As COVID-19 Vaccines Roll Out, Business Leaders Aren’t Rushing to Require Them (i4cp login required)


Fervently hoped-for COVID-19 vaccines are making their way
to frontline workers and beyond, but many business leaders remain undecided
about their organizations’ policies on vaccinations for employees, suppliers,
and other stakeholders.

Data from The COVID-19 Vaccine & The 2021 Workplace, a new pulse survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), shows that
corporate decision-makers are more comfortable with encouraging (versus requiring)
employees to get vaccinated. And many company leaders simply aren’t ready to
rush into vaccination policies.

Only 5% of surveyed business leaders said their
organizations would require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once it
was widely available to the public. In contrast, more than two-thirds—68%—planned
to encourage workers to be vaccinated. Large percentages of respondents
reported discussions taking place, but no firm plans yet.

Throughout the short survey, we’re-considering-it
responses consistently emerged as the favored approaches. About half of
participants reported that they were engaged in discussions about vaccination
policies. In some cases, well over half said that they were still considering what
would constitute the content of such policies, how to encourage vaccinations,
and how to communicate effectively with employees about vaccines.

Caution Doesn’t Belie Intent—Especially When Stakes Are

Although some may think that business leaders are dragging
their feet, taking a thoughtful and cautious approach to questions about the
vaccine doesn’t imply indecision or avoidance of action. Instead, it signals
that executives are working to make strong decisions and devise effective
strategies as organizations emerge from the long shadow of 2020. 

Savvy business leaders realize that requiring (or even just
encouraging) the COVID-19 vaccine for employees and others involves many
variables. Even though the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention
(CDC), the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC), and other government entities
have issued statements and provided information about COVID-19 vaccinations, knowledge
about the vaccines and their effects is early-stage and still evolving. 

Perhaps one of the most critical factors affecting corporate
policymaking is leaders’ understanding that vaccination is one more new and
ambiguous step for employees who may continue to struggle with the emotional
fallout of adjusting to months of uncertainty and profound change.  

The marked increase in organizational support for workers’
holistic well-being—and especially mental well-being—is testament to an
appreciation of the personal toll the coronavirus has taken. 

One recent AP/NORC poll
reported that about half the people in the U.S. don’t want to be vaccinated for
reasons ranging from mistrust to health conditions to religion-based objections
and more. That resistance means that employers seeking to fulfill their mandate
to provide safe work environments must navigate potential legal fallout if they
choose to require employees to be vaccinated in order to return to, or continue
gaining access to, company facilities. Indeed, the EEOC
has said employers can require vaccinations, however, exceptions (for health,
religious, and other conditions) apply. 

So balancing concerns for individual and workplace
well-being is a core challenge for organizational decision-makers. Some of the other
compelling issues that warrant the careful consideration business leaders are

  • Will companies require all employees to be
    vaccinated, or just certain groups?
  • Should a vaccination policy apply to remote
    workers, too, if they aren’t accessing company facilities?
  • Should the organization partner with a
    healthcare provider to make vaccinations available?
  • If employees don’t agree to vaccination, must
    they be tested regularly for COVID-19 before they can enter workplaces?
  • How will the organization communicate about and
    accommodate the exceptions that apply to some employees?
  • What, if anything, must be done to adapt
    workplaces to accommodate employees who are and aren’t vaccinated?
  • How will the organization confirm that an
    individual actually has received the vaccine?
  • How does the organization’s vaccination policy align
    with company culture?
  • Will vaccination policies affect the
    organization’s ability to acquire talent, the engagement levels of current
    employees, and other factors that contribute to performance? 

Clearly, there are many more things to think about than
those listed above. And there is variation—and sometimes special challenges—by
industry, organizational size, location, and other factors.  

That plethora of considerations underscores why seasoned and
responsible business leaders aren’t making snap decisions about COVID-19
vaccination policies. They understand there is much at stake and many
perspectives to contemplate. A careful, measured approach to
decision-making—especially in the still-roiling wake of a chaotic year—is a
sign of solid leadership and a key strategy for ultimate success. 

In the days ahead, we’ll share more results of i4cp’s The
COVID-19 Vaccine & The 2021 Workplace survey
. Check back for insights
into the policies and strategies leading organizations are considering as we
move into a new and hopeful year.  

Carol Morrison
is a Senior Research Analyst at i4cp

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