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Employee Perspectives on COVID-19 Vaccinations

April 30, 2021

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Will vaccinations be the next big challenge for HR? Likely so.  49% of working Americans believe that employers should require vaccination proof for those employees returning to the workplace. Similarly, 48% of workers agree that employers should require vaccines, while 53% of workers believe employers should offer vaccine incentives to their employees. More than one-third of workers (35%) say non-vaccinated employees should not be permitted to work in-person with co-workers.

This is according to the 2021 Eagle Hill Consulting COVID-19 Vaccines and the Workplace Survey, which measured employee sentiment about COVID-19 vaccines, returning to the workplace, as well as testing and safety protocols. Conducted by Ipsos from April 7-9, the national survey includes 1,027 respondents from a random sample of employees across the U.S.

This workforce sentiment comes as vaccination rates ramp up across the U.S., with about 27% of Americans fully vaccinated. But, significant COVID-19 challenges remain for employers given the recent pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, increasing cases in many states (including Michigan), and concerns about highly infectious new variants.

“The good news is that the U.S. is making incredible progress when it comes to getting shots in arms, which is helping to drive business and economic recovery,” says Melissa Jezior, Eagle Hill Consulting president and chief executive officer. “But, we’re continuing to see employee concerns and divided views on a wide range of COVID-19 issues, which creates an increasingly complicated situation for employers.”

“Workers remain split on employee vaccine requirements, and we’re also seeing differing views on whether workers should provide proof of vaccinations before returning to work,” Jezior added. “Another sticky issue for employers is how to handle employees who choose to remain unvaccinated – should they be permitted to interact in-person with colleagues and customers or be given special allowances to work from home?”

“The bottom line for employers – they have to keep the lines of communication open with employees and really listen and respond to their concerns. Employees know their workplace will be different but managing any type of change is often met with resistance. The stakes are even higher when workplace changes involve employee health and safety,” Jezior explained.

Unvaccinated Employees

In addition to split views on vaccination mandates, incentives, and proof, the research finds that workers are split on how to manage unvaccinated workers:

  • More than half (55%) of workers say non-vaccinated employees should not be given special allowances to work from home.
  • Close to half of workers (44%) say non-vaccinated employees should not be allowed to travel for work.
  • Many workers (39%) say non-vaccinated employees should not be permitted to work in-person with customers.
  • More than one-third of workers (35%) say non-vaccinated employees should be not allowed to work in-person with co-workers.
  • The vast majority of workers (83%) say non-vaccinated employees should be able to stay with their employer.

Returning to Work

The research also indicates that many U.S. workers feel employers should exercise caution in re-opening workplaces, with (45%) indicating employers should wait to re-open workplaces as vaccines roll out, up from 42% in February. Across generations, workers feel differently about returning to work:

  • Gen Z and Millennials are most excited about returning to workplace, 47% and 30%, respectively, which is substantially higher than their Gen X (26%) and Boomer (15%) counterparts.
  • Yet, younger workers are more concerned about contracting COVID-19 at work—Gen Z at 28%, Millennials at 26%, Gen X at 23%, and Boomers at 14%.
  • Also, younger workers are feeling significantly more anxious about returning to the workplace—Gen Z at 25%, Millennials at 20%, Gen X at 13%, and Boomers at 12%.
  • Also, younger workers also are more concerned about balancing work and home—Gen Z at 23%, Millennials at 21%, Gen X at 17%, and Boomers at 9%.

Workers anticipate that their workplace will be different when they return. When asked about the disruption of COVID-19 on the workplace:

  • More than half (51%) expect the number of people working from home will be different.
  • Nearly half (47%) expect their physical workplace will be different.
  • Almost half (45%) expect people will be working further apart.
  • 43% expect requirements for sanitation like mask wearing will be different.
  • 41% expect requirements for testing for COVID-19 symptoms will be different.

COVID Testing and Safety Protocols

In terms of COVID testing, most (51%) say that employers should cover the costs for any employer-mandated tests. 23% say the federal government should bear the costs, while 14% say insurance providers or state/local government (nine percent) should pay for required tests. Only 3% agree employees should pay.

When asked about the role employers should play with COVID-19 precautions now that vaccines are widely available, there was broad support for employer involvement.

  • Regarding social distancing, 84% concur that employers should require or encourage social distancing.
  • Regarding masks, 81% agree on employers requiring or encouraging mask use.
  • For temperature checks at the workplace, 74% say employers should encourage or require temperature checks.
  • Regarding personal protective equipment, 62% agree that employers should encourage or require personal protective equipment at work.
  • When it comes to requiring COVID-19 testing before entering the workplace, 57% support employers requiring or encouraging testing.

At this time, ASE is not recommending that employers mandate the vaccine, but rather encourage it. For tools to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, employers are invited to go to the Communications Toolkit at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MHDDS) site at Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine. The toolkit has multilingual graphics, videos, posters, and handouts that employers can use to get the word out to workers and their families about the safe COVID-19 vaccine and when and how to receive the inoculation.

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