How to lead a divided workforce

In a time when the well being and security of a firm’s workforce are at stake, enterprise leaders are grappling with much more twists and turns on this pandemic saga. From starting to see the cumulative, long-term results of COVID-19 to the every day chaos of the extremely transmittable delta variant (and the promise of others to come). To altering plans for a way and when firms will carry their workers again to the workplace and now, tackling mandates.

Underneath U.S. President Biden’s six-pronged strategy to help end the pandemic, companies with greater than 100 workers will likely be required to guarantee their workforce is totally vaccinated or require those that stay unvaccinated to produce a damaging check outcome on at the least a weekly foundation earlier than coming to work.  Moreover, employers should present paid time without work for workers to get vaccinated and get well from any post-vaccination signs. 

Day to day, leaders are confronted with an ever-changing actuality. However one fixed stays: We’re residing, working, and main in a extremely divisive time, with a workforce that’s undergone large trauma and upheaval, formed by a international pandemic, altered by developments in know-how, and calls for company conviction and motion. 


Many have misplaced family members, jobs, financial safety. Others have assumed the position of caretaker or trainer, whereas working full-time. Compounded with social and civil unrest, occasions are demanding and for a lot of, life feels unmanageable. And it’s unlikely to change quickly. 

Now’s the chance for leaders to take motion and redefine a new enterprise setting. Workers are trying to leaders to assist finish the pandemic. In truth, 80% of Individuals consider companies ought to play a position in bringing COVID to an finish, in accordance to Weber Shandwick’s analysis. The onus is on leaders to assist lead us out.   

The vaccination debate continues

Eight months after the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in the United States, a little more than half of the U.S. population has been being totally vaccinated.1 As a nation, we’re making progress however we’ve rather more work to do. Employers included. 

From masks necessities to vaccine mandates to taking a stance on societal and environmental points, employers are confronted with massive choices and challenges together with having an energetic position in encouraging vaccinations. Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Analysis and United Minds, has been monitoring tendencies and modifications all through the pandemic. One very clear reality is that deep divisions stay inside our society. Divisions of opinion, of consolation ranges and understanding, of politics, of DEI points, and of public well being issues, all of which lead to a extra polarized, advanced actuality. 

Since March 2020, many months earlier than employers started instituting vaccine mandates, our survey knowledge confirmed employers have earned unprecedented confidence. Round 70% of workers working remotely stated their employers put security above income since early within the pandemic. Nevertheless, vaccinations have since turn out to be a fault line. The vaccinated don’t need to be with the unvaccinated. And vaccinated Individuals are favoring companies with vaccinated workforces. 

Throughout completely different sectors, a majority of those that are vaccinated want to go to a enterprise the place they know all workers are vaccinated (50% to 70%, relying on the enterprise in query) versus a enterprise the place the choice is left to workers. And when it comes to returning to the workplace, 69% of these surveyed in August don’t want to be within the workplace full-time, with 39% preferring to completely work at home. Amongst these employed, if their employer doesn’t require all workers to get a vaccination or present proof of a damaging check outcome to go into work, 40% will likely be very snug doing so, adopted by 29% feeling considerably snug. And amongst these working remotely, 43% will likely be nervous and 41% will likely be careworn if their employer requires them to go into work when different workers aren’t required to be vaccinated or present proof of a damaging check outcome. 


Our newest polling additionally exhibits bipartisan help for employer vaccine mandates or assessments that guarantee protected workplaces: 78% of Democrats, 57% of Republicans and 48% of Independents. 

Alternative to bridge cultural and societal divides

Past the good vaccination effort, in the present day, companies have a position to play in constructing consensus and making progress. From being a company advocate to actively bridging societal divides. 

What’s extra: Workers count on motion and can maintain their employer accountable in the event that they don’t apply what they preach. Primarily based on our analysis, half of customers have taken half in a boycott and 65% have made a buying choice primarily based on a firm’s response to the compounding crises of 2020.  Generationally talking, the youngest members of the workforce need motion with 53% of Gen Z’s and 64% of Millennials stating that companies ought to play a position in bridging societal divisions.

4 steps to navigate divisions

Not like the 2008 disaster when enterprise was perceived as a wrongdoer, in the present day there’s unprecedented confidence in employers. Because the starting of the pandemic, workers have had a excessive diploma of confidence in employers, and in accordance to our August polling, 61% of customers and 65% of workers consider employers are a constructive pressure for optimistic change.

With confidence in companies to lead, what’s subsequent for enterprise leaders? The place do they go from right here? What’s high precedence for main their workforce? And the way do they guarantee the way forward for their enterprise tradition is as inclusive as it’s protected and profitable?

Begin right here:

Prioritize worker security. Proceed to put the well being and security of your workers above all else. Embrace a mandate for vaccines and articulate your dedication to offering a protected setting for all.

Hear like by no means earlier than. Your workforce is beneath monumental stress as uncertainty continues. Our August polling knowledge exhibits psychological well being and burnout as key considerations with 58% of workers worrying about their psychological well being and wellness and 49% experiencing work burnout. Workers  need their considerations to be heard. At the start, this requires listening. Be empathetic and clear in decision-making and observe the values and ideas that information your online business. Present most flexibility and provides workers time to regulate.

State convictions. Take a stance and talk what that stance is, usually. Floor it in your values, not your positions on issues-stay above politics. And ensure to handle those that received’t agree with you immediately; present understanding for a completely different standpoint whereas asserting with conviction.

Reveal values and encourage loyalty. Guarantee enterprise actions mirror range of opinions and ideas and are inclusive of the competing pursuits of all stakeholders. Be ready to defend choices made; there is no such thing as a frictionless path. 

The best check lies forward

The connection between work and household, employer and worker, and enterprise and society have been endlessly modified, as has the essence of management. To lead you need to not simply have interaction stakeholders, you need to stability competing pursuits and earn their loyalty. 


In a time of accelerating pessimism, COVID fatigue, and declining belief in authorities, workers proceed to look to their employers for solutions. And 63% of all adults (up 16 factors from Might polling) agree that ending the coronavirus pandemic is a essential concern for companies and leaders to assist resolve. 

This fall, companies will face considered one of their best assessments. How leaders select to act is their name. However the knowledge is evident. Workers trust that enterprise can lead the way in which out of this pandemic. And a new technology expects no much less.

Micho Spring is chair of Weber Shandwick’s World Company Apply.