Can employers who require COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment successfully keep staff members who want to refuse inoculation? Maybe. To be successful it will surely take communication and understanding .
Termination warnings may seem effective, but it’s possible and worth the effort to persuade some vaccine-resistant employees. Changing minds requires understanding the psychology behind vaccine resistance; it also requires addressing the basis for their motives.
Rhetoric to the contrary, many who resist the vaccine do so out of fear–the fear of losing control to a large, powerful entity such as the government or an employer. We’ve seen that the threat of termination strengthens recalcitrance, and it can also promote resentment. As a result, organizations lose good employees and face new challenges in a tight job market, or retain staff members but foster ill will, which can affect long-term performance and commitment.
To maximize probability of moving the vaccine-hesitant employee, persuade, navigate, and educate rather than first resorting to mandate. Educational guidance/persuasion preserves individual dignity of choice, recognizes that the employee has options, and acknowledges their locus of control. A locus of control is the degree that a person believes they direct outcomes in their lives, as opposed to being subject to external forces such as employer mandates.
Educational guidance/persuasion involves two basic components:
- Address people at their own level. Preferably, arrange peer-to-peer interaction so the vaccine-resistant employee won’t feel pressured. If members of your organization’s employee resource groups are comfortable acting as ambassadors, this may be a great opportunity for them.
- Speak to their history with your organization. Appeal to the employee’s sense of community and tenure with the company, with a focus on navigating self-exploration around shared history with co-workers and vendors. Cite colleagues’ and customers’ need for a protected environment—whether they have compromised immune systems, or live with young children, older parents, or a sick spouse. Possibly discuss OSHA regulations related to maintaining a safe workplace.
Overall, focus more on the safety of the work environment/community and less on mandates. This engages the employee more in problem-solving and less on fighting for “rights” to control their destiny, and shifts to enabling a future work environment for the new normal.
Dr. Robert K. Dawes, a seasoned clinical psychologist, has worked almost 30 years in disability and absence management. He currently serves as chief medical officer for ReedGroup.
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.