Three days before this was written, Isaac Song asked his LinkedIn community if organizations should mandate vaccine to facilitate the return to office. Here’s the poll result, with 78% of the community agrees with vaccine mandate.
As Malaysia reopens the economy and more companies are restarting their corporate offices, many organizations are deciding whether to mandate vaccines for their employees. This article tailor to their vaccine mandate strategy and plan for potential implications.
Malaysia’s adult vaccination rate has stagnated at 95%, and there is a good 5% of adult population whom either does not trust vaccine or is concerned on vaccine injury. That roughly translate into 1 out of 20 employee within an organization is not protected against COVID-19.
While there are many options to control COVID-19 spread, such as enforcing strict SOPs, hand sanitizing, compartmentalization of office desks, social distancing, masking policies and testing policies, more and more organizations are considering mandating vaccines for employees. It may be true that, vaccine mandate would be the only way to get more people vaccinated, they are also open to the possibility of employee pushback. Some may be due to simple health reason; some has deep rooted misinformation of anti-vaccine movement; and for some: it could be religion. Organizations should consider the following before mandating vaccines:
Communicating Vaccine Mandate to Employee
While most employees are arguably already vaccinated in Malaysia, one may observe extreme pushback in some serious concern. No Malaysia’s study has been conducted so we will pick an article from NYTimes (source) that compares which group of employees are more likely to pushback in terms of vaccine mandate. Surprisingly, it’s the customer-facing workers that has lower vaccination rate and greater hesitancy, yet they are the most in contact with customer and broader community.
In communicating vaccine mandates, the central message should be to emphasize the personal and community advantages of herd immunity achieved through community vaccination. It is too important to emphasize the steps that employee can take if they are unwilling to be vaccinated, and how to prove that the genuinity of unvaccinated reason. For those who do not have a legally protected reason to avoid vaccination but decline vaccination anyway, it may be wise to implement a mandatory policy such as mandatory testing on a short cyclical period.
Enforcing Vaccine Mandate
Enforcing a vaccination mandate may pose a challenge, especially when health minister of Malaysia specifically mentioned that the government does not intend to make it legal (although in fair return, they will make their life hard. Source). Policies and processes should be implemented to allow employee to self-report their status, but only at bare minimum: probably a simple snapshot of their vaccine status in MySejahtera.
If employee refuses to get vaccinated, organization should then consider a course of action. The questions to ask would be:
- Is the organization willing to lose a number of employee?
- Would this number be less than those who would leave if they don’t feel safe at work?
- How many will lose their job/salary if operation has to shutdown due to an outbreak?
- Can the organization “office-siberia” the unvaccinated employee?
- Are there employees who don’t feel comfortable around other employees who are unvaccinated?
- Do employees have at-risk family members/children?
- Are vaccinated employees, at risk as well, considering vaccine breakthrough rate is quite high?
- Would vaccine mandate unlock talent pools that would be hard-to-fill positions?
When enforcing vaccine mandate, there will be some considerable pushback. However, the focus must always be on the benefits of vaccination and that alone. Sharing stories of colleagues who would feel safer at work if a greater portion (if not all) is vaccinated may also encourage unvaccinated employees to vaccinate.
Bringing Vaccine Mandate to the Round Table
The main hurdle before vaccine mandate can implemented would be to clear the internal hurdle, getting the necessary buy-ins and sign offs. How HR can drive this as a cross-functional project and drive buy-ins are as such:
- Board/C-levels : Final approval of vaccine strategy.
- Legal : Advice risk and legal implications of vaccine data collection around PDPA.
- External Affairs : Preparation of external broadcast on vaccine mandate as a social construct.
- Finance : Determine ROI of mandating vaccines to the workforce to accelerate return to workplace.
- Operations : Determine downtime and loss of productions if outbreak occurs.
- Business Leaders : Act as communication source to build employee willingness to accept vaccines.
Isaac Song stand by his statement that, vaccine mandates might be the only ways to get more people vaccinated. However, with that mandate, they are prone to push back especially from a smaller group of employees, whom either has been misinformed or could not be vaccinated. The direct impact of such push back as they prey on the gap of logic or relying on pseudosciences, and therefore a holistic approach towards vaccine mandate should be well communicated to ensure that the push back are only vaccine specific.