Practical Considerations for Employer Vaccination Approaches

Practical Considerations for Employer Vaccination Approaches

Organizations are working through how to get to high vaccination levels without making it mandatory.  As we have conducted our research and spoken to various organizations, a few practical themes have emerged.  They revolve around the need to develop a comprehensive approach to make it easy for the willing to get vaccinated and a way for the uncertain to get the answers and sense of trust necessary to move forward.  Detailed below, the key factors to consider in your vaccination approach are:  Data, Stakeholders, Emotion and Identity, Key Influencers, Make it Easy, and Measure and Reassess. Just like any good change initiative requiring acceleration!


The data on willingness to get vaccinated is helpful in broad strokes but is also lagging, imprecise, and will remain dynamic.  Generally, the willingness to be vaccinated is going up as logistics of the rollout improve and we move toward full FDA approval.  Gallup has reported a steadily increasing number of people across all demographics that are willing to be vaccinated.  Note, however, that a willingness to be vaccinated does not necessarily mean someone will get vaccinated.  That said, 71% of the population per Gallup are willing to be vaccinated up from 50% last September. 

It is difficult to draw precise conclusions, however, other than both Hispanic and Black employee populations are getting vaccinated at lower rates according to available studies and conversations with our clients. The Wall Street Journal  recently echoed some of this concern citing MLB Manager Dusty Baker who has been working with Black players on whether to get vaccinated.  The one of only two Black baseball managers said, “I’m not going to try to convince those who are staunchly against it, but those who are on the fence or on the bubble, hopefully my words might sway them.” In addition, like most change management efforts, there will be a percentage, we estimate 10%-15%, who will resist and avoid vaccination, including those in legally protected categories e.g., medical, and religious.


Start with documenting stakeholder interests, as this will eventually drive much of your vaccination approach and what success looks like for your organization.  It will also be critical that you treat employees, and subsets of employees as stakeholders, in this analysis and pay attention to how government regulation of the employer obligation to a “safe” workplace plays out.  While it is likely that employers can compel vaccination, most we have spoken with do not want to go that route and the vast majority want to drive high vaccination percentages with voluntary programs.

Emotion and Identity:

Both Kotter in “The Heart of Change” and the Heaths in “Switch” have effectively framed the role of emotions in driving change.  “Switch” cites Kotter saying “… the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings. This is true even in organizations that are very focused on analysis and quantitative measurement, even among people who think of themselves as smart in an MBA sense.  In highly successful change efforts people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.” What this means in terms of your change strategy is that you will need to emphasize individualized conversations and maintain a sense of empathy in the process.  It will demand that you may have a system wide approach, but you need to also tailor your message and resources to specific locations and employee populations. 

Key Influencers:

CEO’s, this is not necessarily you.  Showcasing your vaccination can backfire if you are perceived as jumping the line. We mistake key influencers in these situations to be higher up the hierarchical chain, or of celebrity status. While such people can impair behavior change if against vaccination, they are not as influential as you might presume. Look for those people within your organization that are trusted colleagues to be the compelling examples and see if they have been vaccinated. It is more likely they will be the ones that sway the undecided.  Also consider having informational sessions, and Q and A for different locations and populations where you bring in resources trusted by your audience.  30 minutes of dialogue with staff can help create an environment that accelerates the vaccination percentage.  Just do not expect to see your staff walk down the street after a discussion and get the vaccine. 

Make it Easy, Make it Flexible:

Flat payments are a nice way to recognize people for getting vaccinated and help with measuring how many have been vaccinated but it remains to be seen whether such payments (employers are awarding from $100-$200) will markedly influence whether people get vaccinated.  We do think that without other measures that engages uncertain staff in real dialogue, vaccination for pay will struggle. To drive vaccination rates, make it easy for employees, and actively manage the process to reduce as much inconvenience as possible. Give people time off, help with transportation, monitor where people have adverse effects in a way that they might need some additional time off. 

Measure and Reassess the Approach:

Actively monitor the percentage of your staff that has been vaccinated.  As the percentage goes up, consolidate, and accelerate the gains which will influence those that remain uncertain as to whether they will get vaccinated.  In addition, reassess the situation.  If you are not reaching the levels of vaccination targeted, find out why before changing the approach.

Last, your vaccination policy will reinforce your culture.  As confidence in the vaccine grows, and as new choices come online such as Johnson and Johnson’s and vaccines are fully approved, we believe people will become less concerned about being vaccinated. In the medium to long term, what people will remember is not whether they got vaccinated, but how they were treated in the process.  

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