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October 25, 2021

A Game Plan for Successfully Implementing the Vaccine Mandate


Federal officials are getting close to finalizing the rules that will be used to implement the Biden administration’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or frequent testing for all employees at companies that employ more than 100 people. The rules will affect approximately 80 million U.S. workers.

Is your company ready to lead a successful vaccination campaign? If you’re not quite there yet, two companies in particular, Tyson Foods and United Airlines, serve as great examples of how to do it right. Tyson has reached a 91% vaccination rate for its work force, while United is at a 99% vaccinated.

How Tyson Foods and United Airlines Achieved a
Higher Than 90% Employee Vaccination Rate

Here are six valuable lessons learned from taking a look at how these leaders blazed the trail:

  1. Leaders must endorse, advocate and model the right behaviors. Both Tyson and United senior leaders hit the road to meet with their respective employees and urge vaccination. Tyson announced its vaccination requirement on August 3 and required leaders to be vaccinated by September 24. It gave U.S. office workers until October 1 and front-line employees until November 1.
  2. Don’t underestimate the persuasive power of peers. We’ve all heard about how those who are not yet vaccinated can be influenced to do so by people from their communities – friends, families and others. The same is true in the work setting. Watch this touching video that went viral about a young man from Arkansas who died of COVID-19. Caleb Reeves’ uncle worked at a Tyson plant, and Caleb’s story likely played a significant role in upping the vaccination rate there.
  3. Prepare for backlash from some, but support from more who support a safe workplace. Both Tyson and United were pleasantly surprised by the level of support the mandate received from employees. As Scott Kirby, CEO of United said, “I did not appreciate the intensity of support for a vaccine mandate that existed, because you hear that loud anti-vax voice a lot more than you hear the people that want it. But there are more of them. And they’re just as intense.”
  4. Be patient and encourage conversation and dialog. Both companies spent hours and hours in conversations and Q&A sessions with employees (groups and 1:1) about the mandate. Tyson held more than 100 vaccination events for team members across the country. United shared a story about an employee who was agonizing over whether to get vaccinated. Her leader reassured her about how valued she was as an employee and even offered to accompany the employee to get her shot – an offer the employee accepted.
  5. Offer incentives. Tyson paid $200 to every employee who got vaccinated as a thank you. They also provided four hours of paid time off per shot. And employees with at least one shot at 50 of the company’s chicken-processing plants were eligible for a weekly $10,000 raffle. United provided extra pay to pilots who got vaccinated and extra vacation days to vaccinated flight attendants. They also provided a full day’s pay to any employee showing proof of vaccination.
  6. Use external as well as internal experts and media to create an echo chamber. Tyson’s chief medical officer hosted a panel with two outside physicians to address questions and myths about vaccination. Tyson also used social media to reach employees. United put out a press release and worked the media to get endorsement of the mandate from health experts.

Handling the COVID-19 mandate well can have some, perhaps, unexpected benefits. Despite the current labor shortage in the U.S., United reported that it recently received 20,000 applications for about 2,000 flight attendant positions – exceeding pre-pandemic ratios. It attributes the increase to job applicants appreciating the seriousness with which United takes employee safety.

What’s your vaccination mandate game plan?

Linda Kingman

About Linda

Linda-bio-photo-v2Linda is Senior Vice President of The Grossman Group where she delivers award-winning innovative and strategic communication solutions for clients that address their everyday and defining business challenges. Linda has worked with a wide range of clients including American Airlines, BCBS, Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, Hyatt Hotels, Kaiser Permanente, NiSource, Novartis Gene Therapies, and others. Linda is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Arthur W. Page Society.

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