Politics in the Workplace: HR Tips for Navigating the 2020 Election

Ideas for Encouraging Employees to Participate in the Democratic Process

by Ashley Widener, Marketing Manager @ GoCo

With Election Day only a couple of weeks away, both employees and employers are wondering how to navigate political conversations within the workplace, how to exercise their right to vote, and how to do so safely with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across America.

As HR Professionals, you have a chance to make a real impact in our political process by helping to alleviate some of these stressors for your employees. We reached out to the community to see what other HR pros are doing, and compiled the best advice we received into the recommendations below.

Navigating Political Conversations at Work

With a 24/7 news cycle covering the election, it’s understandable that it will be at the top of some employee’s minds until Election Day, and even after. We all know politics is one of those topics that “you’re not supposed to talk about at work” but sometimes that’s just not possible, and it will come up whether an in-depth discussion or passing comment. This can lead to hurt feelings, damaged working relationships, and decreased productivity.

One way many employers we interviewed are helping to mitigate negative effects of these conversations is to take an active role in promoting media mindfulness in the workplace. Benevity and Countable teamed up to create Civic Engagement Missions Content to help millions of employees become informed consumers of media, and help people separate fact from fiction in the overwhelming world of biases, deep fakes, and social media bots. 

Dan Bailey, President of WikiLawn, says, “Our workplace is fully virtual so it’s a bit easier to monitor political discussion in public places. We treat our employees like adults and encourage them to express their opinions, but we won’t tolerate misinformation and regurgitating poorly-researched talking points that have no basis in fact. When this happens we redirect the conversation and offer fact-checking resources.” 

Actively sharing fact-checking resources and unbiased information is a great way to encourage employees to be involved, knowledgeable, and set the tone for meaningful discussions based in fact.

It’s important to realize that these conversations will not end on Election Day, and taking a proactive approach to create an environment for these types of discussions to continue beyond the election can be pivotal to your company culture. Idea Grove, a 25-person, Dallas-based PR and marketing agency, is a member of A Day for Democracy, a non-partisan initiative to encourage leaders across the U.S. to pledge to increase employee participation in the democratic.

To do so, Idea Grove looks to their transparent and respectful culture. According to John Lacy, President & COO, “We allow political discourse, but also have guidelines in place that align with our core values to keep that discourse respectful in nature. We’ve spent six months working to have open, honest and transparent communications throughout the organization by collectively reading “Crucial Conversations” by Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, and Ron McMillan, a book that provides guidance on communicating thoughtfully and effectively when stakes are high. Respectful political discourse is one of those crucial conversations that we all need to be able to have, not only within our organization but outside of it as well.”

Enable Employees to Vote, Stress-Free

This is an unprecedented election. Not only is the country more divided than ever with polarizing candidates on both sides, but we’re still navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Helping your employees understand what their options are for voting safely and clearly creating a policy that allows them to take paid time to vote without fear of repercussions from missing work to do so will help alleviate stress where possible.

Providing links to resources like voting guides for your state to help employees understand key dates and deadlines, how to find their polling place, and first-time voter information is a great start. Depending on which state you live in, your employees may have the ability to vote by mail or early voting. For all states, employees will need to be able to verify their voter registration status to know which options are available to them, so sharing links for where they can do so is extremely helpful.

Many companies we spoke to are taking it a step further and making clear policies so employees understand that exercising their right to vote is important, and encouraged by the company. Edwin Rubio, VP of Sales for VaporEmpire.com says of their approach, “This year, in the midst of a pandemic which is a huge roadblock sure to hinder many from voting, it is crucial that everyone is provided an opportunity to take time out of their day from their place of work to go out and vote. As a leader of this company, it is my duty to allow my employees the chance to make sure their vote is counted without the threat of being reprimanded because of missing a few hours of work. What we are doing this year and have been doing each election cycle is providing each employee with a paid half-day of work of their choosing to make sure that they are able to vote before the deadline and without any issues. Making sure that everyone has the ability to vote and still get paid is something that we as a company have worked towards so that our employees understand we are a business that values individual freedoms and choice.”

Others have made Election Day a company holiday and given employees the entire day off. Eric Fischgrund, Founder of FischTank PR takes a simple approach to Election Day. “Everyone has off. This way, there is reduced stress on individuals as they navigate voting center lines, drop off ballot stations, and any other uncertainties as they arise. We also understand that Election Day is likely going to be a mentally and emotionally charged day, and want our team to be able to focus on their health and happiness, not work.” This approach also allows those who wish to volunteer at polling centers to do so freely.

Putting a New Policy in Place

Communicating a new policy to your employees shouldn’t be a barrier to implementing such a policy. If you want to make Election Day a paid company holiday, and have a modern HRIS like GoCo, you should be able to add the new holiday to your organization’s calendar and automatically add holiday hours to your employee’s timesheets or update payroll. 

If you want to provide a certain amount of paid hours for employees to vote, you can easily add a new type of PTO in your HR software to allow employees to choose that option when requesting that time off to vote. Ideally, your HRIS will allow employees to request that time easily and automatically update their time sheets or PTO balance to reflect the request.

You can also use the e-signature feature within GoCo to quickly send a new policy document to all employees and have them sign off in acknowledgement of the new policy.

Here at GoCo, we’re committed to helping our employees and yours navigate this unprecedented Election Day. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you put a policy in place to help your employees exercise their right to vote!

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