Editor's Note: This post was published before the proposed Vaccine Mandate for all private employers with more than 100 employees by the Biden Administration in September 2021.
We're just going to shut everything down for two to three weeks, and we'll be good.
--Everyone, late March 2020
In a pandemic, wouldn't it be cool to say, "I don't know?"
Masks, distancing, hybrid school, vaccines and more. The reasonable position on all of it is that most of it makes sense. But, if you become absolute about your position and your position turns out to be wrong, it kind of undermines your authority to be absolute moving forward. This is the problem with COVID hot takes eighteen months in.
Three weeks to flatten the curve.
Masks are effective. Wait, two masks might be better!
Say hello to leisure travel and eating out with freedom once you get the vaccine.
You can't get COVID once you get the vaccine.
Uhhhh. Like a lot of moderates, I'm stuck in the middle. I'm OK with how we've handled it to this point. Pandemics seem to be tricky (shocking!), and we've tried some stuff and have a vaccine. It makes sense. But we've been wrong enough on all the non-vaccine stuff that it's human nature that some people are going to be skeptical of the vaccine.
That's where you come in, HR Leader. Time to rally around the Covid vaccine.
What's that? You say you don't want to be involved? Good luck with that. Having no plan or point of view still means you have a position. With FDA approvals starting to roll out, you're going to be looked to for an opinion on how to maximize the percentage of your workforce that is vaccinated.
I'll stop here and offer up the reality. Different companies have different views on COVID and using incentives/mandates/penalties to get people vaccinated. If you are at a business that's not going to get involved with mandates/driving behavior, that's fine from my moderate point of view—you do you. This post is for HR and Talent leaders who have to help find the path to higher vaccination rates, because their business, leadership and/or boards make it a necessity.
Maximizing vaccine rates at your company is a game of incentives, threats and intrigue. Especially in a tough labor market where it's hard to find people. In a morbid turn, the Delta variant probably makes it easier for you to take a stand related to vaccination.
That's why I'm here. To rank the Vaccine incentives/penalties—by harshness.
Here. We. Go. On to the rankings, from softest to hardest:
1--Incentives - You're so nice. Kind even. You're throwing out extra PTO days or $500 to get the vaccine. This is the least harsh of all the options. It's also the one least likely to move the needle, because you're likely just paying for someone to get the vaccine with more urgency than they would have anyway. They were likely to get it, and you gave them the final prod with a free Honey Baked Ham. Well played. Not likely to get you to 90% vaccinated, however.
2--Vaccine Mandates - I know what you're thinking. This isn't the harshest one? No, it isn't. If vaccinations are important to your organization, this is the one that signals where you're at. You can also talk about all the reasons why you're doing it: keeping people safe (really important for healthcare organizations), etc. There's nothing like clarity when you're trying to lead.
3--Medical Insurance Penalties/Surcharges - Delta Air Lines will impose a monthly $200 surcharge on unvaccinated employees enrolled in the company's health care plan, CEO Ed Bastian announced in a memo earlier in August. This is undoubtedly the harshest way to deal with employees when you want them to get vaccinated.
Why are additional premiums a dumb idea? Let's start with the broad strokes. If you want all your employees to be vaccinated, LEAD and go to vaccine mandates as your strategy. The whole, "it's going to cost you" strategy just leads to ill will, indecision, and creates a long trail of dissatisfaction in your organization. You're creating a class of people and asking others to look down on them. Just cut the cord, mandate the vaccine if that's what you want to do, and get ready to recruit.
If you need more of a reason than pure leadership to know why insurance penalties are a bad idea, let's so some math. I'm using the Georgia workforce for Delta Air Lines as an example:
Total Delta Employees in GA: 33,000
Estimate of count of non-vaccinated: 9,000
Annual cost of non-vaccinated insurance penalty per employee: $2,400
Total pool created annually by the penalty payments: $21.6 million
Cost per COVID hospitalization: $24,000
Number of Hospitalizations that would need to happen to use the entire pool: 900
I'd note here that Delta says their cost is north of $50,000 per COVID hospitalization. Clearly, they are self-insured and have access to the data, but all cites available show average hospitalization cost from $17K to $24K, so I used the higher number of those two.
To give you a sense of COVID hospitalization rates, Georgia has had 72,822 COVID hospitalizations since the start of COVID on a population north of ten million. If I plug in those numbers to the Delta population, it comes to a projection of roughly 237 hospitalizations (versus the 900 they've funded via the penalty) that could be expected over the same period. You could argue that the rate would be lower since we now live in a world with many vaccinated, but variants like Delta put that analysis at risk, so let's assume the run rate might be the same.
So the Delta program isn't looking to simply pay the costs of hospitalizations; they had to make the number much bigger to provide the penalty needed to move human behavior. Anyone who stays and pays that penalty is going to hate the company for the rest of their life. Gallup says employing people and making them hate you is a bad idea.
All of that to say the following. If you are at a business that's not going to push, that's fine from my moderate point of view—you do you.
BUT, if you're going to push for vaccinations, incentives won't get you there. You can stop short of the vaccine mandate, but I'd argue things like the Delta COVID penalty are just going to create ill will. If you want people to be vaccinated, make the call and lead—and mandate the vaccine.
Good luck with the educational campaign. And fire up the recruiting engine regardless of your approach.
Leadership is hard.