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Managing COVID-19 Policy Compliance for the Highest Good

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Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.

Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic. The terrain shifts almost daily in terms of COVID-19 infection rates, state and local mandates related to vaccination status and masks, and what we know about the virus and its variants. In their efforts to protect workers, state and local government leaders must also contend with a wide spectrum of viewpoints regarding vaccines, masks and mandates.1

To successfully manage compliance with COVID-19 policies in this complex environment, organizations will need to lead with trust, build flexibility into their programs and be ready for change. Those who do so will have an easier time gathering information, gaining compliance and keeping employees healthy. They’ll also create important opportunities for ongoing engagement and stronger relationships overall with the individuals in their workforce.

Research shows that nearly half of employees are looking for other jobs right now – and government appears to be (finally) experiencing the retirement/attrition tsunami that has been talked about for years. To continuing delivering mission through their workforce, governments absolutely need to actively engage their current employees and build the trust that will get them to stay. Every current employee is an ambassador for new recruits – if current employees report negative experiences, governments will have a much harder time recruiting top talent to fill critical skills gaps.

While there are clear emerging best practices around various COVID-19 policies, governments continue to home in on the best ways to lead with trust while being flexible and ready for change.

Standing Strong on Shifting Ground: Best Practices

The following best practices apply to any state or local government agency, regardless of their specific policies for keeping employees safe.

Lead with trust.

Organizations that lead with trust seek measurable input from employees regarding their viewpoints on masking and vaccine policies, communicate openly and transparently about the basis for policy decisions, and provide consistent user experiences when workers engage with the organization and/or comply with its requirements. In addition, they demonstrate that the security and privacy of employees’ health information is a priority.

Careful design of the user’s technology experience is part of trust-building. Employees should be able to intuitively and seamlessly use the various tools required to answer questions and provide documentation. Whether it’s to verify vaccination status, test results or daily temperature readings, clear descriptions of compliance and firm messaging related to policies will help employees understand responsibilities and meet requirements.

As with all good user design, it’s also important to include ways for employees to give feedback, ask questions and get help. “If you don’t do these things, employees are going to feel like you’re hiding something or that you haven’t actually thought about their experience — and that’s going to trigger distrust,” says Sydney Heimbrock, PhD, chief industry advisor for government, Qualtrics.

Be flexible and offer multiple options.

One size rarely fits all in a large organization. Being flexible and offering a variety of options demonstrates that the organization understands and accommodates (where appropriate) the complexity and diversity of its workers’ experiences, challenges, needs and desires. A flexible vaccine policy management program offers a combination of options, including daily symptom checking, weekly COVID-19 tests, vaccine attestation, mandatory masking and social distancing.

Flexibility also entails taking a human-centered approach to interactions. “Don’t just design for the requirement to gather a certain piece of information. Design for the people who you’re trying to engage so you can support them in the workplace,” Heimbrock says. Doing so includes providing a range of channels for employees to interact comfortably with the organization’s program — for example, via email, text messages, QR codes and web portals. When users are comfortable, they’re less likely to make mistakes, more apt to trust the channel they’re using and more willing to interact.

Be ready for change.

The dynamic, unpredictable nature of the coronavirus has kept government teams on high alert. “The public sector workforce has been on the front lines of fighting this pandemic for more than a year and a half. They’re tired and they need reassurance that they’re going to be taken care of,” Heimbrock says.

To keep workers safe and engaged amid ongoing uncertainty and disruption, it’s vital to more actively, regularly and genuinely listen to them. Listening includes continuing to monitor employee sentiment regarding vaccine, masking and other policies; iterating policies as circumstances and sentiments evolve; and always asking for input. Besides focusing questions solely on vaccine status and policy compliance, organizations can take advantage of required interactions to ask what else employees need to feel safe, succeed in their roles, and thrive on and off the job. In doing so, they have a significant opportunity to improve operations and reset their relationship with employees.

Forging Ahead

State and local governments have responded to the pandemic at tremendous speed and scope. As they re-open offices and expand in-person interactions, the responsibility to protect workers and the people they serve becomes a new test of agility and creativity. Leading with trust, staying flexible and being ready for ongoing change will serve organizations well as they forge into the future.

1Qualtrics. New Research: Vaccine Policies May Determine Whether Employees Stay or Go. August 2021.
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