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You had set policy for employee COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, but the new mandates from the Biden administrationhave you scrambling. You’re probably thinking: What do employees need to know right now? What is our role as employer (do we even have a role)? If we don’t get this right, how will we attract the quality talent we’re so desperately seeking?
While many employers are pleased to have the vaccine-policy decision-making out of their hands, employee sentiment ranges from relief to anger. With HR leaders hard at work fostering a sense of community and connection, now is a good time to establish a straightforward tone and simple approach to communicating with employees about the vaccine mandates.
- Communicate now, even though you don’t have all the answers. People need to know that the organization recognizes there is a mandate, either through the Executive Order for Federal contractors or the Department of Labor Emergency Temporary Standard (or both), and that your company will comply. Direct employees to a central repository or single source of truth (such as the COVID-19 section on your intranet, for example) to easily access information. It’s more important than ever that employees have ready access to the facts.
- Gain clarity on employees’ status and mindset (and communications preferences). Many employers have not tracked employee vaccination status until now or tried to ascertain who were the reluctant versus the recalcitrant. And thus far, the government hasn’t addressed proof requirements or consequences for noncompliance. Nonetheless, if you haven’t begun asking employees about their vaccination status, this would be a good time. Give them advance notice that you will be asking shortly and then have your HRBPs start gathering information.
- Keep a straightforward approach. You may have provided incentives and rewards for employees over the spring and summer and encouraged employees to post on internal channels when they were vaccinated. That is fine to continue, but now getting vaccinated isn’t about informing and persuading. It’s a requirement. So, your communications should shift to informative and helpful. But we’re moving beyond inducements. With few exceptions, people who want to remain employed with you need to be vaccinated or, if you’re complying with the ETS, to be tested weekly. So, the tone should be: “let’s get on with it.”
- Make sure line managers have sufficient training and understand how to best communicate with employees.Managers should also understand where to point people to gather information, data and resources or to ask questions.
- Once you have established your policies and approach to compliance, share it clearly. If you are ready to follow the mandate, communicate deadlines clearly on dates for when employees must comply, how you will certify compliance, and the consequences for noncompliance.
- And let people know when you have followed through. Once you have enforced your policies, let employees know. It’s tough news, but if you had to fire people who refused to be vaccinated, employees deserve to know you followed the mandate, communicated on requirements and consequences, and followed through. People appreciate clarity and honesty, even if they don’t always agree with how things are done.
- Control what you can control. The vaccine is only one measure to keep employees safe. Look for opportunities to demonstrate other ways in which the organization is helping to keep employees physically and psychologically safe. Now is the time to also focus on holistic employee well-being. Consider what more you can do to support employees’ physical, mental, social, financial well-being — from clearly communicating about your employee assistance program to establishing useful guidelines to help employees step away from the job if they’re at home.
- Review and adjust at various intervals. From a communication standpoint, recognize that what might be working well now might need to change as new policies or changes are introduced. Remain flexible and keep employees’ well-being at the heart of your strategy.
The vaccine mandate is another heavy, potentially contentious topic representing yet another change for employees and employers. We all know that change, good or bad, can cause stress and anxiety, so look for other opportunities to drive meaningful connections and create some levity at work.
Some organizations are incorporating humor into their day-to-day work, while others are doubling down on social or team-building activities. A few laughs and a little bonding can go a long way in helping to achieve some serious goals.
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