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Resource Center / Growing a Business

Isaac Oates on the Dilemma of Running a Business in a Turbulent Environment

Justworks' CEO discusses navigating the current political environment as a business leader.

Isaac Oates, CEO of Justworks
Isaac Oates
Feb 17, 20174 minutes
NYC streets

I’m 36 and I feel like the entire world just changed on me in the past 12 months.

I’ve lived through plenty already. I was in middle school during the Gulf War. I was in college during the 2000 bust, in the military on 9/11, and co-founding a startup during the 2008 recession. We have been at war, and in a state of heightened fear and anxiety, for my entire adult life.

It feels like we are at war with each other.

But the past year was different. It feels like we are at war with each other. There is frustration and discontent in every quarter. This past summer was especially violent. Every week, there was another bombing or shooting in the news. More recently, the election surfaced a growing divide that seems to be ever-widening.

I am navigating this personally, of course, just like everyone else. But I am also attempting to navigate these events as a CEO — and it’s hard.

This past summer, I tried something new at our weekly all-hands: I showed the team some photos of recent events. Brexit. The airport bombing in Istanbul. The mass shooting in Orlando. The police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling within a week of each other, the resulting protests, the sniper shootings, and the robot that police used to kill the sniper.

The last slide had a single word: Fear.

We talked about it, as a company. Why were people so scared? Why were these events happening all of a sudden? What could we do about it? What should we do about it?

It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. People shared their views with their colleagues, completely exposed. People cried. It made me so proud to work here, to lead these passionate people so full of hope and optimism and the courage to be themselves.

While I have encouraged individuals to express their views, my position has been that we, as an organization, will refrain from political activism. If an employee wants to join a protest or rally — whatever the cause — during work, we’ll happily give them paid time off to make their voices heard as a concerned citizen.

If we don't speak up, are we complicit?

Many companies, large and small, have made headlines in recent weeks by publicly disagreeing with the recent executive order banning immigration from certain countries. Why not Justworks?

Last summer, I wrote about how diversity makes NYC strong, with a focus on immigration. In fact, our aim is to make Justworks as diverse as NYC. I signed Tech:NYC's letter opposing the immigration ban on behalf of Justworks because it threatens the diversity of our workplace, which is vital to our company's foundation and values. There is a difference between the organization being politically active and taking a stance on a policy that directly threatens our workforce and our customers’ ability to take care of their employees.

Many companies, large and small, have made headlines over the past week by publicly disagreeing with the administration. Isn’t it our obligation to speak up? If we don’t speak up, are we complicit? Is “we” a collection of individuals, an organization, or both?

Justworks provides support to thousands of businesses, each of which has its own unique employee base with their own views. This past fall, we conducted a survey of our customers in anticipation of the election. We wanted to find out how business owners thought the outcome would affect them.

We confirmed that our customers have diverse political views. Our job, first and foremost, is to help employers take care of their people by providing core employer services like benefits, payroll, and HR.

Some of our customers believe, and rightly so, that their vendors should focus on delivering great products and services, and stay out of the spotlight. Others believe that we should step further into the spotlight.

One thing is clear: We will not make everyone happy.

As an organization, we will focus on helping businesses take care of their people. That is what we do. That is why we are here.

The next time you go to a protest, march or rally in New York City, chances are good that we will be there with you. But we will leave our Justworks t-shirts at home.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.