As vaccines continue to roll out around the world, many employers are playing a unique role in the process. Some are focused on educating employees about vaccine safety to reduce hesitancy, others are offering financial incentives and time off to encourage workers to get the shot and still others are weighing whether to mandate vaccines for a return to the workplace.
It’s an entirely new environment for employers, one that is being forged by HR and benefits leaders. At next month’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference—a free, virtual event being held May 11-13—Carol Morrison, senior research analyst Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), will explore the myriad issues that employers are considering during vaccine rollout and offer best practices for HR and benefits leaders navigating this complex new space.
Before her May 11 keynote, during which she will be joined by Tonie Lyubelsky, senior director of Corporate Total Rewards at ELKAY, Morrison spoke with HRE about some of the trends she’s seeing.
HRE: In terms of COVID challenges for HR, how high up the priority list do you think executing a vaccine education strategy should rank?
Morrison: I think that has to be determined by an organization’s leaders based on the company’s culture and the strength of its commitment to workforce (and community) wellbeing. For a company that intentionally creates a culture centered on wellbeing, vaccinations likely will be a greater priority.
Even for organizations in which the wellbeing of individuals is not a top value, it’s important to remember that there are elements of business risk associated with vaccination decisions. For example, your company could risk potential legal issues for mandating employee vaccinations. It could also experience risks by sending unvaccinated (and potentially COVID-carrying) salespeople into customer facilities. And organizations in healthcare and other industries must have especially close contact with customers/clients—a facet of doing business that must be considered when prioritizing vaccinations.
Whatever your position, industry and values, it is important to be thoughtful and to consult your organization’s legal counsel and other appropriate advisors when making decisions about vaccinations.
HRE: What are some of the most innovative ways you’ve seen employers encourage their workforces to get vaccinated?
Morrison: I saw an article early this year that described a small business owner’s multiple-incentive approach to encouraging vaccinations for the 10 employees of his online education company. Because he’d heard that some people suffer side effects following second injections of two-dose vaccines, he gave everyone (whether they suffered reactions or not) three paid days off following their second dose. In addition, everyone received a $100 gift card, and he further promised to treat all 10 employees to dinner at an upscale restaurant once the entire group had been vaccinated.
California-based beverage company Bolthouse Farms offers one of the highest cash incentives I’ve seen: a $500 bonus upon proof of vaccination.
HRE: How can employers tackle the political dimensions that have emerged around the COVID-19 vaccine?
Morrison: There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to that question because every organization’s situation and culture are different. But our i4cp research shows that high-performance companies rely on their stated mission/purpose/principles/values to inform and guide their communications about any controversial or sensitive topics.
HRE: How do you think this current work on vaccine education and policy could impact HR’s role in organizations in the long term?
Morrison: I believe that the pandemic and other events of the past year have called on organizations to respond thoughtfully and effectively and to do so in ways that honor the concerns, fears, needs and wellbeing of their employees. Naturally, leaders have turned to their HR functions and that’s highlighted the critical importance of HR and the skills of HR professionals. Vaccination policies and encouragement strategies are an obvious extension of that.
HR has stepped up decisively in these challenging times to take a central role in developing new policies, innovating new work methods and finding ways of interacting constructively with employees across shifting work models. The function has been a valued advisor and participant in organizational strategies that have and continue to ensure business survival and sustainability. In the long-term, that elevates and strengthens HR’s value and position as a critical part of organizational success.