5 ways to engage employees in civic action this election

It’s no secret that the 2020 election season is shaping up to be radically different than in years past. Pre-COVID, it was already one to watch, but with the pandemic still disrupting daily routines — from how people work and school their children to the ever-changing rules around openings and closures and safe ways of interacting — it’s easy to see why voters are feeling anxious about what might happen at the polls in November.

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 67% of respondents believe that the pandemic will disrupt Americans’ ability to vote. And in addition to COVID, a host of issues, among them social justice and racial inequality, have ignited protests worldwide, making the stakes of this election especially high.

Read more: 7 ways employers can encourage employees to go vote

In this challenging year, COVID has amplified expectations from employees and consumers for the corporate world to step up, engage with issues that are impacting peoples’ lives and lead with purpose. Even prior to the pandemic, millennials, who now make up 50% of the U.S. workforce, looked to their employers to reflect and support their values. Post-COVID, studies have revealed that 63% of employees relied on their companies to communicate daily on the crisis.

As the election approaches, perhaps your company wants to do the same when it comes to engaging your employees in civic action. But you may be wondering: in such a polarizing political environment, is this a good idea? With passions running high, can civic engagement be encouraged and supported in a way that is positive, inclusive and non-partisan? We believe the answer is yes! Here are five ways your company can empower civic engagement this election season, without inflaming more division.

Provide paid time off to vote
Many people, especially those who are hourly workers or are in low-income jobs, simply can’t afford to take the time off to wait in line at a polling station. These hours can add up to a meaningful sum of lost wages. According to a 2018 survey from the Society of Human Resource Management, only 44% of U.S. businesses offered workers paid time off to vote.

In 2018, a number of companies (now 1,100+) stepped up to change this with Time to Vote, a non-partisan, business-led initiative “to help ensure employees across America don’t have to choose between voting and earning a paycheck.”

Companies with flexible work programs can simply remind their people that their time is theirs to use and encourage them to use that flexibility to vote.
Support non-partisan voter engagement efforts
Registration campaigns and education efforts are another way you can engage your people in civic action. Levi Strauss provides a great example of how this might look in practice. In addition to offering employees five hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day, Levi’s is going further by providing an additional five hours of paid volunteer time for employees who want to volunteer for election-related efforts, including Levi’s Power the Polls initiative, which is designed to help fill poll worker shortages.
Partner with non-profits already in the game
Partnering with a non-profit already focused on civic action offers a safe and collaborative approach for launching engagement efforts related to voting and activism.

Organizations like the ACLU and Rock the Vote, for example, are already experts on get-out-the-vote efforts and voter rights, with infrastructure to activate already in place. Your company can either engage with non-profits like these by supporting them through matching donation campaigns, volunteer events, or by teaming up on campaigns and initiatives to help educate employees and customers on their voting options.
Be a source of trusted information
The spread of disinformation seems to heighten at election time. This exacerbates an already growing distrust in government and media, as well as anxiety and frustration for people who are looking for information via social media and news sites.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 75% of people trust their employer more than any other institution. Companies have an unprecedented opportunity to serve as a trusted conduit for unbiased, factual information for their employees. This doesn’t mean people want their employers to tell them who to vote for, and it certainly doesn’t mean that companies should be taking on the job of journalists or other subject matter experts. But what you can do is provide access to unbiased information that your people can use to make their own decisions and take their own actions.
Remind people they can support the issues they are passionate about
Civic action can take many forms beyond just participating in an election. People want to give money and time to causes they care about and election season can certainly spark interest in giving related to issues that are driving the news cycle.

When it comes to corporate matching and support for volunteer hours, companies that give their people the freedom to choose the causes and organizations they are most passionate about get a boost in retention. Reminding your people that they have access to donation matching or volunteer rewards for a wide swath of causes through your company’s giving programs will show them that you want to support them when it counts. You could even consider running special matching campaigns in the lead-up to the election. When people truly feel like their employer is helping them make a difference, it helps build a culture of purpose.