READ TIME: 5 minutes.

COVID-19 vaccines are welcome news as we look to end this pandemic. However, employers must balance new vaccine policies with factors affecting employee retention. How will it affect your workforce?

Pfizer. Moderna. Johnson & Johnson. Novavax. Oxford/AstraZeneca (UK). Bharat Biotech (India). CanSino Biologics (China). Gamaleya (Russia). SinoPharm (United Arab Emirates). Sinovac Biotech (China). These pharmaceutical companies are just the first of many to design and deliver vaccines for the novel coronavirus. In December 2020, Healthline reported that more than 50 COVID-19 vaccines were being tested in clinical trials around the world, with at least 80 more in earlier stages of development.

That’s good news, right? Yes! We are all eager to put this pandemic behind us! However, the vaccines come with their own set of complications – including for employers preparing to navigate how the vaccines may impact their workforce. Policies around employee vaccinations, business travel, and work from home, for example, are all factors affecting employee retention. 

Revisit Employee Retention Strategies

Before we dive into workplace COVID vaccine decisions, let’s set the stage with some basics of workforce retention. At their core, employee retention strategies are about recognizing, valuing, and supporting employees to do work that matters and include: 

  • Engaging with employees in ways that ensure they are heard and seen
  • Empowering your employees to take on responsibility and make decisions
  • Investing in their development and creating flexible career paths
  • Prioritizing mental safety and wellness

Whether you’re focused on on-site workers or wondering how to keep remote employees engaged, look for opportunities to offer innovative employee retention strategies. You could take a stand on social issues, encourage employees to recognize coworkers who are making a difference, or set up listening sessions to get honest feedback about what’s working (and what’s not) for your workforce.  

Whatever strategies you select, plan to tweak them over time to integrate them as effective elements of your culture. 

Start Making Your COVID Vaccine Decisions Now

Currently, federal, state, and local governments are doing the heavy lifting to get the COVID vaccinations distributed. Soon, though, business leaders will need to answer COVID vaccine questions of their own. Employers have a duty to ensure a safe working environment and that no individual possesses a “direct threat to the health or safety” of others in the workplace. 

You’ll need to decide:

Will you require employees to be vaccinated? Or simply encourage them?

Will vaccinations be required for employees to:

      • Secure health insurance through your company?
      • Return to on-site work?
      • Travel for business?

What if someone is:

      • Unwilling to be vaccinated?
      • At risk or ineligible to be vaccinated?
      • Uncomfortable traveling for business after the pandemic?
      • Concerned about customers or colleagues who may not be vaccinated?

How will you keep employees safe?

      • Will masks be required at work?
      • Will you provide hand sanitizer, PPE, and/or deep cleaning at work sites?
      • Will you continue to limit business travel? Or put new protocols into place?
      • Do you have the right mental health resources for employees needing extra support during and after the pandemic?

What about working from home?

      • Can any employee work from home if they want to?
      • Can they return to on-site work if they prefer?

Certainly, you’ll need to check with government authorities, your legal advisors, and your human resource experts to determine what you can (and cannot) do. 

As your senior leadership team plots a path for operating through and beyond COVID vaccine distribution, it will be important to weigh what’s important for all. What does the company need to thrive? What policies will help to retain your top performers? 

Once your plan and decisions are in place, communication will be key – because employees will soon have more choices, again, about where and how to work.

Seven Factors Affecting Employee Retention

Employee retention will ultimately have less to do with the individual COVID vaccine policies you put into place and more to do with whether or not your workforce believes that you support their wellbeing and their workplace success. As you’re rolling out your refreshed policies, consider these seven factors affecting employee retention:

    1. Communication. Any time you’re updating company policies, it’s important to prepare your workforce by clearly and repeatedly keeping employees informed. In the absence of updates from you about the company’s COVID vaccine-related policies, employees will make up their own narrative that will inevitably be wrong. Start early. Avoid unnecessary distraction and uncertainty by consistently communicating your plans and updates.
    2. Transparency. When communicating the refreshed policies, be specific. Make clear any changes to on-site work requirements or the way you serve customers or clients. If you’re providing reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities that prevent them from receiving a vaccine, include that fact in your communications. If there are any changes to your work from home policies due to the COVID vaccines, share those, too. Take the mystery – and the stigma – off the table by showing that you’ve addressed the most anticipated situations and have policies that provide a safe working environment for all. 
    3. Empathy. It’s not enough to share the facts. Employees will look to their leaders to share the “why” behind the decisions and policies. This is an important opportunity to show how you’re looking out for employee wellbeing in your refreshed policies. 
    4. Equity. Employees want to work where they – and their colleagues – are treated fairly. If you haven’t already, minimize the biases associated with hiring and promoting employees by using a competency management approach to workforce management and development. By making workforce decisions based on skills and competencies, you’ll do a more equitable job of identifying and developing the people and skills your company needs. 
    5. Engagement. Look for opportunities to engage with your workforce. Offer in-person, virtual, or hybrid small group Q&A sessions. Arm managers with accurate and up-to-date information and encourage them to connect with direct reports to ensure that each employee has the chance to get the answers and clarifications they need for their situation.
    6. Investment. Once employees understand and accept what changes will come due to the COVID vaccines, they will be better able to refocus on the work ahead of them. Continue to offer meaningful ways for employees to build the essential skills they need. In fact, now is a good time to revisit career paths, conduct routine skills assessments, and adjust learning plans to ensure that employees succeed at your company and in their careers. 
    7. Empowerment. One of the biggest reasons employees stay with their employers is the opportunity to take on increasing levels of responsibility. Even if work looks a little different after the COVID vaccines help bring the pandemic to an end, work with your emerging leaders to take on more. They – and you – will be glad you did.  

If you’re working through your plans and policies related to the COVID-19 vaccine reality, refer to our Competency Management Toolkit to see how a competency management approach to employee retention can help your transition. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can keep your workforce engaged and on board.


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