Paid Time Off for Activism, Is a Real Thing

For many years, employee engagement has been a hot topic. It is, by definition, the level of commitment that staff members have to the organization’s mission and values, to their work, and to the success of the business as a whole. Increased productivity is only one of the advantages that organizations that value employee engagement are aware of.

Paid Time Off for Activism

As a result, many have implemented innovative and creative ways to get and keep their employees engaged.  One of the most altruistic is by creating programs to match charitable giving and encourage volunteerism.  Some of the benefits include:

  • Helps shape the corporate culture
  • Gives employees a sense of purpose
  • Attracts potential talent
  • Improves employee retention
  • Improves performance
  • Develops alternative skills
  • Builds camaraderie.

Given the current climate in our country, some organizations have taken this even a step further by offering paid time off to employees who wish to participate in political protests. In February Comcast offered its employees paid time off to protest the travel ban.  A spokesman for the telecommunications giant explained,

“Our primary focus is to make sure that all of our employees feel safe in their jobs, including while traveling,” he said. “We have assured our employees that no one will be asked to travel to a place that would result in them feeling vulnerable in any way.”

This is a growing trend in Silicon Valley, when on May Day Facebook and Google gave paid time off to protest immigration policies. Technology companies are not the only ones offering this type of leave benefit.  A San Francisco based Advertising Agency, Traction, offers two days per year for activism.

I am advocate for liberal leave policies that offer a better work-life balance for employees although I tend to favor the more general “Unlimited Paid Time Off” policy over ones that specify reasons. Studies have proven that employees who are offered unlimited leave take the same amount of time off as they would under a capped policy.  Also, the engaged employees, the ones that you want to retain, aren’t abusing or taking advantage of the benefit.

Reason-oriented leave such as Pet Bereavement Leave, Menstrual Leave, and Political Activism Leave that only offers paid time off to a segment of the employee population, has pros and cons and in some ways can be risky for the organization.

I commend Facebook for providing paid time off for all of its employees to demonstrate on May Day. Positively, it demonstrated support for the 15% of workers who would be negatively impacted by the present administration’s immigration policies. On the other side, if there isn’t a similar incentive provided if they wish to take part in a protest in favor of the Black Lives Matter Movement, smaller sectors of the employee population, like the 1.5% of Black employees, may feel belittled.

Employees may have a similar passion for a variety of causes and the desire to promote them. They might be equally concerned about problems impacting women, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and those with (dis)abilities. Therefore, groups like Traction, who provide two days off to protest, unintentionally urge people to prioritize which are most crucial. By doing this, they run the risk of creating a workforce that is excessively homogeneous since workers may only speak out against issues that are popular among their peers or that they believe are crucial to the organization’s leadership.

Political activism is nothing new in the workplace. Employer-sponsored political action committees (PACs) have existed for a long time with the purpose of educating staff about policy matters that directly impact the organizations where they work. Some companies additionally provide unique rewards to their staff members who join or contribute to PACs. The way that employees are deciding to participate in politics is novel.

Just as the workforce is evolving making way for Millennials to take the lead, so must the ways in which we approach, define, and seek to improve employee engagement. Political Activism Leave could very well be a short-term benefit aimed at addressing the current state of affairs in our country.  Temporary or not, if managed responsibly, the long term effects will be a more civic minded, politically active, and socially conscious workforce.

M Puglise


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