For employers, 2020 has been a year of social reckoning, leading to a recognition of an increased responsibility for the welfare of employees. Corporate leaders relinquished board seats to make room for underrepresented leadership, expanded diversity and inclusion efforts and increased benefit offerings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for action against racial inequality.
Many employers expanded mental health and counseling services, especially virtual offerings, as telehealth became a big part of the employee health package. With kids unable to go to school, one company created summer programming for its employees' children. Others provided extra time off for caretaking or a bonus to help with it, and it seems everyone is getting more flexible with scheduling. All of these initiatives, and others, were under consideration for HR Dive's Employee Benefit of the Year.
But on Sept. 1, Old Navy announced it would allow employees to not only take time off for Election Day, but it would pay them for an eight-hour day if they worked or volunteered at their local jurisdiction's polling center. Given the expected shortage of poll workers, the company partnered with nonprofit Power the Polls to allow employees to take advantage of this offer, which has been selected as HR Dive's 2020 Employee Benefit of the Year.
"We learned America was facing a record shortage of poll workers (estimated as high as 500K) for the 2020 election, an election year with the potential to attract a historic turnout," a company spokesperson told HR Dive via email. "Old Navy had a unique opportunity to meet this need by tapping into its young, civic-minded workforce, encouraging them to serve as poll workers and providing them with paid time off to do so."
The idea gained traction across Gap Inc., Old Navy's parent company, and on Sept. 17 the entire company announced it was on board.
"We collaborate with our Gap Inc. colleagues on regular basis, and while this initiative started with the Old Navy brand initially, our sister brands – Gap, Banana Republic, Athleta, Janie & Jack and Intermix – were excited to join our efforts and extend the same offer to their employees," the spokesperson said.
The voting benefit was one part of a broader organizational push around civic involvement.
"[Gap] is elevating the stories of employees and showcasing informative and engaging content, corresponding with significant dates such as the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and National Voter Registration Day, up until election day. The company has also been providing open office hours with its Government Affairs team to ensure employees feel informed and empowered to vote wherever they live," the Sept. 17 announcement read.
For other employers looking to adopt similar initiatives around voting or civic engagement, Old Navy recommended making sure a proposed change is a fit for the company's culture and that leadership has cultivated an environment where employees and managers are open and willing to participate in such initiatives. Old Navy saw many employees sign up even before its offer was extended to the entire parent corporation.
"Programs must be rooted in brand values to authentically resonate with employees and customers and to gain leadership support. In this case, our partnership with Power the Polls naturally aligned with our Old Navy brand values of inclusivity and opportunity, and was well-suited for our civic-minded store teams who regularly volunteer and [give back] in their communities year-round."
Hundreds of employees were ultimately able to take advantage of the offer, according to a company spokesperson, contributing thousands of hours to the national effort.
"We saw an opportunity, and a responsibility, to help sustain the voting process by recruiting poll workers and election volunteers," Old Navy CEO and President Nancy Green told HR Dive via email. "That's why we empowered our employees to get involved this Election Day, without the concern of missing a paycheck. [...] The success of this initiative was a result of the collaboration between many of our internal departments – Brand Engagement, HR, Operations, Finance – and of course would not have come to life without our incredible, civic-minded employees in the field who responded to the opportunity with such enthusiasm."