How do you, as a leader, address the fears and uncertainties among your team members in a way that keeps them focused on your organization’s goals?
The Economist offers a poignant example of this herculean task by using COVID-19 and its vaccine. When the vaccine’s availability was announced, many sighed in relief. And yet, many hospital CEOs are facing some cold, hard facts. Research by Michelle Myers of Geisinger Health found that at least 20% of staff–and up to 50% before more data on the vaccines was available–are unwilling or undecided on vaccination.
As a hospital leader, what can you do to overcome this dilemma?
Tapping Into the Human Mind
To best address staff uncertainty, leadership needs to remember how humans think. They do not make decisions based on rational evidence. Instead, they make decisions based on what is important to them and their experiences with those needs (positive or negative).
This is the phenomenon underlying the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people tend to overestimate their knowledge and ability. Basically, many of us “do not know what we don’t know” and decide based on ignorance.
Understanding that reality enables you to take the first smart step, which is to avoid the message of “vaccines work!” As CEO, you need to investigate why individuals will or will not accept the vaccine–which was a key component of Myers’ research.
Top Reasons Mistrust Abounds
We know from previous studies that mistrust of leadership often occurs in marginalized groups. With COVID-19, that includes those with a history of medical experimentation (e.g. African Americans) or those with strong spiritual beliefs. This study also found that the biggest concern was unknown effects of these new vaccines, alongside the known side effects (headaches, flu-like symptoms, arm pain, etc.).
Other concerns include mistrust of the FDA, privacy concerns about an employer tracking one’s health, lack of concern regarding infection, and an interest in waiting to see how the vaccine worked for others.
Take a moment to consider these responses. What do almost all of them have in common? The short answer is trust. They don’t trust the pharmaceutical industry, the government, or their own employer. Once you understand the grounds of their hesitation, you can work towards resolving it.
Getting to the Root of the Trust Breakdown
Step two in this process is to uncover why a trust breakdown has occurred. With COVID-19, the answer is quite clear. Healthcare workers have reported feeling mistreated throughout the pandemic’s reign. Depending on their unique experience, they have been put at risk of contracting the virus, have fallen ill, or struggled to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE).
They have also witnessed a lot of death… and did so on low pay or excessive shifts that really don’t justify the pay. Those who contracted COVID-19 may be especially jaded, particularly if they’re experiencing any long-term effects.
The entire experience of dealing with COVID may color their willingness to accept a vaccine–the “solution” their employers are now encouraging.
Of course, this scenario may not be true of your organization. Because no two organizations face the same issues, I highly recommend researching specific circumstances at your own organization, rather than assume anything as fact.
Social Media’s Influential Impact
A final–and significant–factor in trust breakdown involves social media. Much of the information being shared about COVID-19 on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is of debatable value, at best. Add in a dollop of misinformation to the already pervasive lack of trust and what do you have? Doubt.
All of this takes us to your action steps as a leader.
Highlighting the “Leader” in Leadership
The most important step in addressing reluctance starts with you. If your people doubt you or your argument, becoming an example makes a huge impact. Be seen heeding your own advice. Get the vaccine and promote it widely; don’t be shy. Be honest about why you are doing it.
The next action is to follow up with more research to see who has bought in and who has not. Reward those who have already received the vaccine or are willing to. You must identify what that reward is and ensure it’s of significant value. If you’re questioning what’s “enough,” please contact me and we can explore appropriate rewards in more detail (quick warning: money is never an incentive!).
Those who remain unconvinced need to be re-engaged. Ask them why they still doubt you or the vaccine. Their statements will likely mirror those from Ms. Myers’ research and continue to revolve around lack of trust of industry, government, or company. If this is the case, it’s time to call on Educate Innovate Inspire Consulting. The problem rests in your leadership platform and having too few individuals who understand it and/or teach it.
We can help identify how your unique style is seen, understood, and applied within your organization. We also tailor a process that will weed out the seeds of mistrust, so you can build a system of communication and accountability. Creating such an environment will enable you to grow trust and foster engagement.
By Ryan Sanders, Founder of EII Consulting