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How to Talk to Your Staff About Getting Vaccinated

Vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, but there is still some hesitancy in the community. Effective discussions at work can help.
Published 9 Aug 2021
10 min read
Man wearing a white face mask standing outside an office building

Covid-19 lockdowns are frustrating for all employers and their staff. At this point in 2021, who would have thought we’d still be living under the thumb of this terrible virus? It’s a difficult situation, but there is a clear way out of it.

Getting vaccinated is the key to freedom. The faster that we all roll up our sleeves, the sooner we can get back to living normally. It’s for the greater good, but also for individual good. By getting vaccinated, we protect ourselves, but also our loved ones and our communities.

Vaccines are proven to be safe and effective. But there are also lots of confusing and conflicting opinions circulating around communities.

Just because somebody is asking questions about the vaccine, doesn’t always mean they’re opposed to taking it. Vaccine hesitancy is something that can be eased and people’s minds can be changed. In fact, according to the University of Melbourne’s Vaccine Hesitancy Report Card, vaccination hesitancy has dropped from 33% to 21.5% in NSW and VIC since the end of May.

People do change their minds and conversations matter – including those that happen at work. As community leaders, employers and managers should be ready to discuss vaccines with their staff. Doing so could make a significant difference.

There are many reasons why people are hesitant about getting vaccinated, and it’s important to understand them so you can have the most effective conversations. But before that – it’s essential to know your obligations as an employer around the vaccine.

What are my obligations as an employer regarding my staff and Covid-19 vaccinations?

The Covid-19 vaccine is voluntary in Australia for all people, apart from those who work in residential aged care facilities or for the NSW Airport and Quarantine services. Residential aged care workers will be required to have received a minimum first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by 17 September 2021.

For all other people working in all other industries, vaccinations are not mandatory. All Australian citizens, however, are strongly encouraged to get the vaccine. The vaccine will be available in phases.

Eligibility is changing regularly, with some industries in specific areas getting access to the vaccine earlier than planned. An example of this is supermarket workers in south-west Sydney becoming eligible for vaccinations at the Sydney Olympic Park vaccination hub from Wednesday 28 July.

If you or your staff would like to check their eligibility, they can use Covid-19 vaccine eligibility tool.

What if my workers don’t want to receive the vaccine?

As the vaccine is voluntary, anyone is able to refuse the vaccine (unless they work in the few industries specified above). Apart from those industries, it is unlikely a workplace will be allowed to make the vaccine mandatory for their staff.

Even though we may want our employees to be vaccinated, it’s important to be conscious of workplace relations, anti-discrimination and privacy laws. If you’re unsure what to do if a worker is not vaccinated, talk to your WHS regulator, the Fair Work Ombudsman or a workplace law expert.

Learn more about Covid-19, lockdowns and your obligations as an employer.

Why might some of my employees be vaccine hesitant?

There are so many reasons why an individual might build up a suspicion or resistance to the vaccine. Hesitancy exists on a spectrum – they may be firmly behind one or several reasons, or they may be ‘fence-sitting’ with how they feel.

Have you ever heard of the 5Cs theory? This can be a helpful way of breaking down people’s mindsets. The 5Cs stand for;

  • Confidence: A level of trust that a person has in the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, and the extension of this trust to health workers and politicians overseeing the rollout.
  • Complacency: The person may not see Covid-19 as a serious risk to them.
  • Calculation: There may be extensive research by the individual to weigh the risks and benefits of the vaccine. Not all of this research will be informed by truthful sources.
  • Constraints (or convenience): How accessible is the vaccine to the person? Is it located close to them, do they need time to receive it? Could the vaccination process be out of sight, out of mind?
  • Collective responsibility: Do they have a willingness or a reluctance to protect others by vaccinating themselves?

The 5Cs can be seen throughout different reasons for vaccine hesitancy, and illuminate the motivations behind many people’s thinking. Keep them in mind as we talk through some of the most common causes of hesitancy.

Spread of misinformation

There is an incredibly high volume of information about the Covid-19 vaccine online, and there are even more differing opinions about it in our communities.

