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The Connection between Civic Engagement and Employee Engagement

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Nov 5, 2018 1:15:59 PM

employee engagementI’m going to do something that everyone who writes a business blog knows is a dangerous idea. I’m going to talk about the 2016 American election.

(Calm down, PR team, it’s going to be OK.)

Specifically, I want to talk about the 108,600,056 people who did not vote in the 2016 election. That’s 46.9% of eligible voters choosing to sit that one out. Not only did those folks decide not to weigh in on two dramatically different presidential candidates they also didn’t have a voice in who will represent them at the local and state level, nor on any ballot measures that the voters were asked to decide.

Voting is our opportunity to exercise improvement in our government. That’s not to say that incumbents should never win; if we like the way things are going, we get the chance to sustain the current direction. If not, we get to call out for a change. Yet so many of us decline to engage.

Sound familiar?

One of the biggest struggles for organizations that want to pursue continuous improvement is a lack of employee engagement. There may be some people who are completely in the game, but many others who aren’t.

Remarkably, when you look at the reasons that people give for not voting, they are very similar to the reasons that employees fail to voluntarily seek ways to instigate positive change.

Let’s look at the reasons people don’t engage.


It’s Too Hard

When it comes to voting, there have recently been changes in election laws that make voting more of a chore. Things like voter ID rules, confusing information about polling place locations, registration purges, and long lines create barriers to voting that some people can’t, or choose not to, overcome. Whether the hoops are necessary or not is a subject of debate, but it stands to reason that the more difficult it is to vote, the fewer people will do it. People are taking note, in 2018 there are an unprecedented number of ballot measures designed to make voting easier including automatic registration, relaxed absentee voting rules, and election day registration.

Is it possible that getting involved in improvement in your organization is too hard? Is it easy for employees to suggest an opportunity for improvement from any device they like at any time of day? Is there a structure to improvement work with alerts and notifications to help people achieve success? Anything you can do to simplify and streamline getting involved can only increase the chances that more members of your team will take action.

My Input Doesn’t Matter

To state the obvious, people are far more likely to vote if they think their vote matters. Unfortunately, the belief that it doesn’t is persistent for a number of reasons. Some people have given up on the idea that the government can benefit them regardless of which candidates are elected. Tammy Lester, a 42-year-old fast food worker in McDowell County, W.Va., who can't remember the last time she voted, told NPR, "What good does it do, though, when they'll promise you anything and then it's a lie."

Likewise, the belief that employee ideas for change don’t matter is also prevalent. Years of ignored suggestion box ideas or a rigid adherence to top-down leadership can convince workers that they should stay in their lane and not become emotionally invested in improvement. A culture that punishes failure or blames employees when processes fail can make this worse. The best antidote is to support employee efforts to improve and recognize success personally and often. Employees need to see that leaders care about creating an environment in which every individual can do their best work. The way to show people that their input matters is to prove it.

I Don’t Have Time

Another major reason people say they don't vote is the time and effort taken away from other priorities. Time off to vote is not mandated by federal law and election day is not a federal holiday. Most states have voter-leave laws, although they vary widely. Some states prevent employers from discouraging employees to take time off to vote, while others require employers to provide paid time off. Only 44 percent of employers offer their workers paid time off to vote. For some workers, taking time off on election day is simply not an option.

Continuous improvement requires a time commitment as well. Almost every employer would agree that improvement is a priority, but many do not create space in the day to actually do it. If employees are barely able to keep up with their main responsibilities, when can they be expected to work on improvement projects? All of the CI training and tools in the world won’t lead to results unless people have the minutes to use them.

I Don’t Feel Competent

The American political landscape is complicated. Gaining a solid understanding of each candidate and every issue takes effort and some degree of education. Feeling confused about what’s on the ballot keeps many people away. Christina, a 38-year-old single, working mom with little time for research, explained to NPR, “I'd rather not show up and do an uneducated guess. I don't want to make a mistake."

How competent are your employees in the tools and technology used for improvement? Have they been trained to recognize opportunities, and do they know what to do when one is spotted? Is there a common language around improvement that is used every day? Most importantly, is there a mechanism for learning and development? When people feel they have something of value to contribute and know how it should be done, they take action. Confidence and engagement go hand in hand.

(If you need more information about candidates or issues to confidently cast your vote, the non-profit, non-partisan online resource, Ballotpeida, may help.)

The chances that your vote will be the deciding factor in any race are small. But by exercising your right, you reaffirm that you are an active member of the citizenry and ensure that your opinion is counted. That matters.

This is a great message for your workers, “Whether every idea you submit is enacted or whether every effort results in success, your engagement matters.”  

Remember to vote this Tuesday, November 6.

Topics: Employee Engagement

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