Chad Brinsfield headshot.

Outside Consultant: How Do I Handle Discussions and Communications With My Employees About the COVID-19 Vaccine?

This "Outside Consultant" column by Chad T. Brinsfield, PhD, an associate professor and chair of the Management Department at the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on Dec. 27, 2021.

Clear and ongoing communication with employees about the COVID-19 vaccine is critical. Providing information to employees signals that they are valued and respected. In contrast, insufficient communication can signal the opposite and will diminish trust. At a basic level, it is essential to share your organization’s policies, along with clearly articulating the rationale. It is also important to share information about government rules and how those rules will be implemented in your organization.

Listening is a crucial part of effective communication. To the extent feasible, provide employees a voice in the decision process. When employees feel that their beliefs and concerns were sincerely considered, then whatever the outcome may be, they are likely to view it as fairer. Be careful to avoid what scholars refer to as “the charade of consultation” where employees are given an opportunity to weigh in, but the decision is really made independent of their views. Intentionally misleading employees based on the justification that it is for their own goodwill similarly erode trust.

When thinking about how to talk to employees about COVID-19, reflect on your own mindset and what it is you are trying to achieve. Regardless of your organization’s position on the vaccine, it is a virtual certainty that people in your organization are going to disagree. Don’t confuse a lack of overt disagreement with widespread unanimity.

Trying to convince people to change their beliefs regarding the COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be ineffective or could even backfire. A better objective may simply be to help people who disagree to respect and trust each other. It is important to model a mindset of humility, curiosity and open-mindedness. Doing so enables people to empathize, communicate, continually learn from each other, and envision new possibilities. Most importantly, do not denigrate, diminish or demonize anyone for holding divergent views.

Most people realize that disagreement is a natural part of organizational life and that they’re not always going to get their way. But when they feel safe to express divergent viewpoints, and believe those viewpoints have been sincerely considered, then they will be more willing to commit to a course of action, even if they don’t completely agree with it.

Chad T. Brinsfield, PhD, is an associate professor and chair of the Management Department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.