Should You Give Your Employees Time Off to Vote?
(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
Here’s a startling fact: According to the New York Times, only 9 percent of the American population voted for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as their candidate. It seems that when you deduct those who are too young, too infirmed, and too lazy as well those who voted for other candidates during the primary season, you reach a very low number of real people who actually support our two presidential candidates — fewer than 30 million out of a total population of 324 million.
Another sad fact: in the last presidential election only 57.5 percent of eligible voters actually voted. “Despite an increase of over eight million citizens in the eligible population, turnout declined from 131 million voters in 2008 to an estimated 126 million voters in 2012 when all ballots are tallied,” reported the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Some 93 million eligible citizens did not vote.”
One CEO wants to change that. Hunter Walk, who runs Homebrew, a company that provides seed venture capital and operational advice to small businesses and startups, plans to give his employees time off in the middle of the day to vote.
“While I might be partisan,” he wrote this week in his blog, “this voter effort is not. For too long the tech community has been accused of apathy around social issues. I know this to not be the case from my daily interactions with passionate entrepreneurs. This time I wanted to seek out CEOs and founders of tech companies who would be encouraging their teams to vote and proactively give them time off if necessary. Let’s flip the script and have the CEOs inform their teams of their right to go vote — and encourage participation.” Walk reports that many other tech firms — including Spotify, Task Rabbit and SurveyMonkey — are also giving their employees time off during the day to vote.
I admire his passion and agree with him. There is definitely a voter turnout problem in this country. But hey, why stop there? Shouldn’t employers also give their employees time off to go food shopping? Or take a bike ride? Couldn’t you argue that a person’s nutrition and health is even more important to the country than whether he votes this year? Or maybe a little time off to see the latest Woody Allen movie or visit the library during the day — we all could use some intellectual stimulation and the smarter we are, the better country we’ll be, don’t you agree? Or wait … how about some time off during the day so that we can go home and play with our dogs? Studies have shown that pets reduce stress and isn’t stress a major issue we all have to deal with? As employers, where exactly do we draw a line when it comes to “encouraging” our employees what to do?
Whether or not your employees vote, eat right, exercise daily, watch Woody Allen movies, or spend enough time with their dogs is really not your problem. They are grown people who are capable of making their own decisions. Just as long as they get their work done.
If you run a business and you’re like most of my firm’s clients, then I’m going to make a bet that you vote. Maybe you show up at the polls when they open at (gasp!) 7 a.m., or you stop by to vote after work instead of playing Pokemon Go with your friends. Or perhaps you sneak out during the day when the lines are shorter, vote … and then return to work. And of course you make sure that your responsibilities are still met even if that means (gasp!) staying an hour later at work to get them done. You do this because you are an adult. No one needs to encourage you. Or pay you, for God’s sake.
You do this because you understand that voting is a right and that whoever gets elected to Congress and the White House will have a significant impact on your livelihood over the next four years. You don’t need anyone telling you to vote. You don’t need an incentive, a prize, or a glass of milk, and a chocolate chip cookie to do what you know you should be doing. As a business owner, no one is “paying” you with time off to exercise your right — no, your duty — as an American citizen to participate in the election process.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have died in wars over the past 200 years to protect our freedom and our right to democratically vote for our elected leaders. Millions of people around the world live under unelected, authoritarian governments where they fear for their safety and have no freedom of speech. And yet some employers in this country feel the need to give a trophy in the form of paid time off to their employees just so that they make the time to vote?
I guess you figured out how I stand on this issue. Walk’s passion is justified and admirable. Everyone should vote. It’s critical — particularly in this insane election year. Employers should do their best to educate their people and be flexible to accommodate their schedules. But no, compensating them to vote by way of offering paid time off is the wrong message to send. At some point, and at some age, we all have to step up and do the responsible thing — even if it causes a little inconvenience in our busy, important lives.