How to Respond to Vaccine Sentiment in the Workplace

Given how disruptive the COVID-19 pandemic has been to businesses, the vaccine rollout has been a relief. It’s a vital tool to help staff and consumers alike safely interact with your business. While there’s still a long road toward full recovery, this is an important step in the right direction. 

Yet, not all of your employees will necessarily see vaccines in the same light. There are a lot of mixed opinions and fears surrounding the rollout. Some of your workers may be reluctant to engage with it at all. The fact that fewer than 60% of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated speaks to the current level of skepticism. This can present some distinct challenges to your company and your human resources (HR) department in implementing a successful post-pandemic return to work.

We’re going to take a look at a few of the actions you should consider in your response to negative vaccine sentiments in the workplace.

Build Communications Protocols

A set of solid communication protocols is often your best tool for dealing with issues surrounding vaccines. This can particularly be the case in large businesses with multiple departments. If there is a lack of clarity in the messaging when discussing vaccines, there is a danger of the issue getting out of control. Build communications protocols and make sure these are distributed to all members of staff.

Bring department heads together and establish what the company line on vaccines is. There should be no room for ambiguity here. Discuss the language to be used and cover everything from the safety record of the shot to circumstances you might still require masks to be worn. Make dedicated channels through which members of staff can also communicate their questions. This should include a solid hierarchy for escalation as well as the methods to be used for each. It is best to formalize these in both hard-form documentation as well as digital means so they can always be accessed.

While this subject may well be new, that doesn’t mean the process can’t benefit from experience. Each company has a different culture and a staff with its own needs. Consider the communications strategies of past projects. A retrospective meeting with your team can be a positive space to review the efficacy of past projects and learn from any mistakes. You can achieve the best impact here by making certain you set a clear agenda for this meeting and implementing a safe and blame-free space. Look at why communications in the past may not have worked and what methods were most effective. Use this data to inform your vaccine comms approach.

Prioritize Education

Contentious issues tend to sow discord. Particularly if your approach to this takes the form of conflict. Too many companies have a hardline approach predicated on firing staff that don’t immediately comply. This is less likely to convince staff to get vaccinated and breeds distrust. It is wiser to take an educational attitude.

Start as you would with any other training session. Design a class through which you can address the concerns surrounding vaccines and express the company’s position on the matter. You don’t necessarily have to stick strictly to the COVID-19 vaccine. Go through the basics of how vaccines in general work by teaching the body to recognize pathogens and respond more effectively in the future. Explore the various types of vaccines and how they are made and tested. It can even be a good idea to set up exercises to test the knowledge you’re providing here. This could include discussion groups and quizzes. The important thing is to focus on the facts rather than opinions. 

Formal educational settings aren’t the only tool at your disposal. Obtain posters from your local health department to give concise information about the importance of the vaccine. Having leaflets in communal spaces can be a good option, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offer various print educational resources, particularly for healthcare industry workplaces.

Mitigate Misinformation

Misinformation is a common problem surrounding vaccine discussions. There are a lot of inaccurate ideas flooding traditional and social media channels. Indeed, what should be a simple matter of public health has become a politically divisive matter. It is not your job as an employer to wade into the political discussions. However, you need to mitigate the spread of misinformation if your vaccine policies at work are to be successful.

Providing access to credible resources can be a vital tool in this regard. This shifts the focus of the conversation from non-experts disagreeing on information they’ve received, to trustworthy third-party experts expounding on facts. Teaming up with public health professionals might be an appropriate approach. Epidemiologists today don’t just study communicable diseases, they also have a role in evaluating the safety and effectiveness of treatments. Perhaps most importantly, they have a responsibility to communicate these elements not only to fellow professionals but to the general public. It can be wise for your human resources (HR) department to work with professionals to provide information and perhaps question-and-answer sessions on the vaccine.

Conclusion

The vaccine program is one of our most important tools in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, it can still be a point of contention among employees. Before applying mandates and punishments, it’s important to give workers who express negative sentiments the chance to make decisions independently. You can help by being clear in your vaccine-related communications and providing fact-based education. Wherever possible, team up with credible professionals to offer information and resources to combat misinformation. There may come a time you have to use disciplinary procedures to keep your staff and customers safe. However, taking these initial steps can address the matter most positively.

Featured image source: Pexels

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