Vaccination lady hero

Getting Personal About the COVID-19 Vaccination: How Leaders Make a Difference

It’s not news to anyone that personal stories told by leaders, especially those that reveal vulnerability, garner attention. They are powerful. We remember them. When we tell our own stories well, we can move and even influence people.

This approach is an artform for Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments, who gained folk hero status a few years ago when he announced his plan to pay all of his employees a $70,000 minimum wage—a figure he determined to be the threshold at which financial stress would be alleviated—with the added benefit of enabling employees to be more present and productive at work.

Price, who has been a popular past speaker at the annual i4cp Next Practices Now Conference, has spoken openly about his unconventional childhood and his family’s financial struggles. So, his stand on paying living wages to employees came from a very personal place and became part of his company’s story.

He is doing the same with his position on vaccinations—the COVID-19 vaccination in particular—by making it personal.

dan pricePrice’s recent pro-vaccine social media posts (and the strategy behind them) are aligned with data gathered by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) about the COVID-19 vaccination and the workplace.

Our recent survey of 211 business professionals found 68% overall reporting that their companies plan to encourage employees to get vaccinated once the vaccine is widely available to the public; 19% said that this is currently being discussed in their organizations.

Among the strategies already in place or currently under consideration to help encourage vaccination of employees is the essential role of leadership in pro-vaccine messaging.

Asking leaders to role model by sharing with their workforces that they have been or plan to be vaccinated is already or will soon be implemented in 19% of organizations; 57% indicated that this is currently under consideration; 25% said that this isn’t being discussed at all.

When it comes to the CEO sending out a personal message to employees about their own plans and encouraging employees to get vaccinated, 18% have already or will soon do so soon; 50% are considering doing this; 32% reported that said that this isn’t being discussed at all in their organizations.

Our research also lines up with insights gathered via a recent poll of 150 CEOs of the biggest U.S. companies who attended the recent Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute Summit. An article published by Chief Executive in mid-December reported that while 71% of the CEOs polled said the COVID vaccination should be required at work, most acknowledged in a follow-up discussion that they had not yet formulated a plan to do so and would wait and see how the first wave of vaccinations went before deciding on a policy in their organizations. i4cp’s survey found 41% of respondents reporting that the question of mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees once they become widely available to the public is currently under discussion. Only 5% said that their organizations have decided to require that employees be vaccinated; 39% do not plan to require a vaccine.

Taking a wait-and-see approach is fairly common—some comments ranged from “It’s likely to become mandatory in the summer of 2021” to strict adherence to governmental regulations: “We will follow recent EEOC guidance and require vaccinations, except as exempted.”

Whatever organizations decide, the impact and role of leaders at every level of the organization in terms of rolling out communications is critical. If there is no plan to require vaccinations, but this may change later on, it’s important to communicate this to employees. Leaving them in the dark sows more anxiety in an already surreally anxious time.

If your organization is very much in a “we’re still sorting it out” phase (and the majority are), your leaders should acknowledge this too. Dan Price has demonstrated in a few simple lines that a big part of effective leadership is telling genuine stories. Authenticity is powerful, even if the story (at least for now) is that we just don’t know yet. What will your story be?  

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.