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“A gift can change everything. Starting with the mind!"

When White House staff members recently decided to go and get vaccinated - reportedly ahead of some frontline workers - they did something much more significant than throwing their hat in the vaccine ring. They put their antibodies where their mouth was and did what all leaders must do in times of crisis: Stand up for what they believe is right. Sure, they drew some flak for jumping the queue ahead of healthcare workers who were due for priority vaccine jabs, but that’s the price you must sometimes pay for walking the talk and making your point. Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, have all joined this motley crew since. There are, of course, many more A++ names on that list.

Making the point was necessary to set the tone and build the precedence. After all, public sentiment towards the vaccine so far has been unsettlingly mixed. According to some polls, nearly 50% of Americans will flatly refuse to get their shot even if they get a chance. Firefighters in New York City - a tribe at high risk - have already expressed their intention to stay away from the vaccine in somewhat uncertain terms.

The dilemma business leaders and corporate captains have is more nuanced. They don’t have the authority protocols of Heads-of-State and governments to force the issue or enforce behavioral change - such as mobilizing a feel-good vibe to vaccination at scale. And yet, they must get those productivity engines humming, for which a vaccine seems imperative.

Gently Does it.

There are several reasons - some strongly validated by logic - why a positive mindset needs to be established first. There have been reports of an allergic reaction to the vaccine, for instance. People are also wary of possible side effects that may not be evident just yet but may surface down the line. There is also the unspoken concern that a product manufactured in haste, to win a race against the clock, cannot be without flaws. ‘At gunpoint’ isn’t the best of methods to build or prototype an idea.

That said, the number of reported cases of the vaccine malfunctioning (as of today) is reassuringly negligible. We must also repose faith in professionals and organizations' experience and expertise that have put their redoubtable credentials on the line to come up with the best product humanly possible within the deadline. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to sweeten the mood before you can land the vial.

Stuck with It (There's No Getting Around the Vaccine)

The business case for vaccination is compelling. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci - regarded as the USA’s top infectious disease expert - unless and until 75 % of the populace has been covered under the vaccine, we should not take our masks off or ‘bridge’ the social distance currently being maintained. The good doctor isn’t alone in his stand. Dr. Bob Bollinger - a professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University - has gone on record saying that community uptake of the vaccine for society as a whole is critical - nay, mandatory - to achieve some semblance of ‘new normalcy’.

Social distancing has already put sectors like travel, sports, movietainment, shopping, construction, real estate and events (all economy pillars) on the fritz - so Fauci’s statement effectively means that the economy doesn’t get back on the growth track unless a majority of us adds it to our system. For certain classes of workers - such as laborers, blue-collar brigades, and gig / deliver folks - who hail from a relatively lower economic tier and have been the hardest hit, vaccination can mean a way back to livelihood. Then, there are business models - such as carpooling for Uber and the case for airlines - where vaccinating drivers and allowing only vaccinated passengers to fly, respectively, can attract more users and create a compelling ‘Best Company to Engage With’ type of branding. Similarly, hospitals and care institutions treating COVID-19 cases may want to have doctors and staff vaccinated as a basic precaution - it may even be a legal essential in certain countries and cases. Finally, an office with a vaccinated population act be a very real incentive for wrenching employees away from #WFH mode and get them back into their beanbags and cubicles. The cry, “Everyone lissen-up, it’s time to vaxin-up!” suddenly seems to make a lot of sense when you factor-in all these angles.

But Why Jab When you can Charm?

All of this means that the only code that needs cracking now is the HOW. The vaccine has polarized the corporate world into two distinct schools of thought. Should talent leaders and organization bosses force their employees to take a jab of the stuff, or accept it as a ‘deeply personal decision’ and leave it as optional? According to a virtual summit poll hosted by the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, several employers are actively considering going the first route. In fact, 72% of CEOs of big companies - such as eBay and Walmart, to name some - have officially signaled a willingness to consider making vaccination mandatory at work. And while they are free to give it a shot (pun intended), chances that the move will backfire remain high. Legal complications aside, the gesture flies squarely in the face of the covenant of universal rights, respect, and dignity most modern enterprises are designed around - and pretty much everything culture custodians have been evangelizing so far.

