Do vaccine mandates have employees up in arms?
HR professionals face challenges across the board as vaccine mandates for employers roll out. For one, there’s a lot of uncertainty as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) develops rules and guidelines – and HR will likely have to figure out the path to compliance.
But many HR pros already face a more personal and present issue: Employees might be frustrated, confused or elated about the potential changes. And that will likely lead to extra unrest in the workplace.
Here’s how contested the issue could be: 23% of employees say they’d leave their company if the mandated vaccinations, a Qualtrics study found. Yet, 25% said they don’t feel safe if their company doesn’t mandate vaccines.
The mandate subject stirs personal, political and societal feelings that can spill into the workplace. So when employees’ feeling run deep – or even shallow – on one subject, it can lead to tension in their professional interactions.
“HR pros should definitely prepare to handle the ire, frustration and potential backlash,” says Monster Career Expert Vicki Salemi. “Although this territory is new, (HR leaders) are probably already equipped with tools in their toolbox for unhappy workers.”
HR leaders and front-line managers can get ahead of conflict. And while we can’t say exactly how the mandate will affect your workplace, we can share six strategies to help maintain workplace civility.
Continue to encourage
Most people will more likely do something at their will, rather than when they’re told they must do it. So, it might help to continue to encourage employees in the same ways you already do to get vaccinated.
If your organization is reluctant to get involved in employees’ decisions on the COVID-19 vaccination, you still want to make it as easy as possible for them to do it if they choose.
Provide information. Don’t decry the issue. Give employees information on:
- where to get vaccinated
- the time they’re allowed to take to get and recover from the shot
- compensation (if any) for their time and participation, and
- how you’ll record and report vaccination rates in your organization.
Smooth the transition
Even with encouragement, companies with more than 100 on-site employees will still need to follow the vaccine mandates. So you’ll want to make a smooth transition from “encouragement” to “mandating.”
“Employers may want to be more hands-on during the transition and demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being,” Salemi says.
“Perhaps that looks like a town hall and/or managers reaching out to their direct reports individually to check in with them,” she suggests. “On a macro level, mandate aside, it may mean more lunch and learns to support mental health – such as meditations, yoga, etc. – or things outside of work, like a 401k planning class or a department book club or fitness challenge competition among departments.”
Bottom line: Give employees opportunities to improve and control their personal well-being.
Recognize the divide
HR professional or front-line managers wouldn’t encourage employee discourse. But you can’t ignore that it will happen out of your sight. (And if it occurs in ear- or eyeshot, you’ll want to intervene, of course.)
But you might maintain a better level of civility by following William Shakespeare’s advice: Do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
Remind employees everyone has different opinions, and they’re expected to respect each others’. Then give them opportunities to “eat and drink as friends.”
Let them have department or team potlucks if they’re on-site. They might throw Zoom happy hours or lunchtime chats if they’re remote. It might be time to bring back the company, outdoor picnic. Or bolster Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) with funding for social events.
Establish/promote Code of Conduct
If you don’t already have one, establish a Code of Conduct. If you have one, promote it more than ever.
Some employers established the codes – expectations on how employees interact with each other – when workplace incivility skyrocketed.
“Codes are not worth the space they take up on a network unless they are accompanied by commitment from leadership to communicate, train and enforce the Codes, and truly reflect the morals and values of the organization,” says attorney Bruce Deadman with Davis Kuelthau, in the National Law Review.
The key: Involve front-line managers to create the code and how to address conflict, train employees, and discipline for non-compliance. After all, they’re the people who will most likely monitor behavior and enforce the code.
While the actual vaccine mandates may cause some unrest in your workplace, be prepared for the consequences of an upheaval it could also cause.
HR pros “may want to prepare for potential resignations (and) decreased productivity and morale,” Salemi says. “Workers are exhausted by the constant changes to return-to-work plans, and some are even willing to look elsewhere if the plan doesn’t align with their needs.”
So work with front-line managers to identify good employees who are:
- visibly angry and combative
- intensely concerned, or
- absent more frequently.
They may be at risk to quit. Talk with them, address concerns and work on a plan to keep them involved, engaged and employed.
Stay calm and pass it on
The best way to gain or maintain workplace harmony is to practice it from the top.
“The past 18 months and counting have been unprecedented and have certainly tested our strength, resiliency, and flexibility, so it’s important to remain calm and exude empathy and compassion for everyone involved,” says Salemi.
When leaders take that approach in the workplace, others almost always follow suit.