The COVID-19 vaccination has been one of the most widely anticipated vaccines ever in the world.
The pandemic has caused large amounts of disruption for businesses all over the world, and this disruption is set to continue into 2021. Government and business leaders are hoping the vaccine will bring stability after a year of unpredictable turmoil with closures, lockdowns, remote work, compromised employee health and wellbeing, new safety requirements, and productivity and profit losses being the focus for the past year.
Most members of the community will eventually have the option to be immunized against COVID-19. However there are people who cannot receive the vaccine on medical grounds (just like there are with other vaccines), and there are also people who object to having vaccinations.
Navigating this will be an ongoing issue for Human Resources professionals in the next year as workplace health and safety and obligations to employees continue to be an important topic.
What will the COVID-19 vaccine mean for your business?
The roll-out of any new vaccination program is challenging for governments. Depending on where you live and where your company operates, the eligibility criteria to be among the first to get a vaccine will be different. In general, the first opportunity to be vaccinated is going to:
- Frontline healthcare workers
- People at risk (eg: those who live in care facilities, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems)
- Other essential workers who come into contact with the public.
Millions of healthcare workers are slated to be vaccinated against COVID-19 over the coming weeks. In many healthcare organizations, other vaccinations such as for the flu or measles are already compulsory to ensure both patient and employee safety.
However at this point in time, the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t a compulsory requirement for all healthcare workers, and there is evidence it may not be taken up as quickly as healthcare management would like.
A recent survey by the American Nurses Association found only one-third of nurses would take the vaccine voluntarily.
It may very well transpire that management in many hospitals and healthcare organizations will insist on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for their staff like they do for other vaccines.
For other sectors, there may not be the same urgency to develop a vaccination policy, but it is definitely the time to start thinking about it.
Things to consider when developing a COVID-19 vaccination strategy
Even outside of healthcare, organizations will need to consider whether or not they will insist on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees - or if they will just strongly encourage their employees to have one.
A recent Gartner poll found that 60% of HR leaders currently have the view that they’ll encourage their employees to get the vaccine - but they won’t be making it mandatory.
The poll also found that 60% were planning to provide resources to their employees on how and when to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
9% said they would require their employees to be vaccinated to ensure a safe return to work in the office.
Things to keep in mind when deciding what is right for your organization include:
- Whether or not it is ethical to require people to have a vaccine, especially if they don’t believe in vaccination.
- Balancing individual beliefs and freedoms with the workplace health and safety and employee obligations of the rest of your workforce, your customers, partners, and other stakeholders.
- Whether you can offer a free or subsidized vaccination to employees similar to flu shot programs that operate in many businesses.
- Are you able to incorporate a COVID-19 vaccine into any existing employee wellness programs offered by the company?
- Will insisting on a mandatory vaccine break any relevant labor laws in your jurisdiction?
- Do you have a policy for any employees who cannot be vaccinated on medical or religious grounds?
- What happens when household members of employees are not vaccinated? They may be able to pass on the virus to your workplace.
- If you do decide on mandatory vaccinations, who in your workforce should be vaccinated first?
- What are the privacy issues around directing medical procedures or keeping track of who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t been?
- If vaccination is essential before your entire workforce returns to the office, how will this be monitored?
- What happens if an employee refuses a mandatory vaccination?
How organizations should communicate to employees about the vaccination
Topics like vaccination are highly emotive - particularly in the workplace. It’s a topic that people have such strong feelings about, if handled poorly, could cause long-term ill-will for management.
In general, employees do not like when their employer is involved in anything they consider to be personal and private and can feel like the requirement to have a mandatory vaccine is invasive.
And as of November 2020, around 40% of Americans said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccination, according to the Pew Research Center - this is a significant part of the population, and this reluctance cannot be underestimated.
On the other hand, many employees will be happy to get the vaccine, but it will be doubtful that a safe return to work will be possible if their colleagues are largely unvaccinated.
Employers will have an essential role in promoting and educating about COVID-19 vaccines, especially as they affect the workplace.
Whether you determine your organization will mandate the vaccine, or if you’re just going to encourage it, it’s important that you have a really strong communication strategy in place.
Your strategy should be a plan that includes:
- Clear messages on why the vaccine is important, including the benefits to workplace health and safety, obligations to employees and protecting customers.
- Clear messages on how employees can obtain the vaccine. For example, if your organization is going to subsidize it or if you will be offering it in the workplace. Make sure you tell them any relevant times, locations, or prices.
- Stick to the facts only, particularly as fake news and misinformation can spread quickly, it is necessary not to be drawn into it.
- The channels you will use to distribute the information, as well as the frequency of information delivery.
- The opportunity for employees to give feedback and raise concerns. A two-way dialogue is vital to establish trust and show you take employees’ views seriously.
How you deliver information is important
Delivering your strategy should be in the form of an internal communications/ internal marketing campaign. Using various channels can help reinforce the information about the vaccine and keep it front-of-mind for employees.
You can achieve this by using DeskAlerts to keep your employees informed on any corporate device, whether they’re working from home or the office or if they’re on the road on a mobile or tablet device.
The following communication tools will be handy for this purpose.
- Digital signage. You can deliver information to any digital screen in your organization.
- Screensavers and wallpapers. Show appealing images with the main points and dates of vaccination on the company laptops and PCs.
- Video content. Videos grab the attention and are widely used to explain complicated things simply.
- Information on the company intranet. With the DeskAlerts channels, you can send links to the intranet articles straight to the employee monitor.
- Text and video communications from the CEO. You can send them via push and pop-up alerts.
- Pop-up notifications. They appear on the screen and immediately grab the attention.
- RSVPs to attend vaccination sessions.
- Using recurring surveys to track the vaccination status of employees. (You can ask if they have had it or if they are planning to get it in the future).
Using a designated communications system like DeskAlerts can help build trust and transparency with your employees as they will know they can rely on it as a “single source of truth” and know that the information is official, reliable, vetted.
Additional steps for healthcare organizations
As with any other industry, determining whether or not the vaccine will be mandatory for healthcare workers could prove contentious.
The Pew Research Center reported that only 50 to 70 % of health care workers are willing to take the vaccine.
As with other industries, mandates can cause problems with trust.
There are legal precedents in this sector for mandatory vaccinations, and it is likely this will be tested in many healthcare workplaces in 2021.
Healthcare organizations may want to take additional steps in delivering information to employees. Healthcare professionals will want extra information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and may want to read scientific literature as well.
This can include sending video information, links to journal articles, and advice from professional associations.
Your organization needs to start working now, if it hasn’t already, to plan for how it will treat COVID-19 vaccination as it becomes available in your jurisdiction. Internal communications are critical to implementing any policy successfully, and if handled poorly, the entire procedure could fail.