What the research says about top COVID vaccine strategies

After more than a year of social distancing, remote work, lockdowns and more, COVID-19 vaccinations have represented a crucial key to overcoming the pandemic and restoring safe interactions. But, says Carol Morrison, senior research analyst at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), vaccines also represent a top concern for employers.

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“While they represent great hope, vaccinations also demand close attention from business leaders. It’s one of the biggest challenges employers have right now,” she said during a keynote session Tuesday at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. The virtual event, which runs through Thursday, is free for attendees. Register here.

Since the beginning of the year, employers have been forced to think about their COVID-19 vaccine plans for employees, with many experts citing that employer involvement is key to getting employees to buy into the vaccines. “One of the most fundamental decisions they must decide is whether or not to require employees to be vaccinated,” Morrison said. “What i4cp research has found is that encouragement is the watchword. From the beginning of the year, we’ve seen business leaders pretty much overwhelmingly and steadily decisively turning away from mandates and instead choosing to urge their employees to choose vaccinations.” Data from i4cp collected in late March found that 74% of organizations said they would encourage their workers to get vaccinated and 8% said they would require their workers to get vaccinated.

Related: Still weighing vaccine incentives? Here’s what 12 employers have done

Organizations are using a number of incentives, she said. Education–like providing training or materials on merits or efficacy–is the “clear top choice” and has steadily risen since the first quarter of the year. “It makes sense since this is a relatively easy strategy for organizations to implement: It’s low or no cost and it helps them address issues like employee resistance to vaccines or lack of information or misinformation about vaccines.”

Elkay Manufacturing is one of those employers. Although the company took time to decide whether to require, encourage or stay silent on vaccines, it “ultimately decided that encouraging our employees to take the vaccine aligned best with our culture of respecting the individuality of our employees,” Tonie Lyubelsky, senior director, total rewards at Elkay, said during the keynote.

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Elkay regularly educates employees on vaccination, with its CEO discussing the merits of the vaccine in weekly video meetings and other company leaders regularly talking about the efficacy and safety of the shots.

The company also uses information from the CDC, which Lyubelsky recommends to other employers. “The CDC has some pretty great marketing material for vaccination, and we used many of their posters and flyers to post around the production facilities to have a visual reminder for employees of the importance of vaccination and also as a reminder and a guide on where to go for more information,” she said.

The company also focused on giving workers access to vaccines, partnering with municipalities to provide on-site vaccination for its workers when possible. And it’s helping connect workers with vaccines. “Many of our employees were clueless or confused about when they were eligible, which vaccine they should take and also where to go,” Lyubelsky said. “To assist with that, we shared some resources with employees that explained to them the levels of eligibility so they can determine the best time they and their families can get vaccinated.”

Scores of organizations have taken other approaches in the last few months. Aldi, Dollar General, Darden Restaurants and Trader Joe’s are all offering four hours of pay total for getting the two doses. Target is providing hourly employees up to four hours of pay–two hours for each vaccine dose–as well as free Lyft rides (up to $15 each way) to get to and from their appointments. Aon is offering all of its some 50,000 employees two days of paid time off for each injection.

Morrison said that paid time off for vaccines also has “grown quite impressively and more than doubled since the beginning of the year.” That number is expected to rise even more as President Biden last month urged employers to give their employees paid time off to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Related: Will Biden’s support push more employers to offer PTO for shots?

Despite more employers getting involved in vaccinations, and encouraging employees to get their shots, there is still movement to be made. To date, only three in 10 organizations have created or are planning to create a formal policy on vaccinations, Morrison said.

“Business leaders seem to be approaching the vaccine issue with an abundance of caution,” she said. “This remains a fast-changing situation.”

Conference sessions will be available through June 11. Click here to view this entire session.

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.