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Gleb Tsipursky

Customer Care

The Business Case for Promoting the New Boosters

Leaders need worker wellness for the health of their company

Published: Monday, January 16, 2023 - 13:03

One of the key stakeholders in stakeholder capitalism is the employee. You could argue that the employee is the key stakeholder, because without employees you’d have no stakeholders at all. This is why employers need to stay aware of today’s health environment and its effect on their employees. Employee sickness, absenteeism, and poor morale related to illness harm the entire company.

A wave of sickness

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects a new wave of Covid this winter that could more than quadruple the current infection rate, which aligns with projections of a major winter wave by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The consequences for executives and their teams can be dire. We’ve known since early 2022 that, according to a CDC study, the original vaccine’s effectiveness against omicron fades quickly. Thus, those who received two doses of Moderna or Pfizer have 71 percent less likelihood of being hospitalized with Covid compared to nonvaccinated people within the first month of getting the shots. But that effectiveness fades relatively quickly to 58 percent after four months, and continues falling off after that. Someone who received the original two doses and then a booster immediately gets protection of 91 percent against hospitalization. Effectiveness falls to 78 percent after four months.

For the vast majority of Americans, it’s been many months since they received either the original vaccine series or the booster shots. That makes them seriously vulnerable to Covid—especially the most experienced, senior staff at companies, whose age puts them in a high-risk category.

The immediate danger of staff members being hospitalized for several weeks, or even dying, is just part of the problem. We can’t forget about the threat of long Covid, the long-term symptoms of Covid infection. According to a study published in The Lancet, 22 percent of those who had long Covid symptoms were unable to work, and another 45 percent needed reduced hours. The Brookings Institution evaluated these numbers to find that long Covid is keeping anywhere from 2 to 4 million Americans out of the labor force. No wonder we’re experiencing such labor shortages.

Executive response

Nobody wants their staff or themselves to become part of these statistics. Yet what are executives doing about it? Not much. By failing to take action, they’re falling into the omission bias—a dangerous judgment error that downplays the costs of inaction in our minds.

What executives should be thinking about are the long-term consequences for their companies of failing to encourage new booster shots. Given the data, we can confidently state that the more employees get shots, the fewer sick days they will take. It will also lower the chance that staffers will have to reduce their hours permanently or even withdraw from the labor force.

Similarly, advocating for boosters will minimize Covid outbreaks in a company. Doing so prevents the bad PR that results from such outbreaks, as well as the decreased morale that afflicts staff when companies order them to return to the office, as Google, CalPERS, and others have discovered.

On a related note, to reduce employee fears about returning to the office, encouraging everyone to get the new booster is an excellent strategy. Whether a company pursues a flexible, team-led model in returning to the office (as I encourage my clients to do) or a more rigid, top-down approach, many employees have fears around Covid. An internal survey my company just completed for a Fortune 500 SaaS company showed that 64 percent of respondents felt somewhat concerned about Covid in the office. That aligns with broader surveys, such as one by Ipsos in September 2022 that indicated 57 percent of those surveyed feel somewhat concerned about Covid.

So what should executives do? Mandates are certainly not the right way to go, given that we are transitioning from the emergency of the pandemic into a more endemic stage of learning to live with the virus. A much better approach is creating appropriate norms and nudging employees to engage in win-win behaviors using behavioral science-based approaches.

To create appropriate norms, executives must both publicly advocate for the new boosters and get the shot themselves. The CEO at one of my client organizations wrote a blog post for an internal company newsletter about the benefit of getting the bivalent booster, accompanied by a photo of himself getting the jab. She also strongly encouraged her C-suite and midlevel managers to get the booster and discuss doing so with their team members. The company also brought in a well-respected epidemiologist to talk about the benefits of getting a bivalent vaccine booster, and to answer questions and address concerns among staff.

To nudge employees, this company offered paid time off for getting the shot, along with sick leave for any side effects. It also created a competition between different teams within the organization. Team members could submit anonymized proof of their shots, and the first three teams to have all their members get shots were treated to an all-expense-paid weekend getaway. The company offered the same prize through a lottery for five employees across the organization who got the booster within the first three months it became available.

