Vaccinated and unvaccinated employees present a communication challenge to all organisations and their leadership today. In Switzerland, employers are looking to welcome back their employees into their offices. However, employees must present a vaccination certificate before they are allowed to enter the premises. Those who have not been vaccinated, out of their own choice, will have to continue to work from home.
Switzerland follows the ethical principle of self-determination and there is no legal obligation to be vaccinated. Approximately 65% of citizens have been vaccinated by their own choice. Considering the nature of the pandemic, many companies are insisting that employees get vaccinated in order to return to the office. Some companies, in their haste to get the work force back on track, are even taking extreme measures in their communication and policies.
For example, Swiss International Air Lines has recently announced that it will sack employees who are unwilling to get the jab. This announcement could set a new precedent among organisations. This has led to a dip in motivation among employees who chose not to get vaccinated. Not only will engagement and motivation dip among such employees as a result, but attrition rates will increase too.
Good leadership and a balanced communication strategy are becoming more crucial than ever. Communicating with employees by sending them relevant information about vaccines can be supportive. Employers need to demonstrate commitment towards the safety of their employees in an emphatic way.
Instead of taking a hard-line approach, some companies are providing paid time off or vaccination bonuses to employees to encourage them to get shots, and are attempting to improve vaccination rates by giving employees fact-based information. This can be helpful.
Two-way communication with employees can go a long way towards nurturing trust and motivation. Here we suggest some ways that leaders can communicate with their employees about this tough situation.
Getting a message across successfully is not only about what is said: listen to the audience – employees
Communication has to be a two-way street, so it is important to listen to the concerns of employees instead of just browbeating them with information. Research has shown that such symmetrical communication engenders trust and leads to higher employee acceptance of initiatives. When employees feel that their concerns are being addressed and their voices are being heard, they are more likely to feel vested and involved in the organisation’s decisions.
Sometimes, listening isn’t enough. It’s also just as important to ask the right questions to get to the root of the issue. Empathy in an organisation has to be given in a specific, show-don’t-tell manner. Leaders should use language that focuses on employees and their well-being and take steps to showcase their compassion and support. When employees feel that ‘we’re all in this together’, they are more likely to accept company-wide initiatives.
Being sensitive to the vaccination-related concerns of employees can go a long way in building trust. The organisational culture should encourage employees and employers to engage in a structured conversation where everyone can share ideas and learn.
Lead by example
CEOs must act as role models, while leaders at various levels can also help disseminate information and listen to concerns and feedback. Organisations should identify opinion leaders and other social influencers among employees and convert them into ‘ambassadors’ by involving them in creating a dialogue about vaccination with their fellow employees.
Despite attempts by the Swiss authorities to educate the public about the importance of vaccination through video campaigns on social media, some people remain resistant. In November, Switzerland will vote on a Covid-19 law, specifically with regard to the legitimacy of the Covid vaccination certificate. It is therefore even more imperative that leaders create an inclusive conversation about vaccination as they attempt to get more employees on board. The way forward in a post-pandemic world must be led with empathy and kindness and not judgment and provocation.