offer incentives. Offer an incentive to employees who vote, such as free breakfast or lunch for anyone wearing an “I Voted” sticker. Be sure to share any employee pictures on your company’s internal and external social channels as a way to encourage colleagues and followers to make time to vote.
Our country is experiencing considerable social and political change. Employees expect businesses to lead with clarity and ensure company values and culture guide policies, behaviors and decisions. Supporting employees to exercise their right to vote is an ideal focus for companies and leaders.
Leaders — please commit to making time for employees to vote. You can register your company at ElectionDay.org and MakeTimeToVote.org. Employees — talk to your leaders or HR departments about how they can support your right to vote. Know your voting rights as a citizen and as an employee.
Ayme Zemke is SVP, Client Service, at Beehive Strategic Communication – a purpose-driven strategic communication firm that uses the power of communication to build better businesses.