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Employee engagement after Election Day

4 min read


We are just a week away from making our 2012 Election Day choices. For the first time in my voting career, we’re choosing more than our political leadership for the next four years — we are deciding its destiny, choosing between very different ideological paths.

No one needs to be told that employment is a big-deal issue this time around. But being employers is equally a big deal. And this goes beyond the hard numerical realities of the programs put into place in the last four years. (My few politically conservative HR friends are beginning to report that their pro-Affordable Care Act CEOs are looking at the tax impacts set to take effect in 2013. This is their common reaction: “Wait a minute. What?”)

Our country is making an ideological choice between diametrically opposed approaches to the way we will use business to solve our national problems. As such, we will be deciding what kind of ideological profile we’ll be serving up as employers to the people who work for our companies. The tradition of honoring capitalism and free-market principles just may not cut it any more when it comes to interacting with employees.

Over the last two years, the Occupy Wall Street movement has revealed that we have a significant cadre of resentful Americans who believe that helping a company prosper for its own sake just isn’t good enough anymore. In fact, the mere assumption that capitalism is a good thing causes trash cans to sprout wings and fly through plate-glass windows.

Granted, not every day is demonstration day — and not everyone is an OWS’er. But when you look at the video footage of those crowds facing down riot police, you have to think: These people have jobs. Or, if they don’t have jobs, they’re looking for them or are in college expecting one day to have a cubicle of their own. And for all the folks you see but can’t recognize behind the Guy Fawkes masks on the street, it’s reasonable to assume that there are millions of others sitting at home or in an expensive coffee shop agreeing with them to some extent. (There’s an HR consultant I know who proudly talks about being out there on the streets demonstrating with the rest of them.)

These people just didn’t go away with the summer months of 2012 and 2011. They’re still alive, and they want a job — maybe at your company. They’re out there, still vehemently anti-capitalist. But they want a piece of your action, preferably with a company-issued iPhone. Unfortunately, many of them have skills you desperately need.

How do you engage these people? How do you bring them in, give them a key card to your vacant workplace during off hours? How do you entrust them with the future of your enterprise, knowing full well that, off-hours, there’s a good chance that they’re indulging in conversations that are antithetical to the best business interests of your corporate adventure?

Do what proponents of capitalism should have been doing all along: Take every opportunity to remind all your employees of the connection between the free flow of capital and the improved human condition.

You might not be able to engage with the promise of “do a good job and you’ll be richly rewarded.” But you can’t go wrong with making the connection that capitalists and radicals alike would resonate with: “Our company is successful because we make the world a better place. Here’s how …”

My fervent desire is that you will have a wealth of dedicated talent, offered by positive, fresh-faced, smart, dedicated individuals who get that capitalism has saved the world before, and, hopefully, will do so again. Preferably, very soon. But the chances are good that one day you’ll be seriously considering a first-choice job candidate who is either very angry (should former Gov. Mitt Romney win) or very righteous (should President Barack Obama win).

You can engage that person, too. It’s just a matter of how you go about it.

Question: You have the choice between two candidates: One is a known OWS activist with a rare set of skills that you desperately need. The other is a graduate of business school, teachable but without that specific set of skills. Whom do you choose?