There’s light at the end of the pandemic tunnel as more people get vaccinated. At many businesses, employees are looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues, having more face-to-face social interactions and working together on projects in person. Now it’s time for HR and employee relations (ER) professionals to prepare for reopening by creating a vaccination plan. It’s a hot-button issue that could spark controversy, so the key will be to make the plan rollout a collaborative effort that benefits everyone, including employees, managers, executives and the organization.
So, how should leaders approach this process? Start with your end goal in mind, which is to create a safe workplace where employees feel comfortable and view their employer as a partner they can trust. Then, collaborate with employees, managers and your executive team to achieve your objectives. Here are some ideas to consider as you look to reopen your office and devise a company vaccination plan that maximizes safety and builds trust:
Establish a committee to create and oversee your vaccination plan. Start by seeking perspectives and expertise from across the organization. Consider surveying employees anonymously to learn their views on the issue. Use this data to help shape your plan to address any employee concerns. You’ll get better results by using teamwork to develop guidance on vaccines as well as mask use and social distancing. A committee of managers, leaders and other experts can help you create consensus and identify the necessary resources.
Build employee confidence through communication and education. You will reassure employees by communicating guidance transparently and educating them on how the vaccine works, including manufacturing processes, what to expect, and benefits vs. risks. The CDC, as well as state and local agencies, are sources you can use to create educational materials such as FAQs, a fact vs. myth guide or a vaccination toolkit. Also consider providing information on where employees can get vaccinations locally to encourage vaccination.
Lead by example. Another effective technique to boost confidence and build trust is to ask your leadership team to share their own stories. When employees witness their leaders discussing their personal concerns, sharing the reasons for their decision to get vaccinated and the benefits they’ve experienced, it may persuade undecided employees to get vaccinated.
Consider incentives to encourage vaccination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Comission (EEOC) recently announced employers can offer vaccnine incentives to their employees, with some exceptions. Incentives don’t have to be large; a simple gift card, stipend or bonus can increase vaccine interest by as much as 50%.
Facilitate vaccinations onsite. This can be an excellent option, especially for larger organizations. Whether inside your facility (if space permits) or via a mobile clinic, an onsite vaccination option lets you prioritize workers who are most at risk (e.g., essential workers or those in customer-facing positions). You may want to offer multiple opportunities for vaccination to stagger administration. This can help ensure shift coverage and minimize the effect of any absences. In addition, as unvaccinated employees observe the vaccination process of peers firsthand, it may help them overcome their own hesitancy. You may even want to offer vaccinations to company partners and employees’ family members.
Communicate with employees post-vaccination. Follow up with employees after they receive the vaccine to address any questions or concerns as they arise, and be prepared to direct employees to expert support if needed. Establish guidelines for vaccinated employees about what to expect, outline the company’s post-vaccination practices, define any ongoing restrictions, provide criteria for returning to work, etc. In addition to letting employees know what to expect, following up demonstrates the company’s support and sends the message that employee well-being is important to the organization.
Document everything. It’s vital to document any and all employee issues, including those related to applicable policies and vaccination recommendations. Keeping track of vaccinations in a secure way that adheres to privacy guidelines is essential. HR and ER professionals need to be mindful of EEOC guidelines about religious and health-related exemptions and disability accommodation requirements. Using technology that supports the nuances of employee relations can help you avoid legal risks related to wrongful terminations, retaliation claims and disparate impact lawsuits.
In situations where unvaccinated employees may pose a health and safety risk to others, organizations may eventually require vaccinations. Other businesses are grappling with how to navigate the issue now. In all cases, returning to the office after the pandemic will be a balancing act between safety, workplace requirements and comfort levels. ER professionals who are working with colleagues to develop current programs are finding success by offering incentives to employees to encourage vaccinations.
Your company and workforce are unique, and your return to the office plan and vaccination program ought to reflect your culture. If there is a single takeaway from all of these tips, it’s that collaboration and transparency should be the guiding forces. Issues involving health are personal and private, and to an extent, responses to the pandemic have been politicized. That makes it especially crucial to approach return to work and coronavirus vaccine questions in a collaborative, nonjudgmental manner.
It’s important to recognize that while the majority will likely opt for the vaccination, not all employees will; in fact, one study estimates that about 28% of employees would rather lose their job than get vaccinated. That makes a well thought out strategy and a collaborative approach that includes employee input, educational resources, open communication, easy access to vaccines and support throughout the process even more important.
With this approach, you can help your company move toward a vaccination plan that is comfortable for everyone.