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Vaccine Policies for Government Employees: Emerging Best Practices From What We Know So Far

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Shutterstock/metamorworks

Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.

As delta variant cases continue to rise, government leaders are once again rethinking plans for keeping employees safe. These policies have ranged from daily symptom checks to frequent COVID-19 tests, to even requiring proof of vaccination. One thing that is clear is that there is no “one size fits all” approach. With recent news of the FDA giving full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, Comirnaty (and other vaccines following suit later this year), the issue of vaccine policy will continue to heighten as governments pressure-test the best way to keep employees and residents safe.

In early August, Qualtrics conducted nationwide research* to determine the current landscape for employee acceptance of vaccine policies. While sentiment differs greatly by industry, most government employees (58 percent) support vaccine mandates at work. This is in line with the percentage of employees that support vaccine mandates across all industries (60 percent). This number is not surprising - while many government employees are customer-facing in providing direct services at the local level (bus operators, permit technicians, public health workers), government employees tend to also belong in organized union and labor groups which prioritize the health and safety of their members. While federal workers tend to interface less with residents, the sheer reach and magnitude of federal agencies also necessitates an approach that prioritizes employee safety.

This sentiment varies widely among different demographic profiles. Our research found that preferences were strongly divided among voting preferences: 81 percent of respondents identifying as Democrats support vaccine mandates at work, while only 45 percent of Republicans say the same. There are likely to be similar differences between the level of government, work environment, age, work function, tenure, etc.

While employee sentiment hovers around 60 percent in favor of vaccine mandates, employees report variance in the actual policies that employers are implementing. Just over a third (34 percent) of employees have reported that their employers are requiring vaccinations, with many more employers implementing some sort of policy - masking, symptom checks or routine testing. This percentage will likely increase in government as more and more agencies announce their own policies, creating cascading ripple effects. Interesting to note that this ripple effect can conform or diverge from other jurisdictions - cities may set policies that either align or differ from that of their state’s, and vice versa (pending any statewide statutes).

While most employees support policies that keep the workplace safe - mandatory masks, symptom checks or frequent tests - the issue of vaccine mandates is still polarizing. However, government workers tend to be more accepting of vaccination requirements. While 23 percent of all employees would strongly consider leaving their workplace if their employers mandated vaccines, only 11 percent of government employees felt the same. In fact, our research indicated that 21 percent of government workers would consider leaving their employment if vaccine mandates were NOT implemented.

While the entire public sector is iterating on the best policies to keep their employees safe, there are some emerging best practices that all governments should follow:

  • Lead with trust
    • Viewpoints around vaccine policies vary widely among employees. Governments should not assume that one size fits all and attempt to implement policies without first asking their employees for their own sentiment based on their experiences. Governments should also analyze these data along as many demographic profiles as possible (race and ethnicity, tenure, age, job structure, etc.) in order to get as complete a view as possible. This ensures that your own vaccination policies accurately reflect the needs of your employees.
  • Be flexible
    • It is clear that the issue of straightforward vaccine mandates may be polarizing to employees. Many employees also have valid religious and health-related reasons for not getting vaccinated. Therefore, it is important that agencies offer a wide variety of options for employees, as one size will not fit all:
      • Daily symptom checking
      • Weekly COVID-19 tests
      • Uploading vaccination records
      • Mandatory masking and social distancing
      • Continued teleworking policies
  • Be ready for change
    • A few months ago, agencies began announcing their return-to-office plans, with many employees returning to physical work sites, albeit on more flexible schedules. However, the rise in the delta variant has changed the situation significantly. We are now in need of a rapid pivot in order to ensure that employees are safe - both with the rise of the delta variant and also with any other variants that may emerge. It is imperative that agencies continue to assess the situation and monitor employee sentiment: Are employees actually feeling safer with new policies? What can be done to make them feel safer? How does this sentiment change over time? How can we continue to iterate our policies to benefit employees?

By prioritizing employee trust, being flexible and being ready to change on a dime, governments can keep their employees safe while ensuring that residents continue to have the services that they need.

Qualtrics is here to help. Learn more about our vaccine attestation solution here.

Vince Vu is the Government Industry Advisor at Qualtrics, focusing on state and local government. Vince advises government partners on innovation, research, and experience management programming, including design, evaluation, governance, and change management. Prior to joining Qualtrics, Vince managed innovation and research teams in multiple government settings at the city, county, and state levels for the past decade. Vince has a masters degree in Public Policy, specializing in advanced policy analysis.

*Methodological Approach: This study was fielded between Aug. 2 and Aug. 5, 2021. Respondents were considered eligible if they live in the United States, are at least 21 years of age, and are employed full- or part-time. The total number of respondents was 1,051. Respondents who did not pass quality standards were removed. The study examined age, gender, race, industry, political affiliation, education level, and marital status.
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