As companies continue to grapple with the many changes brought on by the pandemic, they often find themselves in uncharted territory. The latest twist around vaccine requirements in the United States has left organizations with a difficult dilemma: how and, as of right now, whether to enforce vaccine mandates, and how to manage employees who choose to remain unvaccinated. The current administration has already required government employees to be vaccinated. Large private sector companies (with 100 or more employees) and employers with federal contracts are facing a January 4, 2022 deadline, set by the Biden administration, to ensure their workers are either fully vaccinated or undergo weekly coronavirus testing and wear masks at work. This latest order will affect 84 million employees, approximately 31 million of whom remain unvaccinated. Across Europe, vaccine mandates vary with France, Italy and Slovenia having among the most stringent requirements.
The outfall can already be seen and felt across many industries where vaccine requirements have been carried out: In France, the government’s decision to ban unvaccinated civil servants was met with protests. In Italy, public and private sector workers must have a ‘Green Pass,’ showing proof of vaccination to work, and they can be fined for failing to comply. Healthcare workers across the US who declined vaccination and did not request an exemption for medical or religious reasons have been put on leave or, in some cases, fired for failure to comply. While six major US airlines said they would require employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, at least two other carriers are getting pushback from their unions as they consider whether to impose a vaccine mandate. And, unvaccinated police officers in Chicago protested recently in an attempt to block enforcement of the citywide mandate requiring all city workers to be vaccinated or agree to twice-weekly testing. A judge has ordered the police union and the city of Chicago into arbitration. The fallout will continue as the January deadline edges ever closer. More than half of states have filed lawsuits challenging the federal vaccine requirement for private companies and on November 2, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the order. Meanwhile, the federal government’s vaccine mandate for its employees is being challenged in court by unions representing federal prison workers.
According to recent research by Gartner, companies expect to lose between 2% and 8% of their employees due to vaccine mandates either because the employees quit or are terminated for noncompliance. As Brian Kropp, Gartner’s chief of human resources research, put it, ‘If you’re at 2%, you can live with that. If it’s 8%, that could be a real problem, especially if it’s concentrated in one place or in one department.’
While the number of impacted employees may be small compared to the percent of those vaccinated, the terminations and voluntary departures raise important questions: With ‘The Great Resignation’ and talent scarcity in full bloom, how should companies handle employees who either resign or are forced to leave due to failure to comply? Before we address those questions, let’s first look at who organizations may want to hire to fill those open roles.
boomerangers may be your next employees – again
The talent shortage brought on by ‘The Great Resignation’ has left employers scrambling for talent. In some cases, employees who have been terminated or have resigned due to failure to comply with the vaccine mandate are being invited to reapply for their positions once they get vaccinated. This is just one kind of boomerang employee – a former worker who returns to the company. These individuals may return to their former employers as full- or part-time workers, contractors, consultants or even vendors.
‘Boomerangers’ provide a host of benefits to employers, including a familiarity with the culture and company processes, an ability to get up to speed almost instantaneously and a network of contacts they can tap into to get work done efficiently. Hiring them back saves money in recruitment and onboarding costs while also minimizing the time to reach full productivity. One of the biggest challenges faced by CEOs this year is attracting and retaining top talent: 52% cited it as a top problem in a 2021 Global Leadership Forecast by DDI. With this in mind, looking to former employees as your next employees may be an important option to seriously consider.
It stands to reason that employees who resign or are terminated due to failure to comply with the vaccine mandate – and who choose to be vaccinated at a later point – will likely only be interested in returning to their former employer if they feel they were treated with fairness and compassion when they left. As organizations face the prospect of terminating employees who decline to get vaccinated, it may behoove them to think about offering outplacement services.
outplacement upholds employer brand during ‘the great resignation’
Companies that have or aspire to have employee-first cultures understand the value of properly caring for employees at every stage of the employee life cycle – including at the point of departure from the company. Providing outplacement services conveys that the organization values its impacted employees and is not casting a personal judgment on their decision to decline vaccination. Such services typically include coaching, professional branding and resume/CV writing, tailored job search assistance, upskilling and reskilling guidance and other resources to help individuals find their next roles. Outplacement can help departing employees move past anger or hurt and better utilize their energy in the positive direction of finding new employment.
Beyond the moral imperative of caring for employees, companies that use outplacement promote a positive employer brand by sending a signal to job candidates and current employees that their organization does right by its employees even in difficult circumstances. Outplacement may reduce the likelihood of negative posts on social media and job search sites that can damage brand, scare away top talent and increase recruiting costs as a result. According to one study, 69% of candidates will reject a job offer from a company with a bad reputation. A negative employer brand can have the downstream effect of reducing consumer trust as well.
Offering outplacement can also lessen the likelihood of legal action from disgruntled employees, and reduce unemployment taxes by helping impacted employees find new roles more quickly than they would on their own.
Of course, all this begs the question, ‘Why offer outplacement to an employee to help them find another role if I hope to hire them back one day as an employee?’ A former employee may decide six or 12 months later that they want to return to their former workplace for any variety of reasons such as culture, flexibility, management, work-life balance, career mobility options or a desire to work with their former colleagues. Sometimes the desire to move on and try something new doesn’t pan out as hoped. There is no harm in reaching out to former employees to find out how they’re doing in their current job and asking them if they’re interested in returning either to their prior role or a new one within your organization assuming they’re willing to abide by your organization’s vaccination policy.
Sometimes the grass may not turn out to be greener on the other side. Persuading valued former employees to consider returning to work is far more likely to succeed if you’ve planted the right seeds by providing them with outplacement.
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