Politics in the Workplace! Yes or No?

In times past it was generally accepted that, in polite company, you didn’t discuss three distinct topics:  religion, politics and…well…you can guess the other one.  Times have changed and with the advent of social media, many of these traditional ideas seem very quaint!  In the area of elections and the workplace, we have seen big changes over the years that have led to companies thinking about politics in the workplace, how involved a company can be and even if a company wants to be active at all.

Politics and elections can be a challenge in the office environment, especially with the intense interest in years when it is a Presidential election, like 2016.  This environment can be confusing, both for employees and employers.  This brings forth the question of how active should an employer be during an election, and in what way that does not create potential problems.

Like individuals, every employer in every industry in this country has a vested interest in the outcome of an election because lawmakers and Presidents have the ability to create public policy that can have a tremendous impact on any industry, either positively or negatively.

However, there are areas where employers can be involved on varying levels in the election process.  Data developed by the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) has shown that employees actually look favorably on information provided from an employer on issues, candidates and elections.  Employers should take the opportunity to provide that information so that employees understand how policy positions of different candidates would impact their industry and the voting process.  This allows employees to make an informed choice when they enter the voting booth and also allows them to consider the impact a particular vote could have on their industry; in some cases a voter will discover that the candidate that is closest to their personal views may not be the best candidate for their industry and that may be something they want to add into the equation when making a voting decision.

All of this might be new for your company, and you might still have concerns about getting involved in deeper activities surrounding an election.  However, one area where you can be involved and have a positive impact is making sure your employees are registered to vote and that they understand the voting process.  Here are some ways to start that process:

  • Consider sponsoring a nonpartisan voter registration drive as part of company events: the company picnic, in-house seminars, brown bag lunches and other similar events at your company.  Encourage your employees to register to vote.
  • Include voter registration material in employee information packets and in welcome kits for new employees.
  • Alert employees as critical dates near including registering to vote for an upcoming election, deadlines to apply for an absentee ballot and the opening of early voting.  Do this for both primaries and general elections.
  • Some states require that employers provide paid time off to vote.  If your state does not have laws requiring this, consider instituting paid time off for people to have time to vote and to remind employees before the election when polls open and close in your state – different states have different times so it is important to know the poll times in your locality.

These are just a few examples where employers can be active in helping their employees participate in citizen democracy.  While an employer never wants to be viewed as trying to force employees to vote a certain way, providing tools to register to vote can go a long way in helping individuals be informed and navigate on Election Day.

Are you interested in knowing what more you can do to educate your employees on the issues?  inFUSION Group can help!

Written By: Christopher R. Brown, CAE
Senior Consultant, inFUSION Group

Looking Ahead: Technology and Government Affairs

Written By: Christopher R. Brown, CAE

As technology continues to develop at a very fast rate, social media in government affairs advocacy will also continue to expand. Failure to keep abreast of developing social media techniques will quickly leave government affairs executives behind as their ability to connect with potential advocates will lessen against the onslaught of social media messaging in many public policy debates.

Take for instance the actions last week with the Supreme Court, which undertook two cases surrounding the issue of marriage equality. It can be safe to say that this is a contentious issue with diverging viewpoints on the matter. The issue exploded on Facebook following the introduction of a red and pink modified version of the Human Rights Campaign equality logo. The image went viral when thousands of people changed their Facebook and Twitter profile images to speak out in support of marriage equality. Senator John Tester, a Montana Democrat, even announced his position on the subject on his Facebook page. Twitter was also buzzing on the topic of marriage equality before, during and after the Supreme Court proceedings. This is a major transformation from the days, not so long ago, when advocacy groups would gather at the Supreme Court building or on the National Mall, and hold signs supporting or opposing a public policy issue. While that still took place last week, the impact of social media adds an additional layer of complexity, as well as an avenue for citizen involvement, on high-level public policy issues.

The activity last week illustrates the sheer power that social media can have on an organization’s advocacy program. In this example, those who have discussed the issue and have a Facebook and Twitter account tend to be demographically younger. What this tells advocacy professionals is that they need to align their own organizations with the use of this technology platform in future advocacy activities, as many marketers have done already. Recently the New York Times Magazine published a story that discussed major differences in the use of technology in the 2012 Presidential campaign. The main premise was that Republicans are woefully behind in the development and use of technology in campaigns and need to vastly improve their performance in this area. Yet this article also illustrates how technology is used in campaigns and advocacy activities; if an organization wants to be relevant, it needs to embrace technology, and more importantly, have a defined strategy of how it will be used.

Technology in advocacy has changed tremendously since 2000. Prior to 2001, it was still common to mail a letter to a Member of Congress using the United States Postal Service and Capitol Hill offices were learning how to incorporate e-mail communications from constituents into their operations. The combination of the anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill in 2001 with significant advances in technology and the use of the Internet completely changed this landscape. Advocacy professionals throughout the first decade of the 2000s saw grassroots communications switch from mailed letters to faxed letters to the extensive use of e-mail and online advocacy tools that allowed organizations to develop structures to mobilize their members and employees to communicate with lawmakers. The second half of this decade saw the introduction of Smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a host of other applications and online resources that can be used for advocacy purposes. The amazing things your members and employees can accomplish online, compared with 2001, is truly mind-boggling and is a ripe opportunity to use technology to harness your online advocates.

The explosion of discussion, posts and tweets on the marriage equality issue last week also shows the power of these systems to sway public opinion. Not having a social media response, let alone a consistent social media presence, can lead to disastrous results for your organization.