Something that’s important to remember is that the internet is algorithmic. If you and I were to both Google ‘What is Covid-19?’, we would each receive different results based on our previous web activity. The algorithms work to serve us more personalised content, but they can also put people at risk.

Many people still believe that the internet is a neutral space, and not that it is completely tailored to our behaviours. This can make it extremely difficult to find neutral or objective information. As Jeff Orlowski, director of the documentary The Social Dilemma, tells The Guardian; search engines and social media networks “- are the backbone of our information communication and yet they are systemically putting people on their own islands of thought.”

If a person begins watching a video on YouTube that is anti-vaccinations (or anti-vax), they’ll be shown several similar videos to watch. This would make it incredibly easy for them to become immersed in anti-vax content whenever they search the internet.

Social media can also make it easy to receive and reinforce anti-vax concerns and sentiments. Platforms create environments for people to easily share misinformation and confirm each other’s concerns. As Scientific American points out, “We prefer information from people we trust, our in-group. We pay attention to and are more likely to share information about risks.”

When people fall down these rabbit holes of information, they are more likely to share it with their friends and families – online and offline. This can exacerbate the issue, as it’s difficult to find the facts when your loved ones strongly feel a certain way.

Fear and anxiety

The Covid-19 pandemic has been the most difficult, disorienting and unique event of our lifetime. It’s hard to believe that the world has gone through so much in 18 months.

The whole experience has been filled with uncertainty and anxiety. When will life get back to normal? Will my job be secure? Is my health at risk? Is my family’s health at risk? These are some of the confronting questions that we’ve had to ask ourselves.

As levels of fear increase, many can start to lose confidence in things around them (hello again to one of our 5Cs). Some may begin to feel fearful of a vaccine that has been developed quickly in response to the pandemic.

They may not be buying into conspiracy or anti-vax thinking, they may just feel wary of new medicines. They may have a limited understanding of the safety checks that the vaccines have gone through. It’s also possible that they are concerned about side effects, especially if they have experienced side effects from medicines before.

Difficulty in accessing information

Sometimes it can be difficult to find information about vaccines, including where you can get them, how they should be administered and how you can make an appointment.

Think about all the different types of people that make up your workforce. Do all of them have access to the internet and can they easily navigate it? Can they find official information (is it accessible for people with disabilities or for people who do not speak English)?

These are barriers to finding the correct information and details that a person needs to access the vaccine and make an informed decision.

Difficulty in receiving the vaccine

Some people may feel positively around receiving the vaccine, but don’t feel like they can comfortably access it.

This may apply to someone who could only visit a vaccine hub during work hours, someone who lives far away from a vaccine hub and does not have transport, or someone who is having difficulty in booking an appointment.

These are very real, everyday inconveniences that can deter someone from getting vaccinated. It doesn’t make them lazy or uncaring – it just makes the task a lot more difficult, especially when people are already juggling things like lockdowns, remote working and childcare.

How can I talk to my staff about getting vaccinated?

Now that we understand some of the reasons why people are hesitant towards the vaccine, let’s enter the tricky territory of talking to your staff about it.

As we said around employer obligations, it’s important to remember that we can’t mandate vaccinations at work – and we need to be conscious of our worker’s privacy. We would caution against starting conversations around vaccinations unprompted, or making accusations.

Approach conversations with empathy

When you are feeling afraid, concerned or worried – the worst thing that someone can do is patronise you or approach you with aggression. Making someone feel like an outsider won’t motivate them to change their mind. In this case, they might be more likely to be defensive of their concerns and avoid you wherever possible.

Everybody wants to be spoken to with respect. So what’s the best way to open up a conversation with someone who’s made a comment about not getting the vaccine? Approach the topic gently. Experts speaking with the ABC recommend acknowledging people’s concerns, without necessarily validating them. Think about the possible reasons for their hesitancy and try to see where they’re coming from.

Take the time to listen

If someone has made a comment that they don’t want the vaccine, or that they’re reluctant to get the vaccine, how can we best understand their perspective? Before you jump in with any advice or recommendations, let them talk you through their thoughts around the vaccine.

Don’t interrupt them when they’re talking, give them the space to get all of their thoughts out on the table. This doesn’t only build trust with the person, it also allows you to think of a considered response.

