Keep the flu at bay – How to increase flu vaccination uptake

Many New Zealand workplaces now offer complimentary flu vaccinations for employees, but staff are often reluctant to sign up. How can HR increase employee-uptake of vaccination programs?

Keep the flu at bay – How to increase flu vaccination uptake
Organisations have begun to roll out free or subsidised flu vaccinations but, as always, there is reluctance among some to have the vaccination. So how can HR increase uptake and minimise the spread of the virus in the workplace?

Vicki Caisley, Southern Cross Health Society Head of People and Talent, told HRM that reluctance around flu vaccinations stems from misconceptions and misinformation, therefore the most effective way to combat this is to inform and educate staff.

“HR can increase uptake by providing fact-based reading material so that staff can make informed decisions. For example, it’s common to hear employees say; ‘Influenza vaccination can cause influenza’; ‘The vaccine isn’t effective’; ‘The vaccine causes serious side effects’; or ‘Only the very young and old need to be vaccinated’. By providing fact-based evidence you can work towards dispelling myths. Credible information that can be provided in the workplace is available on public health websites such as or,” Caisley said.

“It’s also vital to lead by example – so make sure that managers are either first in line to be vaccinated or that it is public knowledge they are signing up.”

Caisley explained that anecdotally, fear is a major factor in why people don’t sign up for vaccinations. Research published in the Australian Family Physician (Fear of needles: nature and prevalence in general practice) showed up to 25% of adults have a fear of needles that developed in childhood.

“Bearing that in mind, HR should carefully define what language is being used to communicate flu vaccinations. Negative words like “shot” and “jab” won’t help, while beneficial words such as “inoculation” or “preventative” will,” Caisley said. “Ensuring that staff are fully informed about the procedure itself and feel comfortable expressing anxiety is all crucial to successful uptake.”

With winter approaching it is also timely to provide education on managing coughs and colds and reminders about the importance of not spreading germs. Caisley recommends working with the internal facilities team to ensure the availability of hand wipes and sanitizers at locations such as photocopiers, toilet doors and kitchen sinks.

It’s also worth taking a moment to consider your workplace culture in terms of attitude to health, Caisley adds.

The recent Wellness in the Workplace study carried out last June by Southern Cross Health Society, BusinessNZ and Gallagher Basset found that close to half of Kiwi employer’s report ill staff turning up for work when they should be at home. Small businesses with five or less employees were the most likely to come into work ill as are public sector workers, with 83% likely to head into work.

Caisley recommends questioning whether, in the workplace, sick leave is spoken of in derogative terms or whether employees feel pressure to ‘soldier on’ with winter colds and flu, potentially infecting other colleagues.

“When questioned privately, it’s likely that many employees are concerned about letting the team down, losing pay or being thought of as unreliable by taking time off,” Caisley said. “It’s one thing to say that you encourage staff to convalesce at home if sick but it’s another thing for staff to feel that they can. A short article or email apprising staff of their leave options for illness and care giving responsibilities can help address this – include examples of when they should stay home.”

As a preventative measure the vaccination is best given before the end of April however, the vaccine is available until the end of July.

Related articles:
Four simple ways to stop the spread of office germs
Taking the sting out of sick leave
Sick leave costing the economy $1.3 billion

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