On Nov. 6, our phones will be pinging with breaking news alerts. Cable TV will be basking in the full glory of high ratings. Democracy will be on full display. Yet a broken piece of our system will fly under the radar until election postmortems. And that will be too late. Millennials – the nation's largest generational voting bloc – will not have gone to the polls. And their absence is dangerous for our nation.
That's why I'm encouraging my own employees to go to the polls.
In the past four midterm elections, just 20 percent of millennials voted. As a millennial myself (disclaimer: I made the cut by 18 days), I get it. We grew up in the information age, which exposed corruption, hypocrisy, and bureaucracy in large institutions that previous generations held in the highest esteem. We used that distrust to build our own beliefs and challenge our institutions to higher standards. And when our institutions didn't live up to those higher standards, we left them. The result: As a generation, we're less likely to affiliate with a political party or religious organization, and we don't have much trust in corporate America. As for the federal government, just 22 percent of us say we have a "great deal of confidence" in that institution.
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These feelings of mistrust are compounded by our experience with the electoral system. For many of us, including myself, in the first presidential election in which we were eligible to vote, the candidate who won the popular vote lost the election. Two years ago, it happened again. This pattern is unprecedented! Prior to 2000, a president hadn't been elected without winning the popular vote since 1888, when Benjamin Harrison was elected over the incumbent Grover Cleveland. This occurring twice in one generation has significant cultural ripple effects that have gone largely undiagnosed.
Our actual voting process furthers the generational mistrust, setting up a perfect storm of apathy. As millennials, our entire lives have been empowered by technology. From our phone, we shop for groceries on Amazon, vote for the next American Idol, buy a car, and match with our future partner. All of these entities engage us in the process. Yet when electing our representatives, we face obstacle after obstacle. In 2018, not every state has online registration. Our polling places change from year to year. And the glaring, most obvious obstacle? Elections are still held on a Tuesday – the middle of a workweek.
In addition to being a millennial, I'm also the co-CEO of Chester-based Power Home Remodeling, an organization that employs over 2,500 people. Our employee base is predominantly millennial, with a median age of 28. We routinely attract young people in part because we celebrate and challenge them to serve something bigger than themselves: their colleagues, their community, and their country. It's a large reason why we were named the No. 1 Workplace for Millennials by Fortune Magazine.
Like many CEOs, I'm presented with competing priorities on Election Day: Promote civic engagement amongst our employee base and minimize business disruption. This is a challenge that should be easily avoided. While our organization isn't able to close for the day, we canceled all company-wide meetings and are offering all employees across the country two hours of flex time in order to vote. They can choose to come in late, vote during an extended lunch, or leave early.
The result will be a loss in productivity and, in turn, profitability – but it's the best of bad options that many CEOs are faced with. Just as our companies will fail without the full engagement of our people, so will our country. We have to make voting easier. While all American citizens have one voice and one vote, CEOs have a disproportionate opportunity to affect change.
A representative democracy can't exist if its largest single voting bloc stays home Nov. 6. A government by the people, for the people requires all people to show up and engage. Whether we're the CEO giving time off to vote, or a millennial persuading our friends to go to the polls, we all share a civic responsibility to participate. Remember: Democracy is not a spectator sport. Congress will meet with or without us.
Asher Raphael is the co-CEO of Power Home Remodeling, and No. 6 on Glassdoor's top CEOs list.