February 23, 2021 by Adam Malik
If senior leadership wants employees to follow their guidance on getting vaccinated, they need to set the right example, experts advise.
Leaders need to be seen promoting their vaccination programs, says Gigi Acevedo-Parker, a registered nurse and Hub International’s clinical risk management practice leader.
And it doesn’t matter if it’s a required or voluntary program. “Leadership should still be involved, and they should be front-and-centre,” she said during Hub International’s webinar Implementing an Employee Vaccine Program: Cost, Access and Communication.
“Leadership needs to show that [they] feel this is an important [program for] its workforce. They’re investing their money, but they’re also investing their own time to provide education and support around a vaccination program.”
A vaccination program may be new to a company. For many staff, the last time they may have received a vaccination may have been for school, as Acevedo-Parker pointed out. “So it will take the leader to be really supportive…and provide whatever is needed to make this a success if they want a COVID-19 vaccination program in their workplace.”
These challenges are part of a broader issue around workplace wellness, observed Mary-Lou MacDonald, national practice leader of health and performance at Hub International in Ottawa. The usual challenges around leadership in the workplace are coming in to play with the COVID-19 vaccine.
“They don’t know where to start, and they really don’t know what to do,” she said of leaders in an interview with Canadian Underwriter.
MacDonald recalled a line about the strong influence of a leader’s actions: “Employees monitor, mimic, and magnify the behaviour of their leaders.” The best thing a senior leader can do, therefore, is to take a stand and say why they think taking the vaccine is important for them; why it’s important for staff; why it’s important to the company; and why it’s important to everyone’s family and community. And then they go get the vaccine themselves.
“Then they can be seen getting the vaccine. They become a role model, as does the executive team,” MacDonald said. “You can’t be asking someone to do something that you’re not going to do it yourself. Many leaders really don’t know where to start when it comes to workplace wellness enablement.”
When it comes to initiatives like this, leaders who don’t develop a focused strategy generally wind up wondering why the initiative failed. “They haven’t really gotten the professional support to advise them on what to do and how to approach this,” MacDonald said. “So they try a bunch of things and, of course, it doesn’t move the needle or there’s no interest in it. So the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. And they say, ‘Well, we tried and it didn’t work.’”
If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that leaders can use the increased interest people have in their health to push for healthier employees. This in turn will boost business productivity.
“COVID has done in one year what it’s taken health promotion to get across to leaders in the workplace in 30-plus years, which is: Prevention is really, really important to the bottom line of your business,” MacDonald said. “And it’s really important to connect to that.”
The most cost-effective things a leader can do is to invest time in an initiative, lead by example, and make investments in prevention, she added.
Company culture may play a role in the style of leadership needed. “Certain types of businesses may accept this and be very happy that their employer is considering such an investment within that workforce,” Acevedo-Parker said. “For other company cultures, this may be challenging from beginning to end — especially if the employer really thinks that this is an important strategy for their company.”
At the end of the day, leaders need to walk the walk and talk the talk, Acevedo-Parker said.
“They need to lead by example and ensure that workers see them; [that workers] feel that [the leaders are] all-in to the vaccination; and that this vaccination program is very important to the organization. If it’s important to the organization, if the employee sees this as important to the organization, [then employees] will see it as potentially important to them. And [this would lead to] a better chance of success of acceptance by the majority of your workforce.”
Tomorrow, Part Three will look at how COVID-19 vaccination discussions can be a way to enhance awareness around a company’s full wellness program. You can read Part One on messaging strategy here.
Feature image by iStock.com/Martin Barraud