With the newly released COVID-19 vaccines comes the promise of an eventual return to a more normal workplace and way of life. But there’s no playbook for the vaccine roll-out and, as with the pandemic response itself, employers have an important role to play in this national effort. While some employers are exploring whether to mandate vaccination or even to provide or facilitate access, all employers should be thinking about a communications strategy to provide guidance and support to employees at this critical juncture. Whatever approach you take or position you adopt toward COVID-19 vaccinations, a thoughtful and empathetic communication plan can be the difference between confusion or resistance and understanding and adoption.
Here are some guiding principles to consider:
Anticipate emotion, and lead with facts Given the range of views Americans have on the COVID-19 virus, and vaccines in general, encouraging—or even requiring—employees to be vaccinated is a potentially sensitive issue. Provide employees with reliable information from trusted public health resources. At the same time, reinforce public health guidance to continue behaviors that prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Leverage leaders and other “influencers” Who do your employees respect and listen to? Ask them to share their vaccination experiences and why they’ve chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. For example, take a page from Dr. Anthony Fauci and others who have received their vaccines publicly. Or, tap into employee resource groups to reach certain segments and help address concerns.
Connect back to existing pandemic-focused channels By this point in the pandemic, many employers have established consistent sources of information—such as a designated website, regular leadership updates or town hall style meetings. Use these familiar channels to explain the company’s position and role in vaccine distribution, and how that aligns to other messages employees have received all along.
Remove barriers Make sure your communication explains all of the ways your organization is removing barriers and easing the way to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine. This might include paid time off/sick time for the vaccination and any recovery, incentives to drive participation or how to access the vaccine where employees live and work.
You may need to consider different messaging within your organization, depending on employee role, geography, collective bargaining status or other factors. For example, if you will require vaccines for employees in customer or patient-facing roles, your communication strategy might include promotion of on or near-site vaccination clinics and text message reminders of vaccination dates and locations and worksite posters or tables tents. If most employees are working remotely and you plan to require vaccines to resume business travel, you might send targeted email messages to those in roles requiring travel and mail a flyer or postcard to their homes promoting ways to obtain vaccinations. If you have locations where many employees rely on public transportation, consider a leader announcement connecting COVID-19 vaccines to return to work plans, manager talking points and FAQs to use in small group meetings, and special web page addressing vaccine facts and myths about the COVID-19 vaccine, with links to trusted sources.
Communicating about the vaccine won’t be simple, but it’s critically important. Now is the time to start developing or implementing a communication strategy that reflects both your vaccine approach and unique workforce characteristics.
-Written by Robyn Bachochin
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