The Topic of Vaccines Is Complicated — Employee Education Is a Good Place to Start
With COVID-19 vaccine distribution well underway, many employers are expanding their internal pandemic-related communications to include the topic of vaccination. Some employers may choose to mandate vaccinations, while others may choose only to encourage them. Either way, educating employees about why vaccination is important to their personal health and safety, public health, and business continuity is a critical step in inspiring and driving participation. Here are key considerations if you are examining this issue.
1. Understand the global/national/local landscape.
Vaccine types, availability, distribution policies and protocols vary widely across the globe and in the U.S., by state and county … and some are regularly changing. If vaccines are not broadly available, the manner in which you encourage vaccination may be counterproductive. That’s why the timing and location of communications will be important. If your organization is global, evaluate how vaccinations are being distributed in countries where you operate. Encouraging employees to be vaccinated may not make sense in countries where governments mandate it.
2. Position vaccination as one of many important COVID-19 safety steps.
Even if your company is mandating vaccinations, there will be employees who will not or cannot be vaccinated due to health concerns or firmly held religious beliefs. Additionally, in most cases you won’t know if others your employees interact with, such as customers or suppliers, are vaccinated, so other safety protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing, are likely to continue long into 2021, if not longer. With this in mind, it’s important to reinforce the full scope of your COVID-19 safety protocols in your communications, with vaccination being one of them, and set expectations for employees that vaccination is just one step in the long road ahead.
3. Focus first on health and safety.
While business continuity is an important outcome of employee vaccination and should be a message within your strategy, it shouldn’t be the first message. Ultimately, keeping employees and their families, customers, partners, suppliers and the community at large healthy and safe and minimizing the spread of the virus are the most important reasons – and messages – for vaccination.
4. Articulate the impact to business continuity.
Once employees understand their health and safety is your top priority, you can also reinforce the importance of moving the business forward. This is especially relevant for companies that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and experienced layoffs or furloughs. Getting vaccinated is one way most employees can be a part of getting the company back on track and improving job security. While that shouldn’t be your main message, it could still be an effective rallying cry.
5. Engage leaders in reinforcing messages and addressing employee concerns.
There are a multitude of reasons employees may feel concerned about or opposed to getting the vaccine. Prepare managers to address these concerns with talking points, FAQ and other resources. Depending on your workforce, you may find it valuable to conduct training with HR professionals and managers to support them in navigating potential tensions between those who choose to be vaccinated and those who will not.
6. Reference third-party sources to stay credible and on topic.
Cite respected health authorities for vaccine information. These may include the World Health Organization, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and country, state or local public health authorities. Because vaccines of all kinds – including the COVID-19 vaccines – have been targeted for controversy, stick to the facts provided by health authorities and steer clear of political talk or unfounded conspiracy theories.