Illustration by Charter · Photo by iStock Kathy Feeney, Andrii Shyp, fizkes

As we edge closer to the 2024 election, now less than six months away, leaders should expect rising levels of election stress within their workplaces.

Four years ago, 68% of adults surveyed by the American Psychological Association said that the presidential election was a significant source of stress in their life. More recent research has shown that concerns about politics and social events can have a major impact on happiness, particularly for Gen Z and Millennial workers

For Greg Behrman, CEO of leadership network and advisory company NationSwell, there are clear reasons for businesses to act. “Business depends on our democratic system to flourish,” he says. “And business leaders know that key stakeholders really care, particularly employees.” One Edelman Trust Institute report showed that a majority of employees aged 18-54 would like their employers to cultivate civil discourse both in and out of the workplace, whether by training employees on how to engage constructively on contentious issues or providing information about political and social issues.

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We recently reached out to Behrman to learn about the best ways to address any election stress and approach encouraging civic engagement. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Why should businesses be encouraging civic engagement among employees?

In our community of social impact sustainability and philanthropic leaders, we’ve been earing about a lot of skittishness about politics in their organizations — and of course there is the pushback against ESG [environmental, social, and governance] and DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] issues. And at the same time, we are moving into a massively consequential election with enormous stake for the future of business.

Business depends on our democratic system to flourish, and business leaders know that key stakeholders really care, particularly employees. They have strong feelings, they really care about their organizations engaging, leaning in, not sort of sitting on the sidelines or sitting on their hands during consequential time. Also, it’s going to be a legacy issue for corporations when big events happen. People remember what people did or didn’t do at those moments. And so what we really thought on our end was, okay, how then should people navigate it? How should they navigate the very real challenges, the fraught moment, some of that apprehension while also having the imperative to act for all the reasons stated.

We spoke to a range of experts, and the key message from our work is that there are ways to be nonpartisan. There are ways to navigate some of the challenges of the moment while also leaning in to protecting and advancing democracy and doing right by your organization, your stakeholders, and the democratic system upon which your business and all business really depends on.

What are some of the most promising strategies you’ve come across?

There’s time to vote—which in our view has become table stakes—and there are ways that you can flex a bit more ambitiously. Maybe you can provide time to also be a poll worker or participate in other forms of civic engagement. Some organizations even close the entire business for the day. NationSwell actually provides all of its employees a democracy day. Whether on election day or not, employees have a chance to have a paid day to engage civically in a way that is meaningful for them.

There are lots of great resources that you can provide. There are organizations that have portals or toolkits that direct people to where to vote, how to register to vote, and all the basic information that you might need to feel equipped to engage in the election in a way that works for you. A great example of that is Levi’s and BallotReady, which provides a one-stop shop solution to its employees.

And so that is of great benefit to employees that is strengthening the election experience and the democratic process. And I think also fundamentally, Michelle, I would say that nesting this in basic fundamental principles that really should not be objectionable, our shared belief in adherence in democracy and its fundamental workings that it should be fair, it should be transparent that everyone who is eligible should have the easiest path to exercise their franchise and to vote. And that is something that all leaders and all citizens of our country should feel a great deal of conviction and a great deal of confidence in asserting. So those are a couple of examples Nick and I can also walk you through. There are some really interesting creative ambitious programs, ways that people can speak out, but hopefully we gave you a sense of the kind of things that folks can do short of going external.

Are there ways that companies should be evolving their strategies in light of increasing concerns about AI and disinformation?

Particularly in the last couple years, experts are watching misinformation and disinformation really carefully, with the uptick in AI and bots and the fragmentation of the media space. That’s going to become increasingly prominent. A really productive role that companies can play is to help equip people with some of the tools, some of the principles, some of the approaches to ensure that they’re leaning on credible sources of information to be able to parse accurate information from misinformation and disinformation. Whether companies rely on third-party workshops or apply best practices internally, companies are thinking about ways to provide training and resources to their team members to help them navigate a challenging information environment. But it’s a puzzle and organizations are still figuring out how to manage it and help their employees manage it individually.

Read more from our conversation with NationSwell for specific tactics to try, including templates and scripts, in Charter Pro.

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