With the mid-term elections looming, the pressure across all parties and organizations to get people to the polls is more prevalent than ever before — from nationwide campaigns, like Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” to public pleas from social media influencers encouraging their followers to get out and participate in the pivotal election.
Yet, as the number of eligible voters increases, we continue to see some of the lowest voter turnout in our nation’s history, with only half of eligible voters showing up to the polls in the 2014 election. Equally as troubling, the youngest voters, aged 18-29, have the lowest voter turnout, with only 20 percent participating in 2014 according to the 2014 Pew Research Center study.
So what is keeping our voters from the polls?
Voter turnout is directly correlated to annual household income. The 2014 Pew Research Center study found that 51 percent of households making $100,000 or more a year voted, while only 38 percent of those making $50,000 or less showed up to the polls, with the turnout numbers growing even smaller as income decreases. While many states like California mandate giving employees time off to vote, it is not as simple as just taking time off for busy families and non-exempt employees.
Additionally, lack of access to childcare services is another hurdle many American parents face. But what if voting didn’t have to mean lost wages and parting with PTO time?
To help combat this issue, companies are starting to think about how to introduce new progressive benefits that will empower employees to take the time they need to be more civically engaged and active members of their communities. For example, companies of all sizes, from Walmart, Lyft and Patagonia to our own company, Zenefits, all recently created initiatives to increase voter turnout — from offering free rides to the polls to shutting down corporate offices for the entire midterm election day.
These benefits are sometimes labeled as “CTO” or “Civic Time Off,” and ensure that employees are not penalized but are instead encouraged to take time to participate in our democratic system, regardless of political affiliation, in whatever way is authentic to their core values and political beliefs. While voting is hot on the national dialogue with midterm elections right around the corner, CTO policies are not solely focused on getting people to the polls. CTO can be used for any civic endeavors, including voting, volunteering for a candidate, attending a school board meeting, canvassing or any other time devoted to civic participation.
But companies have not always viewed civic engagement as a benefit in this way. A recent influx of millennials into the workforce has shifted benefits conversations and influenced the way employers think about their responsibility around workforce wellness, creating a new wave of progressive benefit offerings.
These new innovative benefits add to employee perks and are often thought of as a supplement to an employee’s salary. Though it may sound simple, these offerings can absolutely make or break an employee’s experience at a company and often is what attracts them to the role in the first place. These benefits, when thought of in a meaningful way, can be anything from covering commuter costs to furthering educational interests to blanketed physical/wellness stipends.
In this case, employers have begun to realize the necessity of civic-minded benefits. More and more, companies are beginning to see how today’s political environment is affecting their employees and their work. By offering CTO policies, employees are able to participate in the political moments in time that matter most to them, coming back to the office fulfilled and ready to take on the next workplace challenge.
As a company, it is important to build your team’s skill sets, not only as it pertains to their career development but also as it pertains to personal development beyond the walls of the workplace. This will not only lead to a happier, more well-rounded workforce but will also greatly benefit our nation at large as more companies make civic engagement a priority.
Whether your company is focused on incentivizing employee voting or encouraging daily in-office wellness programs for a healthier work-life balance, the important thing is that we recognize as people leaders the positive affect opportunities outside of the workplace have on our employees. A truly healthy workforce is composed of employees who are fulfilled both inside and outside of the workplace.