In the race to vaccinate, the goal is clear – a return to normalcy – but the route to getting there is anything but. Employers are scrambling to find ways to get their workforces vaccinated as soon as possible, both for their employees’ safety and for the sake of their businesses.
To learn about the steps employers have taken or are contemplating to speed worker vaccinations, Mercer dedicated the most recent of our “pandemic polls” to vaccines. Nearly 800 US employers responded between January 27 and February 17, so the data couldn’t be much fresher. Here are some highlights.
The carrot or the stick?
Speculation that employers will require employees to get vaccinated has been making headlines around the world (just google “no jab, no job”). But US employers are certainly not rushing to mandate the vaccine. Less than 1% of survey respondents have actually decided to implement a mandate, and only 20% say they are even considering it. (These results are similar across non-essential and essential businesses and healthcare organizations.) When asked why they would not mandate, the top two reasons were 1) compliance with employment and labor laws and 2) employee concerns about vaccine safety, cited by 57% and 56% of respondents, respectively. Nearly half (46%) cited concerns about potential liability should an employee have a bad reaction to the vaccine. While employers may legally mandate the vaccine, they need to provide exemptions for medical and religious reasons, and Mercer’s view is that employers looking to encourage employees to get vaccinated would do better with carrots than sticks.
But what kind of carrot?
- Financial incentives may seem less controversial than a mandate, yet only 7% of respondents have definitely decided to provide an incentive in the form of cash, gift card, or spending account contribution. While 42% will definitely not provide a financial incentive, 46% say it is yet to be determined. The arguments against providing a financial incentive are related to the arguments against mandates: compliance requirements and potential employee relations issues
- Additional paid-time off to facilitate getting the vaccine presents fewer potential pitfalls. About half of respondents say they will provide additional time off for employees to get vaccinated (49% for salaried employees and 51% for hourly) and some will even provide additional sick leave in case employees experience side effects from the vaccine (30% for salaried employees, 29% for hourly).
- Communicating with employees about vaccinations is the most popular carrot. Nearly all respondents say they have or are developing a communications plan. Most say they will encourage employees to get vaccinated, although only 49% say they will “strongly encourage” it (33% say they will “encourage” vaccinations and 18% say they will only provide information and emphasize that vaccinations are a personal choice). Most respondents will provide facts about the vaccine and details about access, coverage, and company policies – and 30% say they will share leadership vaccine experiences to help overcome vaccine hesitancy.
- Onsite or nearsite vaccinations are the choice of some employers wanting to make it easy for employees. One fourth of respondents have already begun discussions with public health officials, health plans or other vendors about facilitating the delivery and administration of the vaccine to employees, and another 40% plan to pursue this option once vaccines are more widely available.
Managing through the vaccine roll-out
Nearly half the survey respondents (47%) have formed a steering committee or task force to help guide vaccine-related policies, and another 11% say it is in process. Managing a segmented workforce – some who have been vaccinated and some who have not – is a stated concern for 49% of respondents and will raise questions for most. For example, will employers require employees to be vaccinated before they resume business travel? Only 6% of respondents say they will enact business travel policies that differentiate between employees that have/have not been vaccinated, but 51% have yet to decide.
With two vaccines approved for use in the US, 2021 started with a welcome dose of optimism. But given the complexity of mass vaccinations, new coronavirus strains and continued restrictions, there remain many difficult months ahead. As with the initial pandemic response, employers have a key role in providing guidance and support to employees at this critical juncture.