Vaccine mandates are growing. Here’s how employees feel

Employees may quit over company vaccine requirements—whether they implement them or not, new research indicates.
By: | August 31, 2021

With fears mounting over the rapid spread of the Delta variant across the country, COVID-19 vaccine mandates among employers are growing. Companies including Walmart, Microsoft, Disney and Tyson Foods recently announced they are requiring their workers to get inoculated against COVID-19.

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And although the mandates have proved polarizing, with many employers still leery about requiring inoculation, new data indicates that employer vaccine requirements have a majority backing from employees.

Research from Qualtrics suggests that 60% of employees say they would be supportive if their employer required vaccines for in-person work. And not only do many support mandates, but nearly 40% of workers would consider quitting if their employer did not mandate vaccines for in-person work—data that indicates employers have a business case for mandating vaccines. For the results, Qualtrics polled 1,000 Americans in full- and part-time jobs in industries including tech, government, media, retail, education, finance and healthcare during the first week of August.

“It’s a high number,” Ben Granger, head of employee experience strategy at Qualtrics, says of the percentage of employees who support employer vaccine mandates. And it’s one he expects will grow in the coming weeks.

“With the Delta variant and with the [Pfizer] FDA approval, I think we’ll see people shift their opinion more favorably,” he says. “If I would have to guess, I would say that’s the trend.”

Related: What the Pfizer FDA approval means for employer vaccine plans

But despite the significant support for vaccine mandates, a large number of people also said they may quit if there was a vaccine mandate at their job. The Qualtrics poll found almost a quarter of employees (23%) would strongly consider leaving their place of work if their employer mandated vaccines, up from 19% in a March survey that asked the same question.

Opinions on employer mandates vary across industries, locations and demographics. For instance, mandates have big backing in the tech industry, with 75% of tech workers supporting vaccine mandates, compared to 59% of retail workers and 58% of government workers. And respondents who are younger, Democrats and male are more likely than those in other groups to say they would consider quitting if there wasn’t a vaccine mandate at their job. Retail workers, older workers and Republicans are generally less supportive of vaccine mandates, the data finds.

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The conflicting data proves the precarious position employers nationwide are in regarding their decision over vaccine mandates. “It’s very much a tug of war and incredibly difficult to manage,” Granger says.

Related: Cappelli: 3 reasons the ‘calculus has changed’ on vaccine mandates

Further complicating employers’ decision over whether to require workers to roll up their sleeves are fears over the Great Resignation, in which workers are leaving or considering leaving their jobs at a fast pace, leaving many employers struggling to hire or hold onto employees. Granger says many employer clients tell him they want to mandate vaccines for their workers but worry about the risk of losing even more talent by alienating workers. “I empathize with all of my clients now because no matter what they do, some of their employees will be very upset and some will be very happy and supportive.”

Employees, for the most part, may have to get used to the idea that their employer might require vaccination—and fast. Over the last few weeks, 20% of companies have changed their employee vaccine policies, with an additional 33% planning or considering changes as well, according to new data from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), which surveyed 670 respondents in August. The number of employers looking to mandate vaccinations is up sharply from the past several months. In January, just 5% of organizations planned to require employees to be vaccinated.

Meanwhile, data from job site Ladders reveals a surge of more than 5,000% since January 2021 in job posts listing vaccination requirements.

Related: These employers are requiring COVID-19 vaccines

“I think we’re at a tipping point as the federal government and the U.S. start to mandate vaccination and [as] more and more companies start to do it, it gives other companies more backing to do it,” Granger says. “We’re at a point where there will be so many well-known companies who mandate it that companies will start to err in that direction.”

Overall, employees’ wide-ranging sentiments over vaccine mandates prove that employers have work to do in trying to appease workers and meet them where they’re at. Listening to workers’ opinions, as well as trying to educate unvaccinated workers over the merits of vaccination is key, Granger says. So is constant communication about any changes in vaccination policy.

“My recommendation is listening to the employees and making sure the company is communicating through the process,” he says. “People don’t feel good about uncertainty. They need to know what their employer is thinking.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s 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. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.