Some companies these days are not requiring vaccination against COVID-19 and have a policy of not even asking about it. Managers are instructed not to ask employees about their vaccination status and plans.
I asked an executive at one of these companies about this approach, and he said his company had decided to be “non-political.” He said that asking about, and requiring, vaccination, could be interpreted by some employees as the company taking a political stand. Rather than require vaccination of all employees without a medical or religious waiver by a specified date, the company asked the leaders of each division of the company to meet one-on-one with employees to ask how each employee feels about returning to in-person work in the physical office. I said to him, “It’s nice that the company is concerned with being sensitive to employee feelings and choices, but it might actually be kinder to require everyone to be vaccinated.” The executive seemed to agree with me, noting one of the employees in his division expressed anxiety at returning to an office with some people vaccinated and some not vaccinated. The executive pointed out that vaccinated people usually like to spend time with other vaccinated people.
The feelings of those who prefer not to be vaccinated are not the only feelings for a company to consider. There are the feelings of the vaccinated employees, who are relieved to be protected against the virus, and now want to be around others who are similarly protected. There is comfort knowing that everyone they are surrounded by have little-to-no chance of passing the virus to them or anyone else. Doesn’t the anxiety and discomfort of these employees matter?
When you consider the possibility of the creation and transmission of new, potentially more deadly variants of COVID the longer the virus is in circulation, it becomes apparent that vaccination is not a decision that affects only the individual. If we could be sure the current vaccinations would work against all the new variants of COVID that could arise, there would be no danger of people deciding on an individual basis not to be vaccinated. However, that is not the case. The longer the virus continues to be passed around, the greater the risk of new, more deadly variants that the current vaccinations will not offer protection against.
With the anxiety and discomfort of employees who do not want to work with others who have not been vaccinated taken together with the potential for new variants, you have to ask yourself: Is not requiring vaccination the most sensitive, evolved position for your company to take?
There also is corporate social responsibility to consider. Isn’t there a responsibility to your community and country to do your part to get as many in the population vaccinated as possible? Is it responsible to send unvaccinated employees to meetings, and other events, or on the front lines in stores with customers?
If you don’t want to require vaccination, it is good to at least know where your company stands when it comes to the number of employees currently vaccinated and those who definitely plan to get vaccinated, those who eventually may get vaccinated, and those who have no plan to get vaccinated. An anonymous survey can give you this information, which you can use to make informed decisions about fully reopening your office. If 40 percent of your employees are already fully vaccinated, and another 40 percent have indicated they definitely plan to get vaccinated, you know that at least within your office, you most likely will have herd immunity. If only 20 percent have been fully vaccinated so far, and most others have indicated they either won’t get vaccinated, or are undecided, then you may consider rolling out an employee education program about vaccination. You can bring in a doctor or nurse to answer questions and create a page on your intranet with links to sites where employees can book an appointment. You also can offer help from a designated person in your Human Resources department for employees who continue to have difficulty booking an appointment.
Willful ignorance about levels of vaccination in your company inhibits informed decision-making. There is nothing kind about that—for your employees or the company.
Interestingly, and much to my surprise, it turns out most companies are requiring vaccination. CNBC noted that more than 60 percent of companies in the U.S. will require proof of vaccination from their employees, according to a new survey conducted by Arizona State University with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.
The CNBC report also notes that a broad majority of U.S. employers, 65 percent, plan to offer employees incentives to get vaccinated, and 63 percent will require proof of vaccination, according to the survey. Overall, 44 percent will require all employees to get vaccinated, 31 percent will just encourage vaccinations, and 14 percent will require some employees to get vaccinated.
What approach will your company take? What are the benefits of requiring vaccination, and learning about the current vaccination status of employees, and the benefits of not asking about or requiring vaccination?