30th Jun 2021
3 Min Read

Jabs vs. jobs. Communicating your vaccination policy

Patrick Halkett
Patrick Halkett
Culture & Change

Should individuals have the right to refuse the vaccination without the risk of reprisals from their employer? Or is it just common sense that front-line workers and businesses protect themselves from the consequences of positive tests in the workforce? Patrick Halkett debates the risks.

Cathay Pacific has reportedly told its aircrew that they must get a Covid vaccination or risk losing their jobs.

While mandatory health precautions are common in the workplace, it’s fair to say the coronavirus vaccination is open to more nuanced debate.

Most people see the vaccine rollout as the silver bullet for this pandemic, arguing it’s our most meaningful method of protection, mitigates against a third wave of infections and gives us a route out of social distancing restrictions.

But there’s a more sceptical minority that views Covid vaccinations with suspicion and would rather take their chances than get the jab.

This raises the question: should these individuals have the right to refuse the vaccination without the risk of reprisals from their employer? Or is it just common sense that frontline workers and businesses must protect themselves from the consequences of positive tests in the workforce?

The value of engagement

Human rights group Liberty takes a strong stance on this issue.

Gracie Bradley, director at Liberty, recently said the following about the UK government mandating vaccinations for care home workers and NHS employees: “We all want to know that our loved ones are safe – and it is vital people in care homes and those at risk from Covid are protected.

“Ministers shouldn’t be talking about forcing people to get jabs, they should be focusing on educating people about vaccinations and supporting people to make informed consent.

“If vaccinations are made mandatory for care workers, and possibly NHS staff, people may be forced to choose between their livelihood and their bodily autonomy. That is unacceptable.”

Whether you agree or disagree with this side of the debate, Bradley makes a key point about the argument for engagement and education over enforcing mandatory policy – one that’s vital for IC teams to consider when communicating the business’s vaccination policy.

It’s good to talk

Any opportunity to engage in two-way conversations with your workforce before you set out your policy will be incredibly valuable – time permitting. So take an agile approach, using digital polls and virtual meetings to speed up the process.

A mixture of qualitative and quantitative surveying and short focus groups will give you the chance to hear whether your people have any reservations about the vaccine, if there are specific knowledge gaps you can fill and whether there are frequently asked questions people need answering.

These insights can help you pre-empt your colleagues’ response to your communications and get you ahead of the game.

Take a global view

For multinational businesses, this data could be even more valuable when considering a 2020 study published by The Lancet. This found that a higher proportion of respondents from countries such as Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia disagreed that vaccines are safe compared to 2015 figures.

This difference in attitudes creates added complexity when communicating your vaccination policy and strongly suggests that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not be as effective as segmenting your audience and addressing different geo-cultural attitudes.

Some other things to consider

Think culture and values. Before you develop your vaccination comms strategy, consider what your approach says about your company culture and values. For example, if your strategy comes across as a top-down decree from the CEO’s office but your espoused culture and values prioritise egalitarian decision-making and colleague consultation, you risk jeopardising your internal reputation as a trusted source.

The power of advocacy. Employee advocates, champions and influencers can be incredibly helpful. Think about enlisting the help of people from different parts of the business and of varying seniorities to help your message land. Also, consider ways these allies can act as your eyes and ears on the ground, gathering feedback on how your policy has landed.

Content is king. A strategic cross-channel content plan, which includes amplifying key messages from your leadership team, is the foundation for a strong vaccine comms strategy. Take a ‘mosaic’ approach to content, using a variety of treatments from written editorial to video and podcasts to make sure your messages land for all audience preferences.

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