Recently a Silicon Valley venture capitalist called on tech companies to give their employees time off to vote this Election Day.

"We're gonna need to turn out on Nov 8th. Please go to calendar & block off time to vote. If ur CEO, consider sending company-wide msg," Homebrew founder Hunter Walk wrote on Twitter on July 22.

What followed was a stream of responses from interested companies. As of last week more than 100 had pledged to offer a whole or partial day off. Some of the well-known businesses include TaskRabbit, SurveyMonkey, Wikimedia, Spotify, TheSkimm, as well as Walk's firm, Homebrew.

"Just as our industry suggests tech literacy should be part of every American's skillset, so too should civic literacy be part of ours," Walker wrote in a blog post.

But while giving a day off to vote is a good way to show your company values civic engagement, it's not enough to really stir voter turnout, says Matt Mahan, CEO of Brigade, a San Francisco-based social network for voters.

"It's not that people are motivated to vote but can't make it because of work; it's that they don't think it matters or don't feel sufficiently informed," he says.

Mahan has ideas for other things employers can do over the course of the year to develop a culture of civic engagement in the office:

  • Make it easy to register to vote by keeping voter registration forms at the office or enclosing them in onboarding materials for new employees.
  • Invite government officials to meet your employees--a local district representative, or someone who works in an area of government related to what your company does.
  • Host events such as viewing parties for debates and election results.

Of course, Mahan says. companies need to decide what fits their goals and culture. For some, allowing time off for voting is as far as they can go. (Walker notes that not all states require that businesses allow time.)

Mahan points out that fostering civic engagement among your workers potentially has an additional value. If your business is a government contractor or just relates in some way to a part of government, bringing in public officials could help forge relationships that will be mutually beneficial down the road. If you're in health tech, for instance, you might want to bring in someone from the department of health.

For those reluctant to appear partisan, Mahan says there are some ways to increase engagement without giving uneven promotion to officials different political affiliations. You can invite opposing candidates to non-fundraiser events, for example. 

"We often malign government as bloated and inefficient, but at the end of the day it is the only collective expression of popular will that we have," he says.

Published on: Aug 8, 2016