By Chip Cutter
Corporate executives are playing a new role in the pandemic:
Across industries, business leaders are turning to all-hands
staff meetings, video memos and other workplace forums to address
skepticism about the Covid-19 vaccine and encourage employees to
get it when they can.
Food-services and facilities-management company Sodexo is asking
managers to listen for signs of vaccine hesitancy among staff and
launching a social-media campaign to encourage employees to get the
shots. Benchmark Senior Living LLC, an operator of assisted-living
facilities, is blasting "myth-buster" emails to its workforce and
turning on-site vaccination clinics into mini parties, complete
with cake and games, to lend a celebratory air. Technology company
VMware Inc., meanwhile, is discussing bringing in doctors to answer
staff questions about the vaccine in virtual company meetings.
Many companies have taken on a stepped-up role in disseminating
public-health information to employees during the pandemic. It is
unusual terrain for bosses, but surveys have found that people
often view their employers as more credible sources of information
than government, social media or media outlets.
Getting a critical mass of employees vaccinated is crucial to
reopening offices and returning workplaces to a semblance of
normal, executives say. Yet overcoming vaccine skepticism could
prove tough. A recent Siena College Research Institute survey of
New York state residents found more than a quarter said they don't
plan to get the shot.
"How do you cancel all of that horrible, negative messaging that
seems to infect social media these days?" says Simon Scrivens, a
senior vice president at Sodexo who chairs the company's medical
advisory council. "We've got a responsibility as a large
Sodexo, whose roughly 420,000 employees include staff who
operate cafeterias and shops in hospitals, senior-living centers,
universities and other institutions, says it has asked managers to
relay concerns about the vaccine so the company can get a better
understanding of what worries its front-line staff. Mr. Scrivens
says Sodexo's global vaccine-promotion campaign will target its own
workers on platforms they frequent, which could include YouTube and
The goal isn't just to issue directives to employees, Mr.
Scrivens says, but to answer questions and provide guidance from
the company's medical advisory panel.
"It's not big Sodexo telling you to do this. It's, 'Here's a
physician who's got personal experience with this, who is
suggesting this might be a really sensible thing for you to do,' "
Many employers have said they won't require the vaccine, though
some exceptions are emerging. United Airlines Holdings Inc. Chief
Executive Scott Kirby told employees last week that the airline was
considering making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for its workers
and that other companies should do the same.
Some executives say they plan to use regular company meetings to
discuss issues and concerns that arise in the public vaccination
One topic that Michael Colacino, president of the New York
real-estate firm SquareFoot, wants to address in coming town halls:
adverse reactions. While a small number of people might have an
allergic response after being vaccinated, Mr. Colacino says he
wants to stress such anecdotes can be amplified on social media,
distorting the risks.
"There are going to be horror stories," Mr. Colacino says. "If
you tell people in advance of something that's going to happen, it
just makes it so much easier than if you try to repair the damage
after it's been done."
VMware CEO Patrick Gelsinger, who is leaving the company in a
few weeks to become chief executive of Intel Corp., says VMware is
considering bringing in medical professionals to answer employee
questions about the vaccine during virtual all-hands meetings.
"Taking those who are maybe concerned and helping to remove doubt:
I think that's an important piece of what businesses can do," he
Benchmark Senior Living, based in Waltham, Mass., sends
residents and employees at its nursing homes, assisted-living
communities and other facilities a daily "Because..." video
spotlighting staff members and residents who have gotten vaccinated
and their reasons for doing so. One of its recent "myth-buster"
emails to staff and residents began with the all-caps question,
"Are there side effects?" and noted that most people have minimal
symptoms after receiving the vaccine.
Tom Grape, Benchmark's chairman and CEO, says he was initially
surprised by the hesitancy among staff members to get the shot,
which the company hasn't mandated. Nursing homes world-wide have
been devastated by the pandemic, presenting risks for both workers
and residents. As employees see that peers got vaccinated, more are
choosing to get the shot, Mr. Grape says, adding that he believes
the company's education campaigns are also helping.
"There's so much misinformation floating around," he says.
"People are thirsting for facts, and they're trying to sort out
truth from fiction."
Write to Chip Cutter at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 25, 2021 08:21 ET (13:21 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.