Employers must think carefully about communication
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is steadily ramping up as more and more young people turn out for the jab. Many people aged in their 20s and 30s have opted to have the AstraZeneca jab early after Premier Gladys Berejiklian signalled that high rate of vaccination will be one factor determining when Sydney exits lockdown. Last week, the number of daily doses of vaccine administered in NSW jumped from around 66,000 on average per day nearly 80,000 a day. As a result, the state is on track to reach Berejiklian’s 6 million-dose target before the end of August.
It also means employers are rapidly approaching the topic of vaccinations and what it means for the workforce. The Fair Work Ombudsman recently announced new guidance for businesses, setting out four tiers of workers to help employers make case-by-case decisions on whether mandating the vaccine is lawful and reasonable. Though the advice will be welcomed, employers still have a tricky path to navigate when considering whether to mandate or incentivise the jab, or stay out of the issue altogether.
Speaking to HRD, Jason Laufer, Country Managing Director for Qualtrics ANZ, said undoubtedly, employers will have a role to play in Australia’s vaccine rollout.
“The challenge for employers is meeting the needs of every individual in their workforce. It means tailored and targeted approaches that go beyond incentives are essential for businesses to support the rollout - especially with Australians split on their willingness to return to offices unvaccinated,” he said.
“Employers need to act with conviction by redesigning workplace policies to ensure employee safety and wellbeing regardless of their vaccination status, as well as providing support and resources to those individuals seeking help navigating the vaccine process.”
New research by Qualtrics revealed a sense of uneasiness about employees returning to the office if their colleagues refuse the jab. A fifth of respondents said they would not return to work until everyone is vaccinated.
The data also offered insight into the role workers want their employers to play. Almost half of respondents said they expect their employers to provide readily available information on vaccines. But a sizeable chunk disagreed. 29% believe companies shouldn’t get involved and let employees decide for themselves. So how can HR leaders proceed without alienating either side? Laufer shared four tips for employers to consider.
Inform, educate, enable
According to the Qualtrics data, the main support employees want is access to information and help securing appointments. Workplace vaccination trials are set to begin this month with Westpac and Commonwealth bank. Westpac has confirmed that employees in the hardest hit LGAs in southwest Sydney will be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine onsite at the bank’s trial vaccination hubs.
The trial could open more businesses up to the possibility of vaccinating employees who want the jab onsite. Laufer said workplace vaccinations will only be successful if the process is as seamless as possible.
“For employers responsible for running their own workplace vaccination programs, similar to how flu shots are offered, it’s critical organisations provide a positive, frictionless, and transparent experience to employees, from accessing information through to follow up,” he said.
Asides from workplace vaccinations, there are a number of ways employers can begin communicating with staff. Internal communication campaigns should inform and educate employees on the latest vaccine advice and resources available to them, such as eligibility and how to book their slots. But Laufer said employers should go beyond simply distributing information to really promote engagement with the campaign.
“For example, an internal Q&A session with a healthcare professional is an impactful way to help address any concerns or questions from your workforce. Similarly, providing employees with the opportunity to volunteer at vaccination hubs or discuss their experience externally can help drive advocacy,” he said.
New policies for a new world of work
It’s likely that at some stage, employers will need to look at health and safety policies in relation to COVID-19 and for certain industries, compulsory vaccinations will be a requirement.
New policy adjustments that facilitate vaccinations will be key. Offering paid time off to get the jab and recover in the event of side effects is one example that has been adopted by many businesses. But Laufer recommended employers look further ahead too.
“Longer-term, employers need to consider how vaccination status could impact their recruitment plans. For example, it could potentially create complications for jobs requiring overseas travel,” he said. “Employers will need to prepare for these situations to ensure minimal disruption and inconvenience to the employee and business.”
Prioritise employee safety and wellbeing when reopening
The issue of returning to the workplace seems to be dividing employees and could cause friction in future if workers feel unsafe sharing the office with unvaccinated workers. Laufer said if a conflict does arise, HR leaders should approach it like they would any other workplace disagreement.
Whenever workplaces do open up to greater numbers, health and safety will have to be a top priority. HR leaders should work closely with the facilities staff to ensure compliance with OHS requirements and high levels of cleanliness. Reducing the capacity on any given day by using a booking system or staggering teams in the office could be one option to retain social distancing, even once case numbers are low.
Take a collective effort
Finally, Laufer recommended that employers communicate the importance of taking a collective effort in Australia’s fight against COVID-19. The issue of vaccinations has the possibility to divide the workforce but it’s vitally important that resentment and bullying issues do not crop up as a result of the rollout.
“By engaging in constant dialogue with employees, employers can continually understand and address the unique and diverse needs of their workforce to ensure a safe and successful reopening for all involved,” he said.