Be prepared with advice and statistics

Once the person has expressed their thoughts, we can start to break down their reluctance. The best way to do this is to come prepared with facts and figures from official and verified bodies. Having specific knowledge in these areas can help you have the most effective conversations.

Consult the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation. Some useful information to have at hand is;

  • What is Covid-19 and how did it originate
  • What are the symptoms of Covid-19 and what kind of impacts can it have on physical health
  • How does the virus spread
  • What are the ramifications of not social distancing or introducing lockdown measures
  • Why do we need vaccines and who are the bodies in your country responsible for approving your available vaccines
  • Any relevant statistics that you’ve found have built your personal confidence in the vaccine

It’s also a good idea to share official information with your team in a general sense. Consider distributing helpful links amongst your team.

https://www.health.gov.au/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19 (if outside of Australia, search for your government’s department of health website)

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

The Australian government’s Is It True page is a good place to find the best answers to common hesitancy questions.

Lead by example

According to the ABC, a great way to influence others is to get vaccinated yourself, and be open about why getting vaccinated is important to you. In times of uncertainty, we are looking to hear from people whom we trust. If we can see their experience was mostly positive, our levels of comfort and confidence are likely to grow.

You might want to consider sending out a staff update or having friendly conversations about your experience of getting vaccinated.

You might share sentiments like;

  • “It’s important to me because I can help protect my family by getting vaccinated, as we know that the virus spreads easily in households.”
  • “I’m eager to get out of lockdown as soon as possible, and getting vaccinated is the easiest way to do that.”
  • “I’m happy to feel protected from the virus, it gives me much more peace of mind.”
  • “I’m really grateful that we have access to vaccines, I was excited to have my turn.”
  • “Apart from a bit of a sore arm the next day, it was a painless experience. I’m looking forward to helping my partner/parents/friends to get theirs.”

Support your team in getting vaccinated

Getting vaccinated takes time. You have to physically get to a doctor’s surgery or vaccination hub, register and often wait in line – all before going through the actual process of getting the jab.

Your staff could also be dealing with any number of added pressures, think deadlines, homeschooling or a lack of transport. Add in an employer that forces them to take a day of annual leave to get vaccinated, and their motivation could disappear completely.

We all need to be supported in getting vaccinated, and employers have a big part to play in helping vaccination numbers rise. Forcing annual leave or demanding overtime when they take time to get vaccinated can feel more like a punishment. Make it clear to your team that they are free to have a morning or afternoon off work for this essential reason.

Respond to vaccine hesitant comments made at work

If one of your staff members is making vaccine hesitant comments at work or spreading misinformation, don’t stay silent. As a leader, not addressing comments might lead others to believe that you agree with them.

Speak out and flag misinformation when you see it. Use the tools you’ve read in this article to approach it. Speak simply and clearly, but kindly.

For example, someone on your work instant messaging channel says that they believe that Covid-19 isn’t that serious, and they won’t be getting vaccinated. You could respond with;

“I don’t agree with that. There’s lots of confusing information out there but I trust the official health advice that Covid-19 poses a significant risk to our community and I’m looking forward to getting vaccinated. Happy to chat further about this if you’d like to.”

Some people won’t budge on their opinions, and we have to accept that

So you’ve gently called out your staff member, had a discussion with them and presented all the evidence in a clear and respectful way, but they still refuse to change their opinion. What do you do now?

It’s frustrating, but it’s time to walk away. Some people are simply not open to different points of view. If they’re not giving your conversation any proper time or consideration, if they’re not listening to what you’re saying or if they’re getting defensive – they’re sending a signal. They are not ready to change their mind right now.

Getting frustrated with them or trying to push the point won’t get you very far. Instead, leave the door open for them. Let them know that you’re happy to revisit the discussion in the future if they wish.

Be a force for good in your team

Managers and employers have a big role to play in helping the community emerge from Covid-19. In times of crisis and confusion, people are looking for solid sources of support and information. Within your workplace, you have the influence to be that source.

We’re here to support your business through Covid-19. Our team of employment specialists are actively producing webinars, blogs, whitepapers and templates for our Covid-19 Resource Hub. We wish you, your business and your team all the best.

The Team
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