I am sure that it doesn’t feel that long ago when, as affiliated health providers, you were consumed with the introduction of vaccination mandates.
As leaders, you probably had to contend with some confronting scenarios and differing views that impacted working relationships and team culture. At times there may even have been some very difficult conversations with those who were at risk of losing – or who ultimately did lose – their livelihoods, as well as those staff who retained their jobs. It was a very challenging time.
Now that the government is starting to relax requirements, we need to start considering how to approach the reversal of this.
Where to start
While each situation will need to be managed carefully to reflect the individual, their role and the business circumstances, there are two universal things to be wary of. Firstly, try to avoid creating a perception that management is dealing with a changed situation behind closed doors and therefore giving the impression that it doesn’t trust the team to engage in the discussion. This could create a climate of mistrust and further exacerbate matters, particularly if the introduction of the mandates caused fall-out in the team. Secondly, don’t make hasty decisions – there’s no rush to get this done. With any action, there may be unintended consequences that damage your reputation and create animosity, so a carefully considered plan will be your best approach.
That’s what not to do; here’s what you can do:
- Keep a close eye on and follow the advice provided by the government on vaccine mandates
- Consult and communicate with your team about potential changes. If there is a union presence, involve them. Some staff may have health concerns or feel that relationships were damaged as a result of differences of opinion. They might have concerns about how clients will feel about any change. Gather their feedback and genuinely consider it
- Establish how you want to manage potential employment opportunities for those who lost their jobs. While there is no obligation to rehire these employees, it could be prudent to take a wide view and, in this challenging labour market, consider rehiring. Do you want people to find out directly from you, or through the grapevine? Each approach has its pros and cons. Depending on the people involved, you could proactively contact those who have left to let them know what positions may be available. This approach works best as a discussion rather than in writing
- Put in place a fair and transparent selection process with clear criteria if you have more people interested than roles available. You may need to make difficult decisions that are unpopular with your team. Consultation and communication will be key to ensure that your people feel heard, even if the result isn’t their desired outcome
- Be clear about the terms of a former employee’s return to work. None of us knows what twists and turns the pandemic may take in the future. As such, it would be prudent to incorporate a reference to potential future vaccination mandates so that people understand this scenario could arise again. Openly discuss this to minimise future upset
- Even when the mandates are lifted, consider if following suit is the right pathway for your business. WorkSafe guidance indicates that a mandatory vaccination policy could be justified “where the nature of the work itself raises the risk of Covid-19 infection and transmission above the risk faced outside work”. To determine if a mandate should remain in place, you need to complete a health and safety risk assessment for each role. Will your clients expect your staff to continue to be vaccinated, regardless of mandates being lifted? Do your clients tend to have a higher-risk health profile? What do your employees think? Is there a possibility that you might want to reintroduce a vaccination policy in the future? What is your risk appetite across the board? As noted previously, talk with your team early and openly. Gather feedback. Speak with an expert who can support you through a risk-assessment process. This area of law is untested, so you need to be clear about the risks and potential consequences
- Regardless of vaccination mandates, ensure you have a reasonable and effective Covid-19 policy in place, covering aspects including health and safety protocols, such as hygiene measures, testing and sickness absence management. As part of that, you could still encourage vaccination as a safeguard
In short, as is the case with any period of change, treat your people as genuine partners. Take your time to reflect on the situation, different viewpoints and their potential implications, and consider the needs of all your key stakeholders – clients, current staff and those who lost jobs as a result of Covid mandates. Use the opportunity to re-establish trust and build a positive, consultative culture. Together, you will find the best approach and move on together as a cohesive unit.
Alan Pettersen is the founder and director at Positive People HR Consultancy, a firm with over 25 years’ experience guiding and supporting businesses. If you need assistance with anything HR related, please contact Alan on 021 184 5661 or firstname.lastname@example.org Watch the Positive People video at www.positivepeople.co.nz and see how they can help.