The high-stakes discussion about whether employers should require vaccinations reached a major inflection point last week with President Biden’s executive orders and announcements about further actions to be taken by the Labor Department. During my time in government, I saw first-hand the organizational implications an announcement like that has for company and government leaders.
Employers who have already been navigating the sudden transition to remote work and complex safety requirements over the last 18 months now face their next challenge—soliciting and protecting important health information from all employees. And there’s more at stake than just data collection. This mandate has significant implications for how employers rebuild their post-pandemic organizational cultures and prepare the workplace of the future.
While vaccine requirements are a deeply polarizing national issue, nearly two-thirds of employees support a mandate where they work. Prior to the President’s announcement, almost a quarter of employees said they would leave their job if mandates were required. However, it is possible that this attitude will shift as the President has essentially given employers air cover to implement policies employees must comply with or face stiff penalties.
Putting these requirements in place quickly and effectively will require organizations to lead with empathy and mutual understanding. Here are four ways leaders can successfully implement new systems while building trust among employees:
Lead with trust: Even as compliance with the EO is required, viewpoints around vaccine policies vary widely among employees. To prevent and manage employer-employee conflict, government organizations need to open lines of communication that enable employees to be heard even as agencies meet the requirements. Ask employees about their experiences and provide information and support resources that may help them better understand and accept the rationale behind the vaccine mandate. Agencies should communicate clearly how they are safeguarding employee health data and use tools that already comply with federal privacy and security requirements.
Make it easy to comply: Agencies should leverage available tools that people can access through whatever device they are comfortable with. Design easy-to-use portals for requirements like vaccine scheduling, attestation, testing and symptom checking. Build in clear steps to handle exceptions (for example, requesting exemptions for medical conditions or deeply held religious beliefs), and create multiple opportunities for people to ask questions throughout the interaction if they encounter any challenges.
Create a new culture of listening: This moment is a challenge – and it’s also an opportunity for agencies to shift their organizational cultures toward greater empathy and mutual understanding. Agencies can build listening into their approaches to vaccine mandate compliance, and empower supervisors, managers and leaders with the insights they need to build and sustain cohesive and engaged teams. How organizational leaders engage with their workforce through this newest change could determine who leaves, who stays, and who chooses to join the organization in the future.
Stay ready for change: If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that changes happen fast and often unexpectedly – not just in how the disease evolves, but as decisions change about required mitigation measures. A flexible platform with plug-and-play capabilities can help governments respond at the speed required to keep pace with changes in policy, requirements and environment.
Requirements may change quickly, but organizational culture should be stable and engaging. That’s why adopting an employee-centric approach is the most important ingredient to set up your organization for success. Leaders who apply these four strategies to the current mandate will provide their workers a smooth process in collecting vaccination and health information. And they will create more agile organizations that support their employees through disruption and change by building a culture of trust.
Sydney Heimbrock is a former OPM executive and chief industry advisory for government at Qualtrics.