Throughout its history, Herman Miller Inc. has sought to design and make innovative furniture while building a corporate culture and brand that aims to engage the company’s employees as active citizens in the communities where they work and live.
It is in that longstanding tradition that the global manufacturer decided to make Election Day 2020 a “Day of Purpose” for all of its workers, both in the United States and throughout the world. The company will give all employees a paid day off so that its American workforce is free to vote in the Nov. 3 election.
“Herman Miller doesn’t want any employee to be in the difficult position of having to choose between a paycheck or participating in our democracy,” says Linda Brand, Director of Herman Miller Cares, the company’s foundation. “We’re calling it a ‘Day of Purpose’ because we have a values and purpose statement that perfectly aligns with this effort. We want our people to vote, and we want our people to make a difference in order to create a better world.”
Herman Miller is among hundreds of American companies comprising a new “Time to Vote” initiative, described on its website as a “nonpartisan effort for companies that want to contribute to the culture shift needed to increase voter participation” in national elections.
Voting and community service
The company has about 8,000 employees globally. Approximately 5,500 of them are based in the U.S., of which 3,500 are clustered in the various corporate and manufacturing facilities in the West Michigan Lakeshore communities around Holland and Zeeland.
Linda Brand volunteers at a Ready for School event.
Brand notes that Herman Miller intends to declare a “Day of Purpose” every November when a national Election Day is scheduled, while outside of the U.S., the day will be recognized as a global day of community service for Herman Miller employees in foreign locations.
“By empowering our people to stand up for what they believe in, we are ensuring they are better equipped to use their voice for change,” according to a statement published on the Herman Miller website. “Election Day will be a paid company holiday so our U.S.-based employees can freely exercise their right to vote and do their part to shape the future of society.”
‘Leading the way’
Liz Cruz, who works as a facilitator on the production floor at Herman Miller’s Main Site Plant in Zeeland, acknowledges that she and some of her coworkers often struggle to find the time and motivation to vote, especially in midterm elections.
Liz Cruz works as a facilitator on the production floor at Herman Miller.
“This changes things for us,” she says. “When I first heard about this, I was not surprised at all. I felt really proud of my company. It feels like we are leading the way, not just in business but in the nation, being a manufacturing business and having these values that show everyone who we are and what others should strive for. We’re setting an example.”
Cruz, a 25-year-old mother of two from Holland, says she is a registered voter and last cast a vote in the 2016 national election.
“I feel like it’s a historic moment to have paid time off from Herman Miller so that we can vote,” she says. “I’ve been asking my team if they had difficulty voting in the past, and it’s definitely an issue. To be honest, a lot of people my age don’t have interest, and some feel they don’t have time. Being on second shift, the last time (in 2018), I completely forgot about the election.”
Cruz continues, “I definitely feel that Herman Miller is paving the way. They are helping us with our time and our busy work-life balance. They want to put aside the business needs to have this day for us, to help us get educated and participate. It opens your eyes and encourages us to be more future-motivated. They want us to know the role government has in our communities and how it impacts us and our values. So it’s not just voting to vote. It’s all of us, striving for a better future.”
‘Pride in our company’
“I have heard feedback from many about this ‘Day of Purpose,’ and it really has engendered a lot of pride in our company, that we are willing to take this step,” adds Mackenzie Rantala, Senior Communications Specialist, Corporate Social Responsibility at Herman Miller. “It was an easy decision from a philosophical and values standpoint, but there is a lot that goes into this. You can’t push the easy button when you close down business globally, even for a single day. It speaks to how important this is to Herman Miller.”
Herman Miller employees take part in the Grand Rapids Climate Strike in 2019.
For Brand and other leaders at Herman Miller, the importance of participation in the electoral process is central, particularly in this time.
“Democracy requires showing up,” Brand says. “It’s really easy for us to talk about democracy, but when you see how low our voting percentages often are, and now with the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with concerns over racial inequality, and all of the natural disasters and climate change, it makes us realize that if not now, when?
Gestures of generosity
“When you think about all of the troublesome issues in the past year,” she continues, “we asked what we could do to impact positive change. Voting is one way, along with giving back to our communities with whatever random acts of kindness and compassion we can offer.”
Herman Miller is encouraging all of its employees to find ways to give back on the “Day of Purpose” and has distributed a bingo-style card to the workforce in order to catalog those gestures of generosity. The bingo card includes 25 activities from which to choose and, if employees complete five of those activities to fill out a row, Herman Miller Cares will make a contribution to Direct Relief International, a nonprofit organization providing humanitarian medical aid around the country and the world.
“We want to show unity around the globe that Herman Miller truly cares,” says Brand. “So we are giving employees the day off so they can vote in the U.S. and also make a difference in their communities wherever they are based around the world.”
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Herman Miller response to pandemic benefits local, global communities