Covid Envy: Will You Favor Employees Who Vaccinate?

During a time when not everyone has access to the Covid vaccine, those who are inoculated can jump into their jobs more quickly, taking business trips, seeing clients, and generally bringing in more business that will impress their managers. You need to rein that in.

It has become, at least in the United States, the first question that many workers have started asking each other. And the answers are leaving quite a number of them—and firm leaders—with a new dose of stress and decision-making.

The question is whether they have taken the Covid vaccine. And the number of those who have is growing rapidly as the states dramatically expand their shot programs. The increase is clearly a welcome step toward ending a brutal pandemic—however, it also creates a new level of Covid-related stress both for workforces and the managers and C-suite players who lead them.

From a health standpoint, no one wants to be the last one to receive the vaccine. But experts say there’s also a work-related “envy factor,” since those who are inoculated can likely jump into their jobs more quickly, taking business trips, seeing clients, and generally bringing in more business that will impress their managers. That’s something leaders can make worse or take steps to ease. “Not having access to the vaccine, while everyone else around you does, is an added stressor,” says Greg Button, president of Global Healthcare Services at Korn Ferry. “It can feel like, wait a second, am I the one who won’t be able to do the same things, or will I put my family at risk for getting Covid?”

The pandemic, with its severe death toll and economic upheaval, has created new levels of work stress not seen in recent memory. According to one Korn Ferry study, nearly two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago. And the numbers get even higher at the C-suite level. Now it appears even news that is good for the long term—more herd immunity—is creating short-term anxiety for those on vaccine waiting lists. The most recent data says that one in five Americans now have received at least one of the two shots required in most cases. (Europe, meanwhile, is struggling far more with its vaccination program, creating different issues for the business world.)

Of course, not everyone is envious of those getting shots. Although the number of people willing to get the vaccine has climbed since last year, 13% of Americans still say they won’t get it, and 7% will only get it if it’s required. That reality, experts say, is certain to create challenges for firms as they begin to ask more employees back to the office and must decide whether vaccinations will be required. “The thing that will help is for leaders to communicate that it’s important to get vaccinated and employees should get an appointment scheduled as soon as they’re eligible,” says Kae Robertson, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Healthcare practice.

But for now, the bigger challenge for the next few months is dealing with the gap between the vaccinated and those who aspire to be. Experts suggest that leaders tell employees that they won’t be penalized for not having been able to get the vaccine so far. Some firms could also continue to limit business travel and keep most offices closed.

Still, that means leaders will need to do a balancing act, since either of those steps may reduce the chances of drumming up business. “As long as there is more than one priority, there will be inequities,” says David Vied, global sector leader for Korn Ferry’s Medical Devices and Diagnostics practice.