Question: How far are you willing to go to sacrifice the pillars of conviction on which you have so painstakingly built your brand edifice on? Bigger question: Why even try, when there’s a better way? Yes, Siree Bob. Incentive, lollipop, sweetener - call it what you will - there’s no denying the herculean power of motivation. And if ever there was a time to try its magic, it’s now – when you must deliver a stab that feels like a kiss.

How to Encourage Vaccination?

Motivate Employees to Roll up their Sleeves (Literally)

For a shot, that is. Incentivizing employees to get vaccine is already a ‘thing’ in HR vines and with talent leaders, CXO’s and founders. While monetary rewards continue to be the ‘easy way out,’ it’s often not the wisest. Apart from the fact that it may look like a blatant bribe, it may lack the punch required to shift something as set as a state-of-mind. The effectiveness of non-monetary rewards is well documented. Their sheer variety/diversity, the uniqueness / novelty-factor they carry, and the personal touch they embody – all go to make them unrivaled for ‘special assignments.’ A pandemic makes for a once-in-a-lifetime case study, and your organization can feature in it.

The basic concept of incentives and rewards are the same – vaccine or no vaccine. They must not only touch a chord with our extrinsic drivers (money and materialistic indulgences) but also resonate with our intrinsic motivations (passions and happiness triggers). And they must be commensurate (with the achievement), customized (to the recipient’s personality and wish-lists) and instant (delivered as close to real-time as is possible).

Vaccination Incentives and Rewards for Employees

So if you are planning to vaccinate your teams – like pretty much everyone is (but may not be vocal about it yet) – try incentivizing vaccination with rewards or give them a vaccination bonus. Here’s a fun way to decode what kind of vaccination incentive programs and rewards works for whom.

1. The Peacocks

This is the tribe that hates to miss an opportunity to sparkle and shine - preferably in full public glory. Which makes ‘offers’ (such as learning/courses, titles, promotions, and awards) ‘bespoke bait’s they won’t be able to refuse.

2. The 'Most Wanted's

Then there are the dudes and dudettes - the cream of the crop as it were - who never stick to a place for long, simply because there’s always an HR manager chasing their resume. While you can’t entirely change that, you can use the covid vaccine as an alibi to lavish them with the good stuff. Who knows, it may increase their life span in your team by a crucial year or two!

3. The Rocks

You’ll have this ‘strong and silent’ type on your team whom you can always turn to when the chips are down. Or the loyal ones who’ve weathered it out with you right through thick and thin. If you’ve been waiting for a chance to say, “Appreciate it, my friend!” here’s heaven-sent. Just make sure the reward is la-di-da enough to neutralize any misgivings they may have about the vaccine.

4. The Freeloaders

Every workplace will have this type. While they may be sparkling personalities in their own right, stand them in front of a buffet (metaphorically speaking) and they can’t resist the urge to bite - even if they’ve just eaten (again, allegorically speaking). Shower them with shiny new things - frankly, it doesn’t matter what.

5. The Laggards

An established trade term really isn’t meant to be offensive because even the most talented amongst us can be notoriously ‘AWOL’ when it comes to things that don’t excite and ignite. Fix it with an incentive that’s novel and unique enough to wake ‘em up.

6. The Fence Sitters

While patience and restraint are the forte of this variety, they can sometimes be guilty of taking those qualities a tad too far. Shake them out of their procrastination and/or indecisiveness with a well-researched reward that’s straight out of their Amazon Wish List.

7. The Influencers

They can come in both glib-tongued and scholarly-mined avatars, but here is a super-persuasive bunch who make great debaters, presenters and cheerleaders for your organization. Channelize the energy by turning them into vaccine ambassadors who can campaign for a ‘safer and surer future’ in your culture and sway the tide. When the job is done, skip the pat-on-the-back and reward them like there’s no tomorrow.

The kid in us never really grows up. Bring on the goodies, and you’ll see what we mean.

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There's More

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