The “S” in ESG is among the most impactful sustainability factors despite being among the least measured.

There are a myriad of Social factors in sustainability, but what they have in common is they are about “social relationships.” A company’s relationship with its employees is key, but so is its relationship with the community and the broader society.

We recommend, in our firm’s proprietary NET+ ESG Reporting Framework, that one positive and almost universally well received practice to respond to those ESG Social factors is “giving employees a paid day off to work at the polls on Election Day.”

In the 2020 election year, to encourage employees to vote, it was widely reported in the media that more than 800 companies signed the “Time to Vote” pledge allocating time for staffers to vote during their workday. However, many saw that as little more than pandering given that more than 30 states require by law employers give workers time off to vote on election day. And while nice, allowing employees to leave work 2 hours early to vote does not create the culture shift needed to increase participation in our democracy, and this is not what we advocate for our ESG clients (.. and might even be characterized as greenwashing).

The 2020 “Power the Polls” initiative to recruit polling place workers at a time of a poll worker shortage where most poll workers are over age 60 and stayed away during the pandemic, is of course a good thing (.. even at a time more states are moving to a vote by mail option), but again not enough to move large numbers of people toward action in our representative democracy, not enough to satisfy those participating in the recent protests and larger unrest across America, and not fast enough or far enough to heal the world.

In addition to those efforts, in the last election cycle, amid the pandemic, there was a push among companies to encourage employees to work at the polls on election day. Companies are encouraging employees to be active citizens. And this is at the same time increasing numbers of people want their voices to be heard even if they were not personally participants in protests in the streets, large numbers of Americans were sympathetic to the causes, maybe more than at any time since the anti-war marches of the 1970s. Moreover, this push has been popular with younger workers who often wear their greater ethical awareness on their sleeves.  

So, to respond to the contemporary belief that companies should improve the well-being of everyone they impact (.. yes, in the face of the old Milton Friedman view of ‘companies exist for the stockholder only’), to drive a culture shift needed to increase participation in and strengthen our democracy, bigger numbers of forward thinking companies are giving employees “a paid day off to work at the polls on election day” without condition or limitation. That is, allowing the employee to choose to be a poll worker for the local election board, to work for a politician on the ballot on election day, to campaign for an issue or cause at a polling place on election day, or however else the employee chooses to work at the polls.

The company benefits in paying employees to work at the polls, with what will ultimately be a more sustainable world when it allows, if not encourages, employees to serve civil society improving government and helping them repair the world.