Tamara Parker and Nick Zaranyika explain how to put employee wellbeing first


Seven priorities employers should consider when approaching planning and logistics of Covid-19 vaccines.

By Tamara Parker, CEO, and Nick Zaranyika, multinational business leader: Africa, at Mercer.

The approval of many vaccines around the world resulted in us breathing a collective sigh of relief. With this, comes the need for governments and organisations to work together in the roll-out of vaccines and ensure that people receive them.

This requires time to plan and execute well in tandem with business operations and economic growth. There are seven main priorities that African employers should consider now that vaccines are being rolled out:

Preparing the employer’s role
The main objective of companies at the moment should be to protect their people. As such, employers need to prioritise employee wellbeing and safety. Companies must consider the support employees will receive in the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines.

Some examples of support that organisations can offer their staff: paid time off or paid sick leave to have time to recover from side effects. Also consider how customer-facing employees who do not want to be vaccinated will be managed.

According to a study by Mercer, almost 50 percent of European, Middle Eastern and African companies will offer their staff time off to get vaccinated. However 80 percent of companies think that people should use existing sick leave days to recover from side effects if they experience any.

Organisations should set up steering committees made up of representatives from the HR, risk management, legal and communications departments to lead the planning and execution of a vaccination strategy. This will ensure that both the interest of employees and those of the business are catered to while ensuring that the strategy is successfully executed.

Prioritise health education
Communication and education are crucial in order for employees and their employers to understand each other, especially when it comes to matters of health and safety. Organisations need to have reliable and up-to-date information about the coronavirus and the vaccines available in order to issue accurate information and educate employees accordingly.

A study by Mercer found that 60 percent of employers will encourage their employees to get vaccinated within the ambit of employment, labour and human rights legislation. While this is encouraging, more can be done to increase this figure.

Define your critical workforce
As part of an effective vaccination strategy, companies can organise their workforce into groups of priority when it comes to receiving the vaccination. This is defining the company’s “critical workforce” and plays a significant role in determining business resilience and the success of a rollout strategy.

For example, a company may decide that those with children should be vaccinated first in an effort to protect their families, or they may decide that client-facing employees should be first on the priority list.
Focus on health equity

The health and safety of everyone is important and is a key consideration. While employers can segment their workforce into different levels of priority when it comes to receiving the vaccine, everyone should have equal access to them.

For example, what happens if the vaccines are not covered by health insurance or administered through the public health system? Does this mean that if an employee cannot afford it that they should not be vaccinated? These are things that employers need to consider and be able to intervene on in order to make sure that their entire workforce has access to a vaccine should they want to have it.

Think about privacy
The roll-out of vaccines may require employers to keep track and take account of which employees have been vaccinated and which have not. This information would enable employers to make decisions on employee safety such as returning to working in offices, travelling for business or physical interaction with customers.

However, whether an employee has been vaccinated or not is personal information which should be respected. That being said, it is up to employers to find creative ways of encouraging people to get vaccinated and ensuring that their personal data is protected and that their decision on whether to get vaccinated or not is respected.

Consider the un-vaccinated
According to Mercer’s study, 64 percent of employers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are not considering mandating the vaccine. Besides employment, labour and human rights legislation, not everyone may want or be able to get vaccinated due to personal or medical reasons.

So, how will those who are not vaccinated be managed in the workplace? Employers will need to continue to put the necessary safety measures in place such as requiring people to socially distance themselves in the workplace, making it mandatory to wear masks and sanitise regularly, have their temperatures taken at work and also requiring people to work from home should they experience any symptoms.

This would help to keep both those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated safe without ostracising either group from the workplace.

Employers will also need to be more accommodating of employee needs and be more flexible during this time, for example if one feels safer working from home as opposed to in the office where the virus could potentially spread, this should be considered. This will lessen anxiety and make all employees feel respected and valued.

Put mental health on the agenda
A physically and mentally healthy workforce is imperative now more than ever. In Africa where mental health has always been somewhat of a taboo subject, it is encouraging to see it become a topical issue in the workplace, with 70 percent of companies surveyed late last year reporting that they have implemented psychological counselling for employees to help them with stress and anxiety, says Nick.

In Africa, the roll-out of vaccines is being led and controlled by governments and there is a lot of work ahead to ensure widespread vaccination of the population. The number of vaccinated people as a percentage of the population is low in leading economies like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, compared to well-developed countries.

Employers across Africa should play a significant role in ensuring that their people are kept safe, healthy, well informed and have access to vaccines when they are available. Employers should take the initiative and partner with governments to ensure efficiency in the rollout of vaccination programmes.

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