Other companies I work with adopted similar techniques, customized to their own needs, to develop norms and nudge employees. Such approaches help create a context that encourages employees, without forcing them, to protect their own health and that of others by getting the shot. Doing so benefits company bottom lines by reducing sick days, addressing worker resistance to coming to the office, minimizing PR fiascos, and helping executives be on the front lines of stakeholder capitalism.


About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps quality professionals make the wisest decisions on the future of work as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. A proud Ukrainian American, he is the best-selling author of seven books, including Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in more than 650 articles in prominent publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and more than 15 years in academia as a cognitive scientist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipurskyLinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course


Very disappointed to see this.

Very disappointed to see these products promoted on Quality Digest, especially in 2023, when it is widely recognized that they do not prevent people catching or spreading SARS-CoV-2 and that prior infection generally confers more robust and longer-lasting immunity. 

As paraphrased by Don Wheeler, Deming's Operational Definition is the series of questions that one must answer in order for words to have meaning in business: (1) What do you intend to do? (2) By what method will you do it? (3) By what mechanism will you judge that it has been done? 

Another commenter was quick to quote the CDC about these products, and the CDC certainly makes a lot of claims about them, but it is not always clear that these claims mean what people suggest that they mean. Words like "safe and effective" must have operational definitions in order to be meaningful from a quality perspective. 

Take a word like "effective." (1) What do you intend to do? I intend to take five doses of a vaccine in a span of less than two years and then contract the virus I was vaccinated against, twice, as CDC director Rochelle Walensky did. (2) By what method? By taking as many doses of mRNA as are made available to me. (3) By what mechanism will I judge? By a positive antigen test confirming that I've contracted SARS-CoV-2 for the second time after being five-times vaccinated against it. Now when I say "effective," you know exactly what I mean, regardless of any preconceived notions. This is the power of the Operational Definition, and the clarity that it offers will be crucial for any business trying to decide how best to make its workers take drugs that they otherwise don't want. 

Good points

How about we let businesses focus on creating goods and services that their customers want.  Let them "nudge" their employees to accomplish their objectives more efficiently, effectively, and easily.

Let the employees focus on their own health needs with their doctors.

More than a nudge

So you think that creating peer pressure where some team members are likely to pressure holdouts to get the shot so they can get a free vacation is good for the employee and the team?  Especially when the CDC itself now says there is a safety concern for ischemic stroke in people ages 65 and older who received the Pfizer bivalent vaccine? 

Maybe you need to re-read Thaler and Sunstein's book about what a nudge is. 

Get the vaccine unless your doctor tells you otherwise

https://www.cnbc.com/2023/01/13/pfizer-covid-booster-likely-doesnt-carry... "CDC says it’s ‘very unlikely’ Pfizer booster carries stroke risk for seniors after launching review"

Vaccines do carry a small risk, and this includes the annual flu vaccine. I could have died from flu (which became pneumonia) in graduate school and I got the flu vaccine every year since. I have not have had any major problems with influenza ever since. Covid-19 has killed more than a million people and messed up a lot of survivors for life with damage to organ systems. I have never tested positive for Covid and, if I ever did have it, it was obviously not serious enough to require hospitalization. 

Covid-19 is obviously something you want to keep out of your workplace, period. It's like poor quality; you don't want to give it, get it, or take it home with you.

A Terrible Take

I agree with the first commentor. 

I am disappointed to see this kind of content coming from QualityDigest. How about doing an appropriate root cause analysis of the whole covid pandemonium? Even a simple investigation shows that the solutions that have been implemented, "nudged", and even forced were way out of line with an appropriate solution for the problem the world was faced with in regards to covid.Healthy people only end up a couple days out of work due to covid (speaking from experience). This problem is no different than a regular cold or flu. Which even flu vaccines don't provide a meaningful solution to that problem- instead healthy employees is the best prevention of the concerns the author has presented. Let's encourage companies to actually improve the health of their employees, not some highly inefficient lifetime of boosters campaign.

Quality Digest - Seriously bad take allowing this.

The writer of the artical sums up what is wrong with the world. I am going to force (just nudge this time) people into my way of thinking, instead of letting people make their own informed decisions? People know about Covid, they have had it or seen the effects it has on people. They are also starting to see the effects the "vacine" has had on some people, and they are sometimes much worse then anything covid has done. This artical is propaganda for big pharma.