A medical worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at. Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP
A medical worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at. Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP

Could the next conflict at work be between vaxxers and anti-vaxxers?

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 14, 2021

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By Devan Moonsamy

South Africa continues to move forward with more and more people being vaccinated. As much as there are strides being made in achieving the herd immunity status, there is also resistance from anti-vaxxers.

Whether it’s talking to a colleague while waiting for a meeting to begin or even a social distance catch up session at the office, the topic of vaccinations does make its way into the conversation.

The reality is that companies might soon make it a requirement for employees to be vaccinated at work, especially for those returning to the office.

What is left to be seen is how this will go down with those who are resisting the Covid-19 vaccine and how will companies accommodate those that refuse to be vaccinated.

While that decision has company CEOs puzzling around policy change, the staff on the ground might be at the forefront of a conflict around the vaccine conversation.

Vaxxers and anti-vaxxers will clash as the difference in opinions will potentially cause tension in the workplace. Before we head into heated debates, colleague’s leaving WhatsApp groups due to differences in opinions, and even giving each other the cold shoulder, we should look at ways to handle the conflict that can arise due to this discussion.

An organisation’s first step to handle this situation would be to take a decision on whether or not vaccinations should be made mandatory for staff in the private sector. Once we establish whether we want to make it mandatory for staff returning to work to be vaccinated, we can then work on a policy to give a guideline to our staff.

Once we have a stand on vaccinations and the business, we must then circulate the policy to our staff. They should understand what the organisation has decided and why this decision has been made.

In the event that staff members start debating the pros and cons of vaccinations, we should have a contingency plan in place. That means HR should be aware of how to handle conflict that arises from this. Managers and supervisors must also receive training on how to manage conflict that could possibly arise from the difference in opinions.

As an organisation, we must make it clear to everyone that there will be zero tolerance to vulgarity, rudeness and disrespect to colleagues around the difference of opinion. Whether someone is for the vaccine or against it, they should be respectful to the views of the other.

The workplace should not become a boxing ring to debate the vaccine. Just as we all come from different walks of life, our views and opinions are also influenced by this and should be accepted.

Managing conflict caused by difference of opinions around the vaccine can be done by sitting staff down and understanding what allowed the topic to escalate. The important point to remember is that conflict in the workplace can grow and create a hostile working environment if not addressed. Conflict can have an impact on productivity.

Conflict in the workplace can arise from many unresolved issues. In order to ensure a smooth flow of work, try to address the unresolved conflict. Policies and procedures should be clear and reiterated that even with staff working remotely and in the office, respect for colleagues must always be upheld.

This is a whole new chapter for us to work with as we navigate the new normal of being vaccinated. We should have help lines available for staff to feel comfortable to ask questions and address their concerns around the vaccine. Encourage your staff to seek knowledge to enhance their opinion and perhaps also educate themselves on the need to be vaccinated.

Explain to staff that making vaccination mandatory is not to force people to get vaccinated but rather to enable them to take a step into ensuring they are protected against this deadly virus.

* Devan Moonsamy is the CEO of ICHAF Training Institute, a South African TVET College. He is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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