Are Your Culture Building Initiatives Optional? A Case for Mandatory Participation

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Like most companies, you probably have a number of engagement initiatives that are offered to anyone interested in taking part. Participation is spotty, but those who join really seem to get a lot out of it… although these individuals were typically engaged before you planned the activity. So we close our eyes and click our heels three times hoping that the good feelings will rub off on those too disengaged to attend. However, if you don’t have time for this positivity to slowly trickle into the culture cracks, consider what many countries already do—make participation mandatory.

When I heard about forced involvement, my initial reaction was that is sounded dictatorial. If you share the same concern, consider two things. First, your organization is not a democracy. Employees have only as much authority as leadership allows them. Second, and our focus today, are the democratic nations that have seen positive results after implementing compulsory voting laws.

It would be completely transformative if everybody voted.—Barack Obama

Australia, Switzerland, and 24 other democratic countries make national voting mandatory (see the chart below). The intent is more than simply increasing the number of people who turn out at the ballot box. According to Jill Sheppard, a political scientist and survey researcher at the Australian National University, nations that enforce mandatory voting have a more politically informed populace.

Utilizing data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), Sheppard found that in countries where compulsory voting is strongly enforced, heightened political knowledge was more evenly dispersed amongst educational backgrounds. This is not the case in countries with less stringent or no voter participation laws where the well-educated citizens tend to be significantly more informed. These positive effects were also found when comparing genders and socio-economic groups.

If mandatory voting results in greater political knowledge throughout a country, what could mandatory participation do for your culture building programs? You would have an opportunity to bring people together who don’t generally congregate. And the people who actually need to participate in these types of programs would be in attendance. Hopefully, they could experience a burst of engagement by interacting with the engaged, or at least benefit through osmosis. There would be grumblings at first, but isn’t this the case with any new initiative?

So do we go the way of Australia and force civic involvement in company activities OR do we continue with optional participation in the hope that engagement is linked to choice? Let the discussion begin.

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