With the UK having spent the majority of the last 18 months under lockdown conditions, it’s fair to say that for many of us, we’ve not exactly been socialising as much as we had been back in the heady days of 2019…
Whilst socialising and having fun with friends and family is of course a hugely positive thing, the social interactions we missed also had a less fun, but just as an important side effect – and that was exposure to common cold and flu viruses which helped strengthen our immune systems.
However, with so many of us having to either stay at home or keep our distance from one another, 2020 saw extremely low levels of cold and flu viruses in circulation, meaning that immunity rates to these common winter viruses are much lower than usual.
The immunity issue
This lack of widespread immunity to common winter flu viruses is potentially a big problem. Not only will we all possibly be more susceptible to catching a nasty cold or bout of flu, but there’s also the fact that COVID-19 rates are still worryingly high – despite over 45 million of us (at the time of writing at least) having had both doses of a COVID vaccine.
Even if you’ve had both doses (and even a booster jab) of one of the highly effective COVID vaccinations, you can still catch the virus – although you would be protected from getting more seriously ill. But, if you were to catch a flu bug at the same time, the effects could be extremely harmful – especially if you’re over 50 or have underlying health issues. It’s for this reason that the NHS has started a drive to encourage people to get a flu jab this year to give people’s immunity that extra layer of protection it’s missed due to lockdown.
Should employers be encouraging their employees to get a flu jab?
Whilst it of course makes sense for the health service to encourage everyone to get a flu jab to try and avoid healthcare services coming under more pressure, it’s also a question that employers have possibly also pondered, too. After all, it makes sense to ensure your staff are fit and well, and getting a flu jab is beneficial in fending off unwanted infections and potential serious illnesses.
But here’s the thing: should employers be actively encouraging their employees to get a flu vaccination, or is that a step too far when it comes to engaging employees?
Perhaps a nudge is the best approach…
Nudging towards better, more informed decision making
When I talk about ‘giving employees a nudge’, I don’t mean in the literal cheeky little elbow-sense. Nudges (or ‘Nudge Theory’) are used by organisations to help create and support workplace environments that give their employees the conditions they need to succeed.
In short, nudges are about creating an environment that makes it easy for its inhabitants to make the right decisions. To give an example of what I mean, we’ve all grown up with road safety campaigns or lectures ringing in our ears from our parents that wearing a seatbelt in your car keeps you safe if you’re in a crash – and of course, they’re absolutely right! However, there are some people who still choose not to belt up, or simply forget altogether.
Now, governments have of course considered this and have made it mandatory for car manufacturers to implement a not-so subtle ‘nudge’ of their own into your car’s environment – that warning chime that tells you to put your belt on if you haven’t already. This is a small but effective behavioural reminder that ‘nudges’ us into making a safer and ultimately good decision whenever you get into your car, and it’s perhaps one employers can learn from.
Helping employees make the right choices
With employee wellbeing top of many employer’s HR strategies right now, organisations should perhaps take the view that whilst they can’t legally force their employees to get a flu vaccination (although the UK government is considering mandating it for front-line NHS staff), they should at least help employees make better informed decisions.
I say that, because we live in an age where all of us are exposed to huge volumes of information – and not all of it from reputable sources! With the pandemic seeing a huge rise in misinformation and anti-vax sentiment – especially through social and online platforms – it can be extremely difficult for anyone to make their own judgement due to all the noise.
This is where those little nudges can really come into their own, and HR teams can play an important role, such as:
- Providing easy access to reputable information
One really easy nudge employers can do when it comes to encouraging employees to get a flu vaccination is to ensure they can access factually accurate and impartial information on the subject. This means employers are not potentially seen as forcing their own agenda; rather, they are presenting the facts in order for their employees to make an informed decision.
If they have access to good HR software, then setting up a wellbeing portal or shared workspace that gives employees access to the latest independent and reputable research is a great way to do this.
- Covering the cost of a Flu jab
Flu jabs are available for free for anyone over 50, with certain health conditions or if they meet any of the other qualifying criteria set out by the NHS. For everyone else, it currently costs between £8.00 and £14.99 – and this is something that could put people off getting a flu jab. Organisations may want to consider covering this cost as not only will it remove a potential barrier for their staff, but from a staff wellbeing perspective, it can really help lift that all-important employee engagement. After all, it could be argued that many companies ‘talk the talk’ when it comes to looking out for the wellbeing of their staff – but how many really follow their talk through? Definitely something to consider…
- Accommodate staff taking time out to get vaccinated
Lastly, the COVID-19 vaccination roll out saw ACAS offer guidance as to how employers can support their employees in getting the jab, and one of their suggestions was to allow staff paid time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine. With flu this year potentially being an extremely hazardous issue for all of us, it really does make sense for employers to remove the issue of staff worrying about finding the time to get a flu jab; so allowing staff to quickly and easily book out paid leave to get their jab is a simple, yet potentially highly-effective nudge.
So, what do you think: should employers be encouraging thier staff to get this year’s flu vaccinations?