Vaccine Vexation
Mandates, Incentives or Encouragement: Which Approach Works Best?
by Josh Corman

THE FIRST FEW MONTHS OF 2021 have brought a consistent stream of good news regarding the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine rollout. As of this writing, three vaccines have been approved for use in the United States, which has already surpassed its goal of administering at least one vaccine dose to 100 million people in the first 100 days of the new presidential administration. But this good news brings with it a wide range of questions for spa leaders, who have to consider the role vaccination will play in their eventual easing of COVID-19-related restrictions, as well as what—if any—steps they may take to encourage or incentivize vaccination among their employees.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently conducted extensive research on the subject of COVID-19 vaccination and its impact in the workplace, the results of which will leave spa leaders and HR teams throughout the industry with a lot to consider, especially given the notable levels of hesitancy about—and even opposition to—the vaccines. SHRM’s research indicates that nearly three in 10 employed Americans (28 percent) said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, even if failing to do so cost them their job.

According to Trent Burner, vice president of research at SHRM, figures like that are exactly why the time has arrived for leadership teams to have discussions about important vaccine-related plans and policies in their spas. “There are organizations and industries that it’s going to impact more than others. It’s time to have these conversations with your C-suite, or your organization,” Burner says. “Let’s talk about it—are you going to mandate the vaccine? Are you not going to mandate the vaccine?”

Though these conversations, and the preparedness that they lead to, are essential to any spa’s vaccine policies, Burner is confident that, as employees learn more about the vaccine and the rollout proceeds, hesitancy will decline. “It’s an ever-changing picture. What we believe is when more Americans see their family members, when they see their organization’s leaders, people that they admire in sports or industry—whatever it is—publicly announce that they got the vaccine, that resistance is going to fall,” Burner says, citing former President Trump’s unexpected public endorsement of the vaccine as the kind of event that can shift perception among more hesitant groups.

Another factor in moving the needle on employees’ vaccine enthusiasm could be the choice their spa makes to mandate, incentivize or merely encourage vaccination. Initial research from SHRM indicated that 40 percent of organizations said they did not plan to require a vaccination before allowing employees to return to work in person, but that number has risen, and more recent data shows that 60 percent of organizations say they will not mandate vaccination. That drop in enthusiasm for vaccine mandates may be attributable to employee resistance around the idea, concerns about potential legal ramifications or both. However, a greater percentage (74 percent) of organizations intend to recommend that their workers get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Spas in the southern U.S. may face a greater challenge when it comes to encouraging employees to get vaccinated, Burner notes, because respondents from that region say they are less likely than people in other regions to opt for vaccination. Outside of that, Burner believes that industry type will factor most heavily in organizations’ decision to issue a mandate. “Healthcare, nursing homes, spas—those situations with high [levels of] physical contact—those are the areas where we believe that we’re going to see more mandates,” he explains. Though SHRM did not conduct research specific to spas, they did find that 94 percent of healthcare organizations will encourage vaccination—the highest rate among the industries examined. In addition, large organizations (500 employees or more) are most likely to encourage vaccination for their workers, at 79 percent.

For spas that may plan to offer incentives to employees to promote vaccination, SHRM’s research contains a number of relevant points. Of the incentives SHRM tracked in their research, cash bonuses or stipends (24 percent) were most popular among vaccine-hesitant respondents, followed by additional PTO (21 percent), gift cards (16 percent) and on-site vaccination at no cost (nine percent).

In general though, Trent Burner advises spas to carefully consider any potential incentives, noting that monetary incentives can prove particularly complex. “Depending on the state, monetary incentives can get dicey,” he says. “For example, in Virginia, I think anything over $250 becomes taxable income. We’ve also found, though, that additional vacation days or flexible work schedules, those kinds of things are just as powerful, if not more powerful than monetary incentives.”

As the rollout continues and vaccine availability increases, more and more spas will have to make decisions regarding their policies and messaging surrounding vaccination. Regardless of a spa’s specific approach to encouraging vaccination, however, Burner notes that one factor has the power to undercut those efforts: the example set by leadership. “One of the most important things we found is the tone from the top. So, if your spa directors are not getting the vaccine, then this issue is dead in the water for the employees of that spa,” he says. “It’s got to start with them, seeing leadership buying into the vaccine and then talking about it.”