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Friday, October 23, 2020

Council Post: How Small-Business Owners Can Educate Employees About Public Policy That Affects Them

President/CEO of Joseph’s Premier Real Estate; professor of finance, business, real estate at IRSC; author of Madness, Miracles, Millions.

In November, millions of Americans will cast a vote for either President Trump or his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. But that’s not the only decision at stake. This election cycle, voters in more than 30 states will decide on more than 100 statewide ballot measures, ranging from marijuana legalization to campaign finance reform and tax policy. In my own state of Florida, a ballot measure would raise the state’s current minimum wage of $8.56 to $15 per hour by 2026, with a jump to $10 an hour as early as next year. This ballot measure is one of many that would affect millions of entrepreneurs and even more employees.

With Election Day around the corner, more small business owners may be considering educating workers about public-policy changes that could affect them in the near future. Traditionally, small business has simply reacted to the political cycle after the fact, without proactively addressing issues that may emerge down the road.

Consider a $15 hourly minimum wage. While some workers would benefit from increased take-home pay, they would be overshadowed by those who see their hours reduced or jobs lost as a result. When the government raises the minimum wage, elected officials are effectively raising the labor costs borne by small businesses, many of which already operate on tight margins.

It’s a complicated issue, but employees need to understand that for themselves. One source that can help them understand proposed public policy is their employer. Employers are in a unique position to explain the intended and unintended consequences of mandated wage increases and other public-policy decisions. They have a stake in understanding policy as they would personally be dealing with any effects. In today’s hyper-polarized political climate, political analysis from a stakeholder can provide a perspective employees might not find elsewhere. Small business owners, with whom they already have an established relationship, can fill that void and provide that analysis — business by business, job by job.

For years now, I have held educational sessions with my workers, breaking down public policy in the context of our common interest. They appreciate me for it since we have already developed a basic level of trust. They understand my perspective as a business owner and know that I have their best interests at heart.

For any small business owner looking to be more informed about proposed policy and interested in sharing this knowledge with employees, I recommend three simple steps:

1. Educate yourself about current public-policy debates. Understand not only the ballot initiatives in play but also the policy platforms of political candidates in your backyard, even the 2020 presidential candidates. Resources like Ballotpedia can provide a summary of existing ballot initiatives, in addition to policy platforms for the major political candidates. You can always visit a candidate’s website, too.

2. Put together a comprehensive analysis of public policies that may affect your business. Include the advantages and disadvantages of each policy. Presenting the advantages and disadvantages of legislation such as changes to the minimum wage can allow employees to decide for themselves how they feel about the policy in question. Remember to make the information easily digestible for your employees so they are genuinely informed by your analysis, not overwhelmed.

3. Host an educational session, either in a one-on-one setting or as a team. This will depend on your specific workforce, but I have found company-wide meetings to be effective. Make sure to host the meeting in good faith, welcoming input and leaving time for questions. Above all else, be honest with your employees so they understand that you’re concerned about their well-being, not just the bottom line.

If all small business owners followed this model, America’s civic discourse could be in a better place. Our electorate — employees and entrepreneurs — would become better informed in the process and better equipped to vote on Election Day. The more educated we are, the better — in business and everywhere else.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

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