Trust is essential for effective communication. Trust is earned over time, and can be lost in an instant. People trust organizations and leaders that are transparent and consistent. They look to see if leaders' behaviors, values, and communications align. It helps when leaders are transparent about decisions and challenges and invite feedback. Organizations with high levels of trust tend to have more engaged, motivated, and productive employees. Trust is also a two-way street. If employees feel trusted, their trust in the organization tends to be higher. When employee trust is low, leaders have to work extra hard to build trust in a time of uncertainty, crisis, or change. Yet, in those situations, it’s more important than ever.
KEEP IN MIND
Lead with empathy.
Acknowledge that the pandemic has been a very difficult and uncertain time. Create a safe space to have conversations. This could be private one-on-one conversations or civil “town hall” style meetings. Connect on a personal level; share your own vaccination plans or experience.
Be open and respectful.
Listen. Encourage questions. Avoid judging, arguing or downplaying what you hear. Don’t tell people what to do; reinforce that they decide whether to get a vaccine. Remind them why it is important that your employees are vaccinated. Stress the safety of your employees and their families, and the safety of your customers, clients, or patients. This is also important if you are considering or implementing a vaccine mandate.
Good communication relies on trust. Make sure that your words and actions earn it.
Reinforce the organization’s commitment to employee wellbeing, as appropriate. Be authentic and specific. For example, link communications on Covid-19 vaccines to precedents such as flu or tetanus vaccines. Another example is to tie policies and incentives (e.g., time off for vaccination) into existing wellness programs. But if you don’t offer health insurance or sick leave, this messaging may not resonate.
Walk the talk.
Show leaders in the organization being vaccinated. Have them talk about their experience. Make it as easy as possible for employees to get vaccinated. You can provide up-to-date information, time off, transportation, reminders, and onsite vaccination.
Trust in the message is tied to trust in the messenger, so engage diverse messengers.
Engage employees from minority and cultural groups to be pro-vaccine role models and spokespeople. You might also engage those who were initially opposed, but have changed their minds and been vaccinated. Partner with external leaders who are trusted by their communities. They could be community, religious, or medical leaders. Consider showing trusted leaders in your organization getting vaccinated. This could help communicate that the vaccine is safe and effective.
Be honest about what you can and cannot answer.
If you don’t know, say so. Acknowledge that changes are likely as we learn from the evolving pandemic, vaccination status, and regulatory changes. Parents may also ask questions about childhood vaccinations. Refer employees to credible scientific sources if they want more information than you can offer. Refer employees to their own doctors for advice on personal medical issues. Offer to get back to them with information on evolving organizational policies – and make sure to do so.
Engage employees as you plan and communicate.
Co-design and/or test materials and plans with the people who will be affected. This shows that you trust and value their input. Create easy, safe and ongoing opportunities for feedback. You can always ask people how they think others in your organization will respond to certain messages. This is sometimes easier for people compared to sharing their own opinions on a hot button issue.