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A New Look At Business and Politics

by Sue Doud, Senior Recruiter Children's Hospital

Columbus , Ohio


It turns out that the old adage “business and politics don't mix” isn't true for savvy businesses in today's super charged political climate. With both federal and state legislation impacting many businesses' bottom lines with issues ranging from employment to pensions, it pays to make politics part of your business strategy. “From the HR perspective, it would be easier for me to say just stay away from politics in the workplace, but the reality is that it isn't necessarily good business to do so” says Sue Wilburn, Director of Organizational Development at Children's Hospital. She advises that “perspectives and opinions that impact the business you are in are critical for employees to understand.  Hearing it from you first makes sure they have their facts (at least how it affects their workplace) accurate.  One caution, do not pressure or have the tone of ‘telling' employees how they should vote or think about a topic, you are simply sharing facts.”

Research done by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after the 2002 election showed that by a 3-1 margin, employees had a positive opinion of their employer if they received 4-6 non-partisan election related communications through out the cycle. That positive opinion jumped to 4-1 when the employee received 7 or more communications. Further research showed that voter turnout increases as well with more “touches” from the employer. “Clearly, employees are looking for more information and see their employer as a valuable source of information”, says Chad Mitchell, Executive Director, Office of Grassroots and Advocacy Programs, US Chamber of Commerce.

Many companies in central Ohio have found creative ways to educate employees on issues or encourage political awareness/action framed in a non-partisan/voter education format. When it comes to educating employees on issues, the Limited Brands coordinated a Levy Issues Forum for the last election cycle. Both John Saros, Executive Director of Children's Services and Kathy Sullivan (yes, the astronaut) President of COSI came to the Limited and each gave a 45 minute presentation on the issue with a Q& A included. Take away packets of information were given to all attendees. “The feedback from employees on this program was very positive. They liked hearing about issues that impact them on the local level. While employees appreciate being informed about federal issues, these local levy issues hit closer to home”, comments Heather Smaltz, Director of Government Relations for the Limited Brands . Some issues that will most likely be on the ballot in November include a Zoo bond issue and the Columbus Public Schools.

Another approach to educating employees can be found at Columbus Children's Hospital, where they host a Candidates Forum every other year.

At least 2 major party candidates from every race through out the state are invited to attend the forum, which typically lasts about 2 ½ hours. Candidates talk about their position on a broad issue, such as children or youth. Although members of the community attend, easily 50% of the audience is comprised of Children's employees and medical staff. Morna Smith, Director of Government Affairs at Children's shared some of the staff feedback from their written evaluations of the program. “Employees like seeing legislators ‘live' and hearing their position on issues from the candidate directly. They say they feel like the candidate's forum makes the election ‘more real' and they feel more educated.”says Smith. A breakfast reception held immediately prior to the forum affords employees the opportunity to mix with both current and prospective legislators over coffee. The 2004 Candidates Forum will be held Friday, October 15 th at Children's Hospital. To learn more, visit www.columbuschildrens.com .

The two most fundamental programs that employers of any size can do with their employees are voter registration and reminding employees to vote. Nationwide, through its Civic Action Program (CAP), holds voter registration drives twice a year. The drives are held once before the primary deadline and once before the general election primary. Held in the employee cafeterias all around the country, Nationwide has had up to 300 employees register to vote at one time. Employees and agents can also request an absentee ballot utilizing the CAP's website. All the voter information on the site is provided in both Spanish and English. Programs like these support Nationwide's strong belief that the country's interests are best served when well-informed employees are active in civic and political activities, says Nathan P. Wymer, Government Relations Manager for Nationwide .

If you don't have your own site, you can request hard copy voter registration cards from the Ohio Secretary of State's web site at http://www.state.oh.us/sos/ . Or you could use a national voter registration site such as Rock the Vote at www.rockthevote.com . The deadline for voter registration is October 4 th , 2004 . Reminding employees to vote on election day, typically called “Get Out The Vote” programs are held by many employers. A simple reminder email from the company president the day before election day (which is Tuesday, November 2, 2004 ) is one widely used strategy. If employees question whether their one vote counts, you only have to think back to the last presidential election to know it does. For another example, in the 1960 presidential race, John F. Kennedy would have been defeated if one more person in each of ten Cook County , Illinois precincts had voted for Richard Nixon!! So it pays to be involved, both as an individual and as a business.