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Keep Politics out of the Workplace? I Disagree. Here’s Why Organizations Need to Encourage Their Employees to Vote

Political issues are human issues and they don’t stop at work

The right to vote is a fundamental part of a functioning democracy. Yet, voter turnout in the United States over the past decade continues to lag, averaging 60% in presidential elections and 40% in midterm elections. Of the many reasons why people don’t vote, the main issue is the time required to vote. This disproportionately affects low income, front-line workers that are paid hourly and cannot afford to take the time off.

Organizations play a role in democracy

There is a perception that organizations should stay out of politics. Yet, many accept organizations lobbying politicians and making statements in response to human rights issues like Black Lives Matter. The truth is that organizations have always played a role in influencing government.

I discussed this issue with Lenora Billings-Harris on my Diversity Pivot podcast and she dispelled the belief that politics do not belong in the workplace, because they affect us as humans. From access to health care to housing and education, these are basic human rights that affect how employees show up in the workplace.

Increasingly people are looking to organizations to facilitate social change rather than the government. In fact, according to a recent CNBC SurveyMonkey Workforce Happiness Index, 60% of US workers approve of business leaders taking a stand on political or social issues. These numbers are even higher for women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.

This issue has been heightened for women, especially women of color, given the Roe v. Wade decision this summer. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 64% of U.S adults say they do not want abortion rights to be overturned, with 37% of voters saying a Roe reversal would make them more motivated to vote.

So, what do organizations need to do to facilitate voting for their employees?

  1. Proactively communicate the importance of voting
  2. Give people the flexibility to vote

Many leaders fear doing the wrong thing when it comes to sensitive issues like politics. They stay silent even though employees are looking to them to speak up.

Proactively communicate the importance of voting

If you want to be a more inclusive workplace, accept that human issues will continue to be a part of the workplace. To be inclusive means to be human. To be human means to recognize and respect people’s values and beliefs while leaving room for people to exercise action towards those beliefs and values. 

If your employees, customers, and communities of which you hope to serve are expecting organizations to use their voices for good, it’s important to proactively communicate the importance of everyone using their voices. And in a democracy, voting is the way people use their voices.

In the weeks leading up to elections, leaders need to emphasize the importance of voting. It’s not about discussing politics or people discussing their individual beliefs, but leaving room for people to understand the importance of using their voices. Leaders should encourage their employees to block time off to vote, to make sure they’re registered to vote, and to be familiar with the precinct where they need to vote or if they can vote by mail. 

Give people the flexibility to vote

The U.S. lags scores of other countries in election participation, ranking 26th out of 32 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to the Pew Research Center. In countries with mandatory voting, voter turnout averages 90%.

For the 2020 election, more than 1,700 companies have partnered with Time To Vote in pledging that their employees will have time off to vote, and in some states, granting time off to vote is required. You can learn about your state’s rights in the Workplace Fairness database also.

Depending on your employee base, people might live in areas where it’s easier to vote or more difficult to vote. It’s commonplace for folks in urban areas, and those areas that are more densely populated with people of color, to have to stand in long lines due to a troubled history of voter suppression and redlining. I live in a predominantly white community and I’ve never waited longer than 10 minutes to vote in any election. Comparing notes with my friends in urban and more racially diverse areas, it is much more common to wait to vote for hours. 

Some organizations give their employees the full day off to vote, others have an honor system where they trust their employees to vote before work or carve out time during their work day or after work to vote. Regardless, communicating the importance of voting to employees so they feel comfortable taking the time to do so, really matters.

Work should never be a barrier for people trying to vote.