The Employer’s Role In The Vaccine Rollout

The CEO of a company that helps consumers access vital healthcare data offers the top three considerations for leaders as they support employees through the Covid pandemic.

Covid-19 has accelerated the transformation of the healthcare industry. In a matter of months, we witnessed changes in consumer behavior that were anticipated to take years, and the Covid-19 vaccine was approved as the fastest-developed vaccine in U.S. history.

Now, CEOs nationwide are evaluating their return to work strategies, with the vaccine in mind.

While mandating vaccination is within an employer’s legal rights — the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined that employers can require COVID-19 vaccines and bar employees from the workplace if they refuse — the vast majority of employers say they will not mandate vaccination. In fact, a recent poll of Castlight’s customers, some of the largest Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., found that nearly 90% of poll respondents will either not mandate or have not yet decided to mandate the vaccine as part of their return to work strategy.

Rather, my conversations with Castlight’s largest customers have focused on providing the tools and resources to educate employees on the benefits of vaccination, help employees navigate eligibility and availability of vaccines, and offer key incentives (i.e., paid-time off to receive the vaccine). These conversations have highlighted three key considerations that CEOs and HR leaders should take into account as part of their vaccine strategy:

1. Serve as a resource and educate.

According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 20% of consumers are definitely not planning to get the Covid vaccine and another 30% are planning to “wait and see.” Given that nearly half of Americans receive health insurance through their employer, midsize and large employers can play a critical role as a primary trusted resource in the education of employees.

Proactive outreach to engage and educate employees with culturally appropriate communications as well as Covid-19 vaccine resources and support can increase vaccine literacy and encourage employees to get vaccinated.

2. Expand access to the vaccine.

Historically, employers have a positive track record of supporting large-scale vaccine distribution. In fact, Castlight data suggests that nearly 20% of flu vaccines are typically administered at work sites. We anticipate that trend to extend to Covid-19 vaccines.

Based on our recent customer surveys, Castlight found that many large employers also plan to offer the Covid vaccines through onsite or near site health clinics or partnerships with third-party healthcare providers (i.e., local health systems or retail pharmacies), when appropriate for the phase of distribution. The majority of our customers believe it is most critical to remove barriers and make it as easy as possible for employees to receive the vaccine.

In addition to helping employees get vaccinated, employers can also help provide resources such as health navigation tools to help support employees with information that addresses questions related to eligibility requirements, onsite vaccination hours or access to vaccination sites in their immediate area.

3. Provide incentives and employee motivation.

For employers that need to reach specific employee populations, such as essential workers, some are considering offering incentives for employees to get the vaccine, or to encourage employees to access trusted, evidence-based resources in an effort to improve vaccine literacy.

What’s clear from our customer surveys is that given the highly dynamic and fluid environment with vaccine availability, most believe that frequent, clear communications that address employees’ biggest concerns are key, as well as the consistent presence of  executive leadership at employee forums to build ongoing trust and confidence. Nearly 53% of employer respondents to our poll stated they are still unsure if they will use incentives, and for those that are considering incentives, some are rewarding for reading educational information, others will reward employees for committing to getting the vaccine when available, and others will reward for actually getting the vaccine.

Opportunity for leadership

CEOs are critical in helping to build a culture of trust in the workplace. A recent trust survey found that people now have more trust in their employer than in government and the media. That trend shows that CEOs and executive leadership at large employers have the potential to play a significant role in helping to gain employees’ confidence in Covid vaccines.

The benefits of vaccination are clear. CEOs who are leaders in encouraging vaccination will create be helping to create a healthier, safer and more productive work environment throughout the remainder of the pandemic.

Maeve O’Meara is the CEO of Castlight Health, which operates a health navigation platform connecting hundreds of health vendors, benefits resources and plan designs into one comprehensive health and wellbeing experience.