Support is rising for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations

ELMO’s most recent Employee Sentiment Index recorded a rise in the number of Kiwi employees who said they would feel uncomfortable working alongside unvaccinated colleagues. 

  • 51% of the 565 employees surveyed reported feeling uncomfortable around the prospect of working in the office with unvaccinated colleagues – a nine-point jump on Q2
  • 66% of respondents support employers requiring workers to be vaccinated – a two-point rise on the previous quarter

As organisations map out what a return to the office will look like, it’s important for HR leaders to be aware of the vaccine tension employees may be experiencing. Here are five tips to help HR and people managers make the return to the workplace as smooth as possible.

1. Ask employees about return-to-work anxiety

Consultation is a critical step in reducing fears and anxiety around returning to the workplace. The COVID-19 vaccine is a divisive issue – but don’t shy away from asking the important questions. 

Organisations can only begin to address vaccine tensions by identifying their employees’ specific concerns. Are employees worried about catching COVID-19 in the office? On public transport? Are they worried about having to isolate if they become a close contact? 

Like any change management, the return to work will inevitably spark a mixed response. But regular surveying allows HR leaders to pinpoint issues as they crop up in real time. Just remember, there can be too much of a good thing. Keep surveys specific, quick to complete, and follow up with timely action.

ELMO Survey helps organisations create and execute staff surveys to capture actionable insight into employees’ attitudes and opinions towards, their work environment, wellbeing or a change management process. 

2. Communicate effectively

Once HR leaders know what the main worries are, communication is the next step. It may be as simple as sharing the location of sanitation stations around the office, or how capacity has been reduced to help with social distancing. Also remember to encourage employees to communicate if they are experiencing back to work anxiety, making it as easy as possible to reach out to their HR leader or manager.

Organisations can also ease tensions by being transparent as to how the risk has been assessed and what decisions have been made in relation to the risk. After all, we’ve seen the power of open and honest communication during times of uncertainty, and returning to the office is no different. 

Ensure communication with employees is based on reliable, up-to-date sources such as New Zealand’s Ministry of Health website.

3. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Navigating the path around COVID-19 vaccines isn’t easy for HR leaders, but preparation is critical. In large workplaces, it is likely a portion will choose not to be vaccinated – for health reasons, or otherwise. Equally, the sentiment around returning to the office alongside unvaccinated employees will vary too.

HR leaders can benefit from scenario planning, creating personas for different portions of the workforce and establishing how HR and the wider business can support their needs. For example, those who are immunocompromised or live with someone who is high-risk.

The planning process will also enable HR leaders to put together a list of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) for managers, assisting with a smoother transition and reducing the number of queries that land on HR’s desk.

While the country is moving ahead with the vaccine roll-out, it’s important that employers have the tools required to manage COVID-19 in the workplace. 

For those organisations that identify a need to monitor vaccination status or require regular COVID-19 testing for employees, ELMO COVIDsecure may be the answer. COVIDsecure supports businesses by automating record-keeping relating to COVID-19 testing and tracking the vaccination status of their workforce. 

With COVIDsecure, employees can submit their own records of their COVID-19 vaccination and/or test results in a single platform with strict secure access and control measures. Just as critically, COVID-19 HR policies can be customised to suit your organisation’s unique needs, with rapid deployment capabilities and in-built acknowledgement tracking to help ensure compliance obligations are being met.

4. Don’t overlook the role of managers

While it may be HR leaders who are hashing out their workplace health and safety (WHS) precautions, it is often managers who set the standard for good – or bad – behaviour. It’s important to communicate that how comfortable each employee feels about returning to the office will vary, and it’s part of their job to help ease any return-to-work anxiety.

This is where those all-important soft skills like empathy, communication and active listening play a vital role in addressing any vaccine tensions sensitively. Resources such as FAQs or a training session will also help to empower managers with the answers and skills they need.

 5. Be flexible in your return-to-work policy

As hard as they try, HR leaders cannot address every anxiety employees might be feeling – and nor are they expected to. But by asking the right questions and communicating well, HR leaders can be reactive and experimental with how they support employees. 

For example, organisations may continue to allow employees to work from home until the number of COVID-19 cases in the community reduces, or vaccination rates hit their peak. Alternatively, they might offer the option of working earlier or later to avoid the busiest time of the day for public transport.

Whatever the answer is, taking a case-by-case approach will help to maintain a higher rate of engagement, making sure staff feel heard and listened to as the country learns to live with COVID-19.

Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.
Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.