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COVID-19 vaccination compliance: What employers need to do

Opinion & Analysis
The implications of the novel virus are so deep, unprecedented and have far-reaching ramifications

By Kudakwashe Chimbari

THE recent spike in COVID-19 cases has caused serious challenges to the business and all its stakeholders in general.

The implications of the novel virus are so deep, unprecedented and have far-reaching ramifications.

Globally, owing to the pandemic the economic activities have been slowed down, revenue streams reduced and the downstream consequences are spilling over to the livelihoods of everyone. The strong winds of COVID-19 have ushered organisations into the turbulent zone as they are trying to coevolve with the glaring business realities. Among other preventative measures, COVID-19 vaccination is arguably regarded as the panacea.

However, the same measure is still clouded with a plethora of conspiracy theories, different perceptions and fear of the unknown. It’s a fact people are still hesitant to take the vaccine.  Issues bordering employee vaccination has been widely discussed and contested. Owing to the COVID-19 headwinds, organisations are uniquely positioned to encourage the adoption of COVID-19 vaccine. This article seeks to give some insights that organisations can explore in encouraging COVID-19 vaccination among employees.

Organisations are exceptionally positioned to explore workplace dialogue as a conduit of building conviction for employees to adopt vaccination. The use of workplace dialogue by way of focus group discussions, works council meetings, team briefing or management meetings help in raising awareness, knowledge, as well as building employee conviction. Intensification of enterprise dialoguing between management and employees remains sacrosanct in overcoming deep-seated anti-COVID-19 vaccination among employees. In as much as building conviction among employees is very complicated considering the diversity of information sources available on COVID-19 vaccination, giving employees the platform to air out their views before encouraging them to get vaccinated will go a long way in embracing the programme.

In supporting COVID-19 vaccination adoption, organisations ought to engage key experts to impart professional knowledge to employees. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases opined in The Wall Street Journal that persuading employees to adopt vaccination is simple only if they understand the facts. COVID-19 vaccination creates fear and reluctance amongst employees and managers alike.

There are certain points that human resource can opt for in such a situation where everyone in the organisation is in turbulent zone. This takes form of hosting panel discussions with medical experts, or public heath leaders to share verified scientific information with employees. Such fora create open dialogue which enables employees to get answers from various questions asked about COVID-19 vaccination. This will also clear the myths around the COVID-19 vaccination, thereby raising willingness to take the jab.

Herd immunity will be easy to achieve for organisations if doubt and speculation are cleared thoroughly. Organisations should put more effort towards sharing authoritative, credible, and accessible information on the safety, efficacy, and side effects of COVID-19 vaccines with employees. For instance, the Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides comprehensive summaries of COVID-19 vaccine information.

At company level, management should consider coming up with a communication plan for sharing key messages with all employee through notice board posters, emails, internal circulars, among other channels. The communication process should not just be a matter of circulating latest trends and updates, organisations should be in a better position to respond in good faith to the employees’ concerns in real time. However, they may not have all answers for questions, but creating a feedback mechanism to provide responses will go a long way in convincing employees to get vaccinated.

According to the CDC, leading by example is key in encouraging employees to adopt COVID-19 vaccination. Instead of  just ordering workforce to get vaccinated, senior executives and managers should get vaccinated first, and share their experiences so as to show confidence in the vaccine. President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other senior government officials shared their vaccination experience with the view of encouraging the generality of the population to follow suit. It’s a strategy worth following at organisational level.

The professor of organisational behaviour and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, Denise Rousseau, notes that theatre is an essential part of good management.

In practice, sharing that business executive and senior business leaders received vaccine demonstrates a sense of confidence and leadership that reduces anxieties. Convenience in getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a linchpin enabler in encouraging employees to adopt the vaccine.

According to the research by McKensey and Company (2021), 45% of the employees they interviewed pointed out that vaccine adoption is most likely to increase if the employers facilitate convenience.

In increasing convenience, the employer may start by simplifying the process itself, this takes the form of providing employees with transport to and from vaccination centres, giving employees paid time off, sharing vaccination centres with employees, reducing the proximity by inviting the health practitioners to come and vaccinate employees at the workplace. Reducing hurdles of long queues and transport cost involved.

When all soft approaches discussed above fail, the organisations may still opt for a hard approach. Under section 65 of the Constitution, employers are obliged to provide safe working environments, thus denying unvaccinated employees to report for duty or to withdraw certain benefits as a way of encouraging employees to get vaccinated is a legally permissible way of supporting COVID-19 vaccination.

In summation, time is now for employers to come up with interventions that will help the society to overcome the treacherous anti-vaccination sentiments. By exploring some of the insights proffered, it can hasten the wheels of organisational and economic recovery where individuals will be able to go back to work.