5 principles for returning to the workplace and vaccination

Most employers won’t require vaccination as a condition of returning to the workplace, according to a Willis Towers Watson survey, but employees still need empathy.

By Tony Silber      
5 return to work vaccine principles

Most U.S. employers continue to encourage workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but 72% of them will not require it and don’t plan required vaccinations before coming back to the workplace.

However, a significant majority of respondents in a new Willis Towers Watson survey say they’re encouraging vaccination, and many are taking steps to ensure workplace safety. The survey was conducted between May 19 and May 28 among 660 organizations that employ an aggregated 5.3 million workers. Willis Towers Watson is global advisory, brokerage and solutions company.

For example, more than eight in 10 survey respondents (86%) are offering scheduling flexibility, and 82% are communicating to employees about the value of vaccination. Also, 40% have launched programs to boost vaccination among populations less likely to get vaccinated, and another 21% are considering doing so. 

“By encouraging vaccinations, employers are demonstrating their commitment to employee safety and well-being,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., population health leader, Willis Towers Watson. “Taking various approaches and using clear, targeted communications will enable employers to protect employees, their families and the community.” 

Among the survey’s additional findings: 

  • Six in 10 employers (62%) are providing or considering providing pay for time spent getting vaccinated.
  • Nearly 60% are performing or considering onsite or near-site vaccine administration for employees.
  • More than half of employers (58%) are offering or considering offering additional leave for any employee who has negative reactions from the vaccine.
  • Two in 10 respondents are offering or considering providing financial incentives for getting vaccinated.
  • A majority of employers are requiring both vaccinated (52%) and unvaccinated (69%) employees to wear masks indoors.
  • Among employers requiring or considering requiring vaccination, more than half (56%) will require documented proof of vaccination.
  • Nearly one in five (19%) will require or consider requiring vaccinations for certain workplace privileges such as indoor gyms and cafeterias.  

Willis Towers Watson’s Levin-Scherz offered five principles for managing employees as they return to work and get vaccinated.

  1. Be empathetic. People have been through a lot. Many have lost friends and loved ones. Almost all have suffered from loneliness. Some will just need to be listened to, and not expect a “solution.”
  2.  Be flexible. We’ve discovered how much we can accomplish remotely, and should keep these lessons in mind.
  3. Be prepared. Mental-health needs will have increased dramatically—and employers should step up to meet them. Those needs could last for years after the pandemic is over.
  4. Be honest. Many want reassurance that things will go back to the way they were. But they probably won’t—so be careful to avoid offering promises that can’t be kept.
  5. Remember the family. We are more aware of caregiving needs now than we were before, and we should focus not just on adult preventive care, but also having kids return for routine pediatric vaccinations.