Navigating all of the challenges and operational changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for both employers and employees. Thankfully communication between the two has played a pivotal role in keeping employees safe and healthy. Now, with the FDA having issued emergency use authorization for two vaccines, the long-awaited relief for COVID-19 is here. While the initial supply of vaccines has been allocated for people in specific groups, it’s important that employers begin planning for when access to the vaccine becomes available to the general public.
Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 70% of Americans polled said they will get a COVID-19 vaccination. While many feel optimistic about the release of vaccines, the topic doesn’t come without challenges. Employers need to be diligent when considering things such as whether or not the vaccine will be encouraged or required and how they will get buy-in from employees who are hesitant about the idea.
This article covers the important questions employers need to ask themselves, as they navigate the legal risks and the logistics of employee vaccinations.
What to Communicate
When it comes to promoting and providing accurate information about COVID-19 vaccinations, employers play an important role, as many employees will look to their employers for this kind of guidance. The big picture that needs to be reinforced with employees is that getting vaccinated will likely be the driving force that allows for a safe return to work.
Employee vaccinations need to be lead with facts and transparent communication. Employee communication is the most important factor in seeing vaccination plans come to fruition. With that, as employers develop their plans for COVID-19 vaccinations, they must consider sharing the following information with their employees:
- General COVID-19 vaccine information:
- Overview of available vaccines and their differences
- Facts and myths about the vaccine
- How vaccines work
- Efficacy and safety
- Possible side effects
- Vaccination timelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including distribution phases for targeted groups and the general public
- Vaccination timelines for the organization
- Organization vaccination policy
- Vaccination sites (whether at authorized clinics and pharmacies, or on-site)
- Vaccination costs (including potential paid time off for getting vaccinated or recovering from any side effects)
- Workplace COVID-19 safety precautions or protocols, such as continuing to wear a mask and avoiding close contact in the workplace
- Educational resources to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines
A thoughtful and proactive approach to employer communication efforts will undoubtedly be more effective than a reactive approach. Employers need to anticipate the most common vaccine objections and develop a plan for responding in a way that mitigates concerns and doubts. This should be done by providing accurate information, engaging with concerned employees, and offering educational resources on the vaccines.
It should also be stated that to provide continuity in what hesitant employees might be hearing about the vaccines, your messaging should also reflect what is being communicated by local health officials and healthcare providers. Point to research and guidance from the CDC and other public health experts, but keep in mind that CDC guidelines continue to evolve and are subject to frequent changes.
How to Communicate
The opinions and attitudes toward the vaccinations are certain to vary among your employees. It’s important for employers – as with any communication – to tailor their approach to their individual employees. An effective approach isn’t one-size-fits-all. Employers need to be mindful of this and conduct some research to better understand their employees. Depending on what your workforce looks like, you might consider things like, pretesting content ideas or making the information available in different languages if necessary.
Sticking to the Facts
There is a lot of opinion surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, so it’s important that you stick to the facts and avoid using charged jargon or strong language. Building a strong case supported with science and data in concert with a sensitive and respectful tone will likely be more successful when communicating with employees who are unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Compassion and transparency will help to create employee buy-in and overall support of workplace vaccination plans.
Highlighting values such as unity and interconnectedness will likely be effective in communications as they motivate employees to act. Ultimately, the end goal here is to protect employees and make their communities safe from the threat of COVID-19. The pandemic has certainly taken a toll on most employees. By leading with values, you emphasize protection for the employee, their loved ones, and the coworkers around them.
Using Communication Channels
In order to best communicate with employees, employers should consider their existing communication channels and how they can be leveraged to relay information about the COVID-19 vaccination. Here are few tools that could help to build workplace confidence in the vaccine:
- Company intranet
- Fact sheets
- Meetings or town halls (including virtual town halls)
- PowerPoint presentations
- Social media
The overall goal of this effort is to reach all employees, so it’s important to note that information consumption differs between on-site employees, non-wired employees, and remote employees. The most effective communications strategy for informing and engaging employees is one that leverages multiple channels.
Just as important as what and how employers are communicating to employees, is listening to what employees have to say. It’s important that employers aren’t ignoring the concerns of their employees about the COVID-19 vaccines. Employers should identify a point person within their organization who can field and address questions or concerns and provide information in response. If the workforce is spread across multiple locations or working remotely, it is especially important that there is two-way communication between employers and employees. Not only is it important to stay in touch with how employees feel, but offering tailored content that addresses their concerns will help increase employee buy-in. Employers have an opportunity to demonstrate that they are truly listening to and care for their employees.
When to Communicate
Because the vaccines are out and already being administered to people across the country, the time to start communicating with employees is now. While it might take some time before the general public has access to the COVID-19 vaccines, it’s important to start planning with employees now. It’s all about starting the dialogue and meeting employees where they are. Use this time to be thoughtful and sympathetic to employee concerns.
Employers should start communicating that they are monitoring the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and developing a plan for when they become available to the general public while highlighting how it will have a positive impact on the workplace and other organization needs. Most importantly, employers must listen to and address the concerns of their employees to help build the necessary buy-in for the COVID-19 vaccinations.
For More Information
In addition to the considerations above, employers should consult employment law counsel to determine whether there are unique risks to consider for their specific organization and industry.
Employers are playing a vital role in helping promote COVID-19 vaccines. For more information on the pandemic and keeping your workforce safe and informed, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Resource Center.