Last April, Isaac Oates was leaving his local library when a stranger asked him to vote. At first he politely declined, but when the volunteer said it was about the budget and would just take a minute, Isaac took a ballot, and learned about participatory budgeting (PB).
Six months later, Oates was leading a PB vote for his business’s budget. Standing in front of a company-wide all-hands meeting, he invited Justworks’ 300 employees to decide how to spend $250,000. The end result was a powerful team-building experience, which led to greater staff understanding and a better workplace.
Justworks is an HR platform that helps employers run their business by simplifying and supporting payroll, benefits, HR, and compliance. After rapid growth forced its employees to overflow into multiple offices, Justworks decided to move to a larger office on the far west side of Manhattan, 15 minutes from mass transit. To compensate for the worse commute, Oates, the company’s founder and CEO, committed an additional $250,000 to make Justworks a better place to work. And he asked employees to decide how to spend it.
Over a couple months last fall, Justworks held brainstorming sessions with facilitators, where dozens of employees identified initial ideas. Staff teams developed these ideas into proposals, and then sent a survey on the top proposals to all staff, to give feedback and prioritize which proposals should go to a vote.
Based on this feedback, Justworks narrowed down the list to six finalists. The staff teams prepared budgets and final proposals for each project, and then presented them to hundreds of staff at the all-hands meeting.
Each presenter delivered a tightly rehearsed pitch, with slides and a few jokes on the side. (Why vote for healthier snacks? “You’ve all had times where you go to grab a snack at 4pm and all that’s left are some bags of Hot Cheetos.”)
After a few vigorous rounds of questions, Oates thanked the project champions. “That was the most fun I’ve had in awhile!”
All staff then had a day to vote online, by casting up to three votes per person. 226 staff voted – 75% turnout!
The top four projects received enough votes to win funding: enhanced healthier snacks, a calm zen space for relaxing at the office, new office decor and art, and more comfortable office chairs. Justworks donated the remaining funds to a local soup kitchen.
Oates was impressed with the results of this new approach to employee engagement. “People learned about the budget. I always expect them to understand it, but they don’t really have the chance.”
During a challenging transition for Justworks, PB showed employees that the company was listening to their needs and investing in their priorities.
And at a difficult time for our democracy, Justworks also showed how PB can inspire a new wave of civic power. Over 100,000 people voted last year in PBNYC, learning first hand a better way to decide together. Oates was one of many who took this experience to heart, launching PB in his own community. Are you next?
PBP also uses participatory budgeting for our budget. Visit our PB2 website to learn more and vote for your top projects – including a potential new toolkit on PB for Organizations, to help more organizations and businesses launch PB for their budgets.
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- Erik Olin Wright, Interstellar Leader of Democracy (1947-2019) - January 28, 2019