‘Shocking’ number of leaders aren’t focused on COVID-19 vaccines

With COVID-19 vaccines now widely available and viewed as essential to ending the pandemic, one survey reveals some startling information about company plans regarding inoculations: Most HR leaders say they aren’t prioritizing vaccination.

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That’s according to a survey of 412 managers and HR leaders from software firm TinyPulse, which finds that 53% of HR leaders report that COVID-19 vaccine policy is not a priority or is a low priority. Twenty-seven percent say it’s a medium priority, and just 20% say it’s a high priority.

The finding is “shocking,” says TinyPulse CEO and founder David Niu, adding that an equally stunning number from the survey is that 14% of HR leaders surveyed said they are more likely to get a vaccine to go on vacation than to keep their job.

“There has been so much talk about vaccines, but from our data, it seems that leaders are not prioritizing vaccine policies,” he says. “HR leaders have their work cut out for them in the next year. Many organizations are already choosing not to mandate vaccine policies, but they will need to determine in-person work policies and what those phased strategies look like for employees returning to work.”

Related: As universities mandate vaccines, will more employers join them?

Niu says he suspects the majority of HR leaders are not prioritizing vaccine strategy because of the uncertainty surrounding the vaccine rollout. “Also, given that 90% of surveyed HR managers responded that their organization responded effectively to the pandemic, many organizations may not be in a rush to get vaccines to return to the office,” he says. “Plus, since it became so polarizing, I don’t think anyone wants to invite a PR crisis or lawsuit.”

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The survey finds that the energy, hospitality and service industries gave vaccine policy the highest rating as a priority, likely due to the fact that most of their employees have fewer work-from-home options and a higher risk of exposure. On the opposite end, the retail and wholesale industry did not rank vaccine policy as a high priority, which is surprising given the nature of in-person work, Niu says.

“Organizations that have to report to in-person work like medicine, hospitality and other types of services will have more of a need for vaccine policies,” he says.

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. Handfuls of employers have made plans and are working to encourage vaccinations among workers. For instance, 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.

Despite those examples, many organizations haven’t gone as far as some experts predicted they would–at least not yet. While encouraging vaccinations has been popular among employers, Carol Morrison, senior research analyst at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), said last week at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference that vaccines still represent a top concern for employers with many hesitant to incentivize or require inoculation.

“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.

Other experts predict HR and company leaders will have to step up their vaccination policy plans, especially as many organizations mull a return to the workplace. “It’s pretty clear that there is no scenario for most companies where employees are returning unvaccinated to the office in 2021,” Justin Holland, CEO and founder of HealthJoy, a benefits company that works with some 700 employers, told HRE recently. “This is a conversation that HR leaders need to be having with their people now.”

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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.