Times are turbulent to say the least. From the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, there’s a lot going on and a lot that people have strong feelings about.
Especially when it comes to younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z, social justice is an increasingly important value. “The political engagement of Gen Z, whether it’s about climate change, racial justice, or gender equality, is fast becoming a feature of the generation,” The Washington Post reported last year.
The publication cites a 2019 Pew Research Center study which found that Gen Z is more likely to say that Black people are treated less fairly than White people in the United States.
These younger generations are also increasingly expecting their values to be reflected at work. A 2021 marketing study found that just 19% of Gen Zers were willing to work for a company that does not share their values.
In May 2020, &pizza, an East Coast pizza chain, announced that, moving forward, the company would be giving employees paid time off for activism.
And, &pizza is far from alone. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, corporations across industries from Amazon to Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that they’d be paying for their employees’ travel expenses to access abortion care. Social justice benefits like these are becoming increasingly common in the workplace, especially among tech companies.
But what are social justice benefits exactly and how do they work? Are your employees interested in them? Should you be offering social justice benefits at your company?
Here’s a crash course in all things social justice benefits and whether or not they might be a good idea for your company.
What are social justice benefits for employees?
Social justice benefits are company benefits that employees receive. Social justice benefits are usually aimed at either promoting social justice directly or enabling employees to engage in causes that matter to them.
Because the idea of social justice benefits is so new, there isn’t 1 universally accepted definition of them. They work differently at each company that offers them.
But social justice benefits go beyond just perks for employees. Customers are, by and large, becoming conscious consumers. Just like younger generations of employees, younger generations of consumers want to support companies that share their values, too.
Another element of social justice benefits is the marketing side. They can be about showing your customers that you not only care about certain issues, but you’re taking action, too.
How do social justice benefits work in organizations?
There’s no singular way to offer social justice benefits. This means that you can offer them in whatever way makes the most sense to your company and the unique employees that compose it.
There are, however, a few common ways that companies that are already offering social justice benefits tend to tackle them:
Additional paid time off specifically for social causes
This means outlining what is considered a social cause at your company. This will depend a lot on what matters to your employees and your company’s mission and values.
The additional PTO approach to social justice benefits entails offering extra time off, normally a day or 2 a year, that employees can use to engage in socially-focused causes. This could be voting. It could mean attending a protest, volunteering, or even attending public meetings.
Covering the costs associated with social justice-related activities
The companies that have offered to pay for their employees’ travel expenses to get an abortion fall under this category.
Similarly, some companies choose to offer to cover the bail money for employees arrested during a protest. This can also include giving people additional time off for activities related to the arrest like court appearances.
Matching donations to social causes
Just like some companies match 401(k) contributions, social justice benefits can entail matching donations that employees make to social causes up to a certain percentage of the donation.
Providing information on social justice organizations, activities, and events
Even if your company doesn’t have the margins necessary to cover financial costs, there’s still plenty you can do.
Some companies choose to compile a list of social justice organizations and opportunities and share it with their employees. This can include anything from when and where to vote in local and national elections. It could mean creating a list of social justice organizations that employees can donate to.
This could also include making employees aware of when protests are happening — whatever makes sense for you and your company.
Are social justice benefits a good idea at your company?
The answer to this question depends entirely on your company and the people who comprise it. Start with your company’s mission and values. Are there social justice causes that align with those? If so, great! You have found fertile ground for social justice benefits at your company.
It’s all about the stance that makes sense for you to take. If you have a sense of what your employees care about, you can tailor your social justice benefits to those causes.
Perhaps, though, it makes the most sense for your company to remain neutral and not take a stance 1 way or another. Even so, you can still offer social justice benefits. Just make sure that they span the political spectrum, so no one feels like they’re being pushed in 1 direction or another.
If you have a sense of what your employees care about, you can tailor your social justice benefits to those causes.
In general, civic engagement is a fairly safe space. Activities like voting or attending public meetings aren’t partisan in nature, but still constitute social justice benefits.
How to roll out social justice benefits at your company
At certain companies it might make sense to take a stand or pick a side. It might seem like the majority of your employees might feel 1 way about an issue. That doesn’t mean that everyone feels empowered to speak up, especially if they’re in the minority.
One of the best things that you can do is to offer social justice benefits with a minimal number of regulations on how those benefits need to be used.
The more leeway and flexibility built into social justice benefits, the better. You can support employees in their efforts to engage in the causes they care about without the company having to pick a side.
That said, many companies do choose a side. Take Patagonia for example. An outdoor company steeped in sustainability, the company has a long history of advocating for the environment — an on-brand move for the business.
In order for Patagonia employees to take advantage of the bail-paying benefit, they have to undergo peaceful protest training. “We want [employees] to participate in democracy, but we never want any of our employees in harm’s way,” the company’s Vice President of Human Resources told Fast Company in 2017.
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Consider rolling out training alongside social justice benefits
Depending on what your social justice benefits are, consider rolling out training alongside them. The training doesn’t just have to include things like peaceful protesting, though. It can include topics such as how to handle it when difficult political conversations pop up among coworkers, too.
In the end, it’s all about what makes sense at your company. If you don’t know what your employees care about or what interests them, consider doing an employee survey.
Then, think of it as a trial-and-error process. You can start offering 1 or 2 social justice benefits, see how it goes, and adjust from there.
The goal is to give the people who keep your company in business the support they need to participate in the causes they care about.