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Vaccination policies will require a delicate balance

  • Posted on March 24, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
employers and COVID-19 vaccination policies

This article was originally published on Forbes.

Anticipation is growing that in the months ahead, Covid-19 vaccines could be more widely available to larger segments of the general population. While that would seem like good news all around, as my team and I think through all the ramifications, we find that the topic is more complicated than it first appears, and I suspect we are not alone.

To be honest, right now we have more questions than answers. What will the policy be going forward, to protect both our employees and meet our clients’ requirements? As a technology consulting and professional services company, what about clients? Will they require project team members to prove their vaccination status before returning to a client site? This quickly becomes difficult territory, one that requires a balance between individual decisions and business requirements.

Of course, a person’s vaccination history is personal health information. Will we require information about vaccination status? What about employees who, because of a personal belief or underlying health reasons, choose not to be vaccinated? There are still unknown and untested aspects of vaccinations, such as the impact on pregnancy, so a blanket mandate is not reasonable. Could consultants who choose to bypass vaccination find themselves on the bench, unable to be staffed to capacity? Must we require those not vaccinated to continue to social distance and wear masks indefinitely?

Priority one: Our employees’ well-being
When working through these questions and more, start at the beginning. At companies around the world, employees’ lives have shifted dramatically in the last year, as many have adapted to a 100% virtual work environment and struggled to care for their families and communities while often isolated from their typical support systems.

Teams had to become quite creative, finding new ways to support employee health and well-being in such unusual circumstances. Now, as people begin to consider returning to offices, depending on their local Covid status, leaders have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment. Requiring the public health measures that are now second nature — wearing masks, distancing, optimizing air circulation systems, installing HEPA air filters and sanitizing environments — just makes sense, but things get trickier when you consider the questions raised by the availability of vaccines.

First steps on a new journey
According to research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted in December 2020, 61% of U.S. companies intend to encourage, but not require, their employees to get the Covid-19 vaccination, while more than one-third of organizations surveyed aren't certain whether they'll require vaccines.

For now, my company’s position is that we will handle the issue of vaccinations the same way we do other health-related matters. We will make sure our employees have complete and accurate information about their vaccine options, and we will encourage people to be vaccinated, but not require it to access our offices. Just as we are familiar now with giving people the choice not to be staffed on projects that go against their personal values, I can see a new kind of familiarity in the future for vaccines, should clients request only vaccinated personnel be staffed to their projects.

Once there is an ample supply of vaccines, I can envision sponsoring vaccination clinics onsite, as many employers do today with annual flu shots. Our challenge as business leaders in this interim period is to determine the right approach that reflects our individual companies' values and our responsibility when dealing with a scarce resource. We have already heard of some companies, both abroad and in the U.S., that are making efforts to obtain vaccines for their employees before the community at large. We choose to wait our turn.

Our decision is to continue to support employees with flexible working choices, focus on how to help them be the best they can be with their families and in their work life — and help them prepare for whatever may unfold in the coming months.

Each organization is different, and there may never be one final, best answer, but by staying true to your company's principles, focusing on your employees’ well-being and making sure they feel cared for, you will develop the best approach for your particular situation.

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