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What to say to employees who don't want to get the vaccine

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Refuse vaccine

  • As COVID-19 vaccines are distributed across the country, returning to the office becomes less of a fantasy and more reality.
  • But polling indicates that a decreasing but substantial minority of Americans are hesistant to take the vaccine. Reports have emerged as well of first responders saying they plan to skip the vaccine.
  • Management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania told Insider that trying to reason with workers who don’t believe in the vaccine likely won’t work.
  • Instead, Capelli said, ask reluctant employees to consider the comfort of the people around them.
  • “It’s sort of like trying to get people to quit smoking,” Capelli said. “You talk about the consequences to the people around them, and the people they care about.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out in America, slowly but surely. Yet not everyone is willing to take it, despite decades of evidence for the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

Polls have found that a shrinking but significant minority of people are hesitant to get vaccinated. And reports have emerged that a large number of healthcare and frontline workers have said they plan to skip the shot.

It will likely be a while before workplaces that have gone remote can resume business in-person. But when they do, they may have to reckon with the thorny issue of employees who don’t want to be vaccinated.

‘This is about the comfort of your peers’

Presenting evidence-based arguments will likely do little to sway people who’ve made their minds up, according to Peter Cappelli, who studies management  at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

“Trying to persuade them of the facts of the case is not going to get you very far,” Capelli told Insider. “They’re just denying science.”

Instead, employers should ask their workers to consider the comfort of their coworkers.

Capelli believes the message should roughly be: “The people around you are not going to feel comfortable if you’re not vaccinated. And there is this broader concern… that the risk of you to other people, indeed, is higher if you’re not vaccinated. And so this really matters to us.”

Asking employees to consider their colleagues is useful for two reasons. First, it appeals to their sense of care for their coworkers.

“It’s sort of like trying to get people to quit smoking,” Capelli said. “You talk about the consequences to the people around them, and the people they care about.”

Second, it appeals to their desire to remain a part of the in-group and not be shunned.

“You don’t want to be the person standing out,” Capelli said.

Directives should come from the top

The duty of telling employees to get vaccinated should fall on workplace leaders, not middle management, Capelli said.

“If you’re the president and CEO of the company, and you’re the founder of the company, the argument’s much more persuasive if it comes from you than if it comes down the chain of command,” Capelli said.

Larger workplaces may consider creating a special post for a qualified medical professional who can endorse vaccine directives. Doing so lends vaccination directives an expert authority that most workplace leaders lack.

“A lot of companies are creating these chief medical officers positions now,” Capelli said.

Use clear language

Workers should understand that they are being given a directive from above, not a request with the option to say no.

“You’re telling them, ‘this is what we want you to do, and here’s why we need you to do this,”” Capelli said.

Capelli believes that as mass vaccination becomes a reality, resistance will shrink, especially as employers begin requiring getting the shot to return to the workplace.

“It’s one thing to, to say you object to this when there are no consequences,” Capelli said, “and it’s another when you have to actually face up to some of the consequences.”