A growing number of employees support vaccine mandates — but there are some holdouts. Here’s how to talk to the ones who are skeptical.

Roughly three-quarters of employees are in favor of vaccine mandates, according to new research.

President Joe Biden’s sweeping plan to fight the pandemic, which includes requiring companies with more than 100 employees to mandate that their workers get vaccinated or face weekly testing, is already proving to be a challenge for organizations around the US. 

The good news is that almost 80% of Americans have already received one dose of the vaccine according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And roughly three-quarters of employees are in favor of a vaccine mandate at work, according to a survey of over 700 companies conducted by the employee engagement software company TINYpulse. The less good news is that vaccine hesitancy abounds, and 21% of employees do not support mandates with 5% saying they would consider quitting their jobs if mandates were imposed.

Talking to your employees about the new mandate and what it means for them is an urgent priority for managers — and a costly one if ignored: employers may be liable for fines if they do not cooperate.

Decisive and direct communication is critical in periods of flux, according to Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. “You need to strike while the iron is hot: This mandate is all over the news, and your workers probably have questions,” he said. “During times of change or uncertainty, reach out early and often.”

That’s no easy feat when you don’t have complete information. The initial text of the emergency temporary rule is currently undergoing an interagency review process, which could take weeks. But experts said there are a few best practices for how to communicate about this new mandate with empathy, openness, accuracy, and humility. 

Get your facts straight

First things first: Make sure your ducks are in a row.

Experts recommended compiling a short summary and list of FAQs about what the new mandate entails and how your organization intends to implement it. The summary should be distributed to line managers and employees.

Use simple, straightforward language and cite government sources. Specify how the organization plans to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated, as well as paid time off to recover from any side effects. Include details about whether the company plans to hold vaccination clinics on-site and how weekly testing would work.

Devise a multichannel communication strategy

Next, you need to get the relevant information to your employees. If your people are mainly working remotely, take advantage of all-user emails, messages on the companywide channel, and digital town halls.

If your workplace is a plant or a store, experts recommended putting up posters in the break room and releasing information about the mandate with employee pay stubs. 

Providing opportunities for workers to speak with managers one-on-one or in a group is also vital, said Marc Sherman, an employment lawyer and a partner at Conway, Farrell, Curtin & Kelly.

“It doesn’t matter if the meetings are live in a conference room or factory floor, or if they take place over,” he said. “It’s important to give employees opportunities to ask questions and clarify issues. And it gives managers a chance to ease their workers’ anxiety.”

Encourage, don’t force

Make it clear to your employees that while you’re encouraging them to get vaccinated, you’re not forcing them to do so, Dartmouth’s Argenti said. Be careful about coming off as “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”  

Focus on the positive. Emphasize why you believe vaccinations are a good thing for the health of employees, the company, and society as a whole. 

“Your message should be: ‘We want everybody to be safe, and we strongly believe this is the right thing to do. We need to make sure people are protected. We respect that some people may have a different opinion on this, and here’s how we meet in the middle. You have a choice: If you don’t get the shot, you have the option to submit to weekly COVID testing.'”

Lead by example

Try not to get ensnared in conversations about the vaccine’s safety or effectiveness with skeptical colleagues. The discussion may lead only to frustration, Argenti said.

Instead, exhibit humility and compassion. You’re not an expert, but your decision-making is guided by scientists and the medical community. Underscore that you believe this is a reasonable ask of employees. 

“Some people are scared. They’re not sure about the vaccine, or they’re on the fence,” he said. 

So seize the opportunity to provide them with solid, neutral information about the vaccines. Look to the Mayo Clinic, for example, and seek out data from major hospitals. Your goal is to dispel myths and counter misinformation.

Have a game plan for how to deal with resistance

In the face of resistance from employees, remember: “The government makes a great scapegoat,” said Kara Govro, the chief legal expert at Mineral, an HR and compliance company. 

Emphasize that the rule is being put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and that the penalties for noncompliance are significant. (Businesses that don’t comply can face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.)

Govro recommended saying something along the lines of, “Some employees might not like the mandate, but if we’re subject to multiple penalties, we may not be able to keep the lights on, and that could put us out of business. This is not a threat. This is a fact. These are rules from the federal government. We have to comply. Your cooperation is appreciated.”


This article was authored by Rebecca Knight and published on October 21, 2021 by Business Insider.