The COVID-19 vaccines are here, and a recent survey by Willis Towers Watson shows 80% of employers believe immunizations will allow them to move to a new normal in terms of returning to the workplace. That’s great news, but beyond challenges in distribution are fear and mistrust by some workers.
How do we achieve a highly vaccinated workforce when employees are hesitant because of COVID-19 vaccine fears? Here are some insights from the survey and other sources that might help:
Take a pulse. Consider conducting a pulse survey—which can be completed anonymously, if needed—to see where employees are at in their thinking. SHRM provides a sample survey here. At this point, those in Texas who were highly interested in receiving a vaccine and have low barriers to receiving one likely already have it. Your remaining employees may need logistical help or convincing to move forward. Those are the challenges you need to identify and help address.
Communicate the value. About 60% of employers have communicated to employees the value of vaccines; another 35% are planning or considering doing so. A separate McKinsey & Company study found that communication efforts pay off: More than 75% of employees say that the following initiatives would increase their likelihood of getting vaccinated:
- Receiving information and resources educating them about vaccines.
- Attending town halls and expert sessions to gain information.
- Seeing that senior leaders have gotten vaccinated (or intend to do so).
Understand cultural fears. Misinformation and conspiracy theories abound about the vaccines, propagating in varying cultural ways. Black Americans can be mistrusting of our current healthcare system and its history of medical experimentation on people of color, for instance. Misinformation is less controlled on Spanish-language social media than on English-language platforms, and some Hispanic workers are frightened by releasing too much information to vaccine providers. Be sure to include your diversity and inclusion (D&I) officers or consultants to help address these nuances.
Create a dialog. Once you have a better idea of what’s stopping hesitant employees from getting the vaccine, address those concerns collaboratively. This Harvard Business Review article offers excellent tips on removing COVID-19 Vaccine Fears. For instance, emphasize success stories over statistics by providing a platform for employees to share their narratives of loss or illness at the hands of COVID. “This will not only help employees heal emotionally but also has the power to encourage them to take action,” the authors state.
Revise applicable policies and procedures. More than one-third of employers have already developed policies and procedures to make it easy for workers to get the vaccine. This can include paid time off policies to allow for vaccination and sometimes even potential sick days afterward for recovery (in fact, the CDC now recommends it). Doing this makes the decision less of a sacrifice on their part.
Bring the vaccine to them. One in four employers helps employees get vaccinated by providing them onsite or at a nearby pharmacy or facility. Another 55% are planning or considering doing so. Removing the challenge of tracking down a shot can be remarkably effective. Complicated sign-ups, too many (or too few) choices, and unclear guidance can stop even a well-meaning employee from getting vaccinated.
Consider incentives. One in five employers offers vaccine incentives that can include extra leave/vacation days or even cash or other financial incentives. Houston Methodist offers a $500 “hope bonus” and Love’s Travel Stops pays $75 to workers who get the jab, as examples. There’s no clear guidance on using vaccine incentives, but “employers should strike a balance between offering an incentive that is enticing enough to meaningfully encourage employees to get vaccinated, yet not so irresistible as to be viewed as ‘coercive’ and potentially implicate health information privacy laws by ‘requiring’ disclosure,” writes law firm Quarles & Brady, LLP.
You COULD mandate it. The Willis Towers Watson study shows 10% of employers are planning or considering requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of employment. Nearly one in four (23%) are planning or considering requiring vaccinations among current employees. TechRepublic reports that a vaccine mandate among employers could be much higher—at 44%. Technically it’s legal to require it, although exceptions must be addressed—see our blog post “Can I Refuse the COVID-19 Vaccine (and Keep My Job?”—and asking employees or job candidates about their vaccination statuses should be done with extreme care.
But be realistic. At least 13% of adults are not going to get the vaccine, no matter how much you try to convince them. COVID-19 vaccine fears can be due to religion, health or disability, trypanophobia (fear of needles), government mistrust and others. Consider testing and other secondary requirements that might help keep these workers safe, legally and compassionately.
The key, says McKinsey, is to increase vaccine adoption by building “conviction” (the desire to do it) while making the task as convenient and costless as possible. For many employees who remain hesitant, that may be all the support they need to change their minds.