If you didn't know, we have an election in less than 30 days. It should go without saying that elections are important, and not just presidential contests. There are gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral, city council, house of delegates, school board, and sheriff races, etc. happening this year. Free and fair elections are critical features of any democracy.
As voters gear up to make their voices heard, organizations and their leaders should be doing everything they can to encourage not just voting but greater civic engagement. Leadership is not confined to the boardroom or the office; it requires enabling an environment that advocates being part of the process.
Employees care a lot about organizations that live up to their lofty missions and values. If you are without an organizational plan for getting your staff civically engaged, it's not too late to put one in place. Below are four actions leaders can take to encourage greater civic engagement:
In 2016, nearly 43 percent of eligible voters did not participate, representing nearly 100 million Americans, and to further illustrate that point, compared with other developed nations the U.S. lags behind most of its peers according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Voting is important, but, unfortunately, many people don't vote. It starts with making sure people know how to register, and, second, by ensuring that voting is encouraged at your workplace. It's a fairly easy process, and employees can check their voter registration status and use iamavoter.com to register to vote just by texting VOTER to 26797.
Make Election Day a Company Holiday
To encourage voting, organizations should make Election Day a paid-time-off holiday, as it shows employees the organizational commitment to democracy and, further, models the importance of civic responsibility. Since February, more than 1,300 companies have committed to the Election Day holiday, including Gap, Fitbit, Gusto, Chobani, and Target, to name a few.
If your organization is unable to give employees the full day, at the very least increase the paid time allotted so that there is sufficient time for employees to get to the polls. Also, HR leaders need to check state laws to ensure that you are giving enough time to employees, as some states mandate time off for voting. In New York, for instance, NY Election Law provides for "up to two hours of paid time off to enable an employee time to vote when added to their voting time outside their working hours."
Provide Volunteer Time Off
Leaders should also provide for volunteer time off so that employees can engage civically and make a difference in their respective communities.
After all, civic engagement is more than just voting. It's about ways of getting meaningfully involved: becoming a poll worker, participating in voter registration drives, educating voters on the voting process, distributing sample ballots or nonpartisan voter guides, encouraging people to vote (regardless of party).
The point is to encourage active citizenship and show your employees, as well as the communities you serve, that your organization and your leaders want everyone to get involved in some capacity.
Share Educational Resources
As organizational leaders, you can help demystify the process and can share resources that provide key election dates, your company's voting time off policy, and ways to get involved so that staff are fully equipped and engaged with the civic process.
Finally, as an organization it's not your responsibility to take partisan positions or endorse candidates -- but organizations should aspire to live up to their mission and purpose, and those values should require encouraging civic participation. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Elections belong to the people." And those people are your employees, your customers, and the people you hope to serve.