Handle with care: Communicating a vaccination policy

Devastating COVID-19 scenarios continue to unfold and lockdown life has become a blur for people across NSW and Victoria. Meanwhile, Queensland waits with bated breath and Australians everywhere are feeling the pain of the pandemic, both economically and socially.

The nation’s vaccine delivery status and state-led rollouts now feature as daily topics of conversation on social channels, in the media, and at our virtual work ‘water cooler’ conversations.

Some of Australia’s biggest brands have already taken strong and artful positions to roll out their mandatory vaccine policies and have set up vaccination hubs for employees — Qantas and CBA are recent prominent examples.

Elected representatives are also getting in on the action, with talk of vaccine passports for entry into some states and ongoing debate about whether lockdowns will be lifted if/when the majority of our populations are vaccinated.

Meanwhile the legal profession warns that businesses considering mandatory vaccines for their workforce could open an avenue of legal risks. Recently Fair Work Australia offered updated guidance, setting out four tiers of workplaces and their likeliness of being able to mandate vaccines for workers. See The Canberra Times – Businesses implementing mandatory vaccines could face legal challenges through employment law, as an example of the challenges facing business and industry.

Your workforce may have started to ask your organisation about its position on the issue. Alternatively, you may be considering what you can do to influence the debate within your own network?

Should your business take a proactive approach to help your immediate community get vaccinated? Perhaps it’s time to start a conversation with your HR/People team? Maybe your organisation is considering incentivising teams and giving people paid leave to get their jabs?

If you are considering your organisation’s situation, then it’s important to remember the position, the messaging and the tone of the delivery are everything. Communicating to people about highly emotive, and at times divisive, issues needs to be handled with care.

If you have a frontline workforce or operate in an essential industry, then you may be considering creating a policy to encourage 100% vaccination (albeit with some leeway for employees’ personal or medical circumstances) and rolling out a campaign at work to engage on this important public health issue.

Some organisations are even considering HR-led internal communication campaigns to urge employees to get their own and family vaccinations underway, to help with community vaccination rates.

Regardless of your organisation’s position, if you’re keen to take action, here are a few essentials to consider.

Two things an organisation needs are:

A clear position – What’s the organisation’s position is and why is it important?

  • Consider setting a goal and developing a policy to support your position (taking appropriate legal advice).
  • The overarching position and strategic approach is most effective when supported by evidence of why it is necessary. Develop succinct key messages and refer to independent health advice.

To engage its people – Set out a clear communication and engagement plan for employees.

  • Engage employees and contractors systematically with transparent and compassionate people-focused communication. Inform them, consult with them and work with them to allow them to understand the organisation’s position and achieve your organisation objectives.

The top three considerations

  1. Take the lead — Encourage the CEO or the head of HR to lead communication and engagement about this critical issue. Cascade the position and key messages to all people leaders in your business. Have an open-door approach if anyone wants to talk it through with members of the leadership team. Remember to give genuine consideration for an employee’s personal circumstances, for example, there may be medical or religious grounds to consider.
  2. Talk with empathy to your employees — Be consultative and engage your employees in a genuine manner — consider hosting a Q&A session. Most importantly, have compassion when you talk about this issue. It’s a human issue with extremes on both sides of the vaccination debate. When talking to your workforce, it’s important to reflect an understanding of the issue and strike the right tone. Empathy is everything. Taking a dictatorial or directive tone may be counterproductive.
  3. Where possible, link to your organisation’s values or mission — Articulate why this issue is important to your people, clients and customers. A clear company position, supported by medical evidence and linked to your values, will demonstrate the logic and expectations of your people, customers and partners.

In short, there is much to consider before communicating with your organisation about vaccinations — especially if you’re rolling out a mandatory vaccination policy.

Regardless of your organisation’s current position, it is probably time to start the discussion with your HR team to see how you can help broader societal efforts to move out of rolling lockdowns, return business to normal, and restart travel both near and far — for work and fun — as soon as possible.

The Rowland team develops engaging and creative communication plans to support organisations during challenging times and build employee engagement. Please contact Janet Houen or Sarah Smallhorn Guppy to discuss your organisation’s needs on 07 3229 4499.