More Organizations to Encourage COVID-19 Vaccine for Employees, but Gaps Exist Between Employers’ and Employees’ Views

Study finds nearly one-third of employed Americans would still choose not to get the vaccine, even if it meant losing their jobs

February 18, 2021
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More Organizations to Encourage COVID-19 Vaccine for Employees, but Gaps Exist Between Employers’ and Employees’ Views

ALEXANDRIA, Va., February 18, 2021—As HR professionals and business leaders look to build a workplace where employees feel safe despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision of when and how to return employees to the office has been a pressing challenge. With vaccines for COVID-19 becoming available, business leaders and HR professionals will confront a new set of issues that may make the decision more complicated.

New research released today by SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) shows many organizations plan to encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, yet a significant number of U.S. workers say they are unlikely to get vaccinated. According to SHRM's survey of HR professionals and U.S. employees, 60 percent of workers will probably or definitely get the vaccine once it becomes available to them, while approximately 28 percent would still choose not to get the vaccine, even if it meant losing their jobs. HR professionals and organizations will have to factor in measures to account for the potentially large number of unvaccinated workers.

The report provides the HR professional and employee perspectives on the vaccine, employer and government incentives to get the vaccine, and how the pandemic has impacted remote work. Findings also highlight contrasting views on considerations that will factor into any return-to-work plan, including:

  • Over a third of U.S. workers would accept a reduction in salary if it meant they could permanently work from home on a full-time basis (35 percent).
     
  • 60 percent of organizations say they will not require the vaccine for employees, and 35 percent are unsure whether they will require the vaccine for employees.
     
  • 74 percent of organizations that are unsure or not planning to require vaccines for their employees will still encourage their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
     
  • A third of U.S workers believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for everyone who is able to receive it (33 percent).

  • Most organizations (88 percent) are unsure or are not offering or planning to offer any incentives to encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Organization leaders, including HR professionals, are making decisions about employees returning to the worksite that will greatly affect their organizations and impact significant society issues," said SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP. "While 60 percent of organizations say they will not require the vaccination, I believe we will see employers strongly encourage vaccination in a broad range of enterprises and even consider offering employee incentives. Creating a safe workplace will be a collaborative effort between HR, business leaders and employees."

The survey also examined how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered employees' thoughts about returning to a worksite. Of note, 27 percent of organizations plan to bring all employees back to a worksite when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available. However, more than half of U.S. workers would choose to permanently work from home on a full-time basis if given the option (52 percent). Within this group, 45 percent would accept up to a 5 percent reduction in salary to work from home on a full-time basis, and 8 percent would accept up to a 20 percent reduction or more in their salary.

"Our research shows a stark divide in perceptions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. We could see a real 'vaccine vortex' and a potential financial firestorm impacting employers who need a vaccinated workforce to sustain their enterprises, and those who are likely to avoid the vaccine at all costs," said SHRM Chief Knowledge Officer Alex Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP. "The number of employees who indicate they will not get the vaccine, even at the risk of losing their job, coupled with the large number of employees who said they would be willing to accept a reduction in salary in exchange for permanently working from home, raises a series of important questions for organizations."

"Returning to the worksite once a vaccine became widely available was always going to be a complex effort, and the way organizations and employees handle questions about the vaccine will have a profound impact beyond the current public health crisis," Taylor said. "With this in mind, HR will manage a truly challenging situation as they contemplate: How do we safely bring people back to work, and who is coming back to the workplace?"

For more information on SHRM's COVID-19 research, tools and resources, visit shrm.org/futurework.

Media: Julie Hirschhorn at Julie.Hirschhorn@shrm.org and 703-842-5152 or Mallory Flynn at Mallory.Flynn@shrm.org and 703-535-6082.

 

Methodology:

HR Survey #1: The HR survey was fielded electronically to a random sample of active SHRM members from Dec. 14-17, 2020. In total, 955 members responded to the survey. Academics, students, consultants and retired HR professionals were excluded from the survey. Respondents represented organizations of all sizes—from two to more than 25,000 employees—in a wide variety of industries across the United States. HR data is unweighted.

HR Survey #2: The HR survey was fielded electronically to a random sample of active SHRM members from Jan. 28-Feb. 2, 2021. In total, 1,515 members responded to the survey. Academics, students, consultants and retired HR professionals were excluded from the survey. Respondents represented organizations of all sizes—from two to more than 25,000 employees—in a wide variety of industries across the United States. HR data is unweighted.

Employed Americans: A sample of 540 employed Americans was surveyed using the Amerispeak Omnibus, NORC at the University of Chicago's probability-based panel. The survey was administered Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2021. For the purposes of this survey, we refer to "employed Americans" as those who were either working as a paid employee or laid off or furloughed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. All data was weighted to reflect the U.S. adult population.

About SHRM

SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, creates better workplaces where employers and employees thrive together. As the voice of all things work, workers and the workplace, SHRM is the foremost expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today's evolving workplaces. With 300,000+ HR and business executive members in 165 countries, SHRM impacts the lives of more than 115 million workers and families globally. Learn more at SHRM.org and on Twitter @SHRM.

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