Gartner Research

Executive Pulse: Vaccine Complexities Lengthen the Path to “Normal”

Published: 28 January 2021


Executive leaders are bracing for organizational risks and uncertainties over the widespread distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations. Sensing a slower return to normal, most are figuring out how to nudge employees, rather than mandate vaccinations.

Fast word on tactics and concerns from thousands participating in our calls and polls.

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COVID-19 vaccines are real now but organizations aren’t expecting the rollout to accelerate the timing or nature of a ramp-up in business operations. Quite the opposite, in fact, at least for now — executives are pushing back their expectations of when their companies will resume activities such as work in offices or travel to see clients. And few are sure about how the inoculations will figure in their planning, given a raft of risks and challenges.

Over the space of just six weeks, global enterprise leaders have tempered their optimism about when business operations will return to a semblance of normal.

Comparing quick polls of global executives in a variety of leadership roles conducted on 16 December 2020 and then on 27 January 2021:

  • There was a 10% drop in those predicting “normal” begins in the first half of 2021 and a 10% drop for those anticipating the second half of 2021.

  • There was a 16% rise in those predicting “normal” will return sometime in 2022 and a 4% rise in those saying it will be years from now (if ever).

At this point, more than half predict that “normal” will unfold in the third or fourth quarter of 2021, but that’s down from 62% (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Return to Normal Predictions Pushed Back

Nearly seven in 10 of 130 global enterprise leaders said they weren’t sure their organization will incorporate vaccine issues in their overall strategic planning. Less than a third (30%) told us their organization is definitely including it. Another 32% are either undecided or don’t know yet and 8% say vaccines will definitely or likely not figure in their planning. Just 30% said it’s likely that the vaccine will be a consideration.

For those that do (or will) devote attention to vaccine impacts on their business, the lineup of decision makers is taking shape. Nine in 10 HR leaders globally responding to our poll this week say they are participating or expect to be involved in setting vaccine strategy (see Figure 2). They identified the general counsel and CEO as the two other most prominent players.

Figure 2. Who Is or Will Be Involved in Setting Your Organization’s COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy?

Fifty-seven percent of legal leaders in December and January told us the biggest vaccine-related risks faced by the organization are liabilities related to internal vaccines policies — or to employee refusals to comply, such as a hospital worker not taking the vaccine.

They are also bracing for other challenges, including:

  • Employee sensitivity to organization policies which could lose their trust and damage engagement (46%)

  • Logistical constraints in the supply chain and administration leading to a slow and uneven vaccine rollout (44%)

  • Unclear state-by-state vaccine access and distribution plans (42%)

  • Unequal vaccine eligibility among the workforce (33%)

  • Public distrust of the vaccine preventing virus eradication (33%) (see Figure 3)

Figure 3. Top Vaccine-Related Risks

Nine in ten of HR leaders say their organization will encourage employees to get vaccinated, but only 4% say the enterprise will require it as a condition for returning to the office. Most are in the business of nudging by:

  • Providing resources on where and how to get vaccinated (77%)

  • Covering or subsidizing the costs of the vaccine for employees (67%)

  • Creating an internal communications campaign on the benefits of the vaccine (66%)

  • Giving employees time off to get vaccinated (51%) (see Figure 4) (Dollar General, ALDI and Darden restaurants have publicly announced they are doing so for U.S. employees.)

Figure 4. As a COVID-19 Vaccine Becomes Available in the Coming Months, Which of the Following Actions Does Your Organization Plan to Take?

Over half of HR leaders (52%) say they’re actively developing a plan to communicate guidance to employees, but a quarter (24%) haven’t begun yet.

  • Only 12% already have the plan in place or near completion.

  • Seven percent are waiting (and relying upon) a plan from their healthcare or benefits providers.

  • Five percent will avoid issuing guidance altogether.

About three-quarters of HR leaders tell us they plan to gather information from employees to build a better picture of what might hold workers back from getting a shot. Their tactics include:

  • Conducting employee surveys asking about their willingness (32%) or their top vaccine concerns (21%)

  • Asking HR business partners or managers about their perceptions based on discussions with their teams (31%)

  • Getting data on employee vaccination uptake (based on currently eligibility) from benefits or healthcare providers (29%)

  • Relying on external data about vaccination rates or employee willingness (28%) (see Figure 5)

Figure 5. How Are You Monitoring or Will You Monitor Employees’ Willingness to Get COVID-19 Vaccinations?

  • HR

  • Legal

  • Communications

Compiled by Daniel Ryntjes

Contact with any questions or comments.

Recommended by the Authors

(The Resilient Enterprise)


Taking Action on COVID-19 (Darden website)


Daniel Ryntjes

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