Wharton professor on the employer Covid vaccine requirement dilemma

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Nancy Rothbard, chair of the Management Department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, joined “Squawk Box” on Thursday to discuss the dilemma employers are facing when it comes to deciding whether to require their workers to get the coronavirus vaccine. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2NGeIvi

Companies should encourage their employees to get vaccinated for Covid through incentives, not through mandates, according to Wharton School professor Nancy Rothbard.

“There’s a lot of challenges with mandating employees to do anything,” Rothbard said Thursday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Any boss will tell you, it’s a lot more about persuasion than telling.”

The issue of whether to require workers to get vaccines in order to return to the office has come into focus recently as about 3 million people in the U.S. per day are getting shots. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show nearly a quarter of the American adult population is fully vaccinated.

While many experts believe it’s legal for employers to make vaccines compulsory, business leaders may worry about alienating staff.

“Trying really to incentivize people to get vaccinated, I think, is going to be a much more popular route than mandates,” said Rothbard, a management professor whose research partly focuses on work motivation and engagement.

Companies such as Tractor Supply are providing employees one-time cash payments to encourage them to get a Covid vaccine. Target is offering hourly employees up to four hours of pay — two hours for each dose for the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which require two shots. Target also is providing help to pay for Lyft rides to and from appointments.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, the only other one cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use in the U.S., is only one dose.

Businesses should be mindful of employees’ preferences around disclosing vaccine status, Rothbard said, adding some people are just less comfortable sharing personal information of any sort with employers and colleagues.

“There are ways to do this more privately, where you may want to take an employee aside and say, ‘Look, have you been vaccinated? … If you haven’t, then we need to make alternative arrangements,’” for the safety of others, she offered.

The debate about vaccine disclosure in the workplace does not diminish the need for Americans to get inoculated to help bring an end of the pandemic, Rothbard said. “The term ‘herd immunity’ implies there is a collective cost to this, not just an individual decision people are making when they choose to get vaccinated.”

Despite the importance, Rothbard stressed that incentives are likely to be effective in helping companies achieve high vaccination rates among their workforces.

“I have a paper that’s called ‘Mandatory Fun.’ People do not even like having mandatory fun imposed on them if they’re not feeling that is legitimate in the workplace,” she said. “People don’t react well to mandates. They react better to incentives and to encouragement.”

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