Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is increasingly becoming a common requirement to return to work in person. In recent weeks, major employers like Disney and Walmart, as well as government agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon, have issued mandates. California this week became the first state to require all teachers and school staff to be vaccinated or face regular testing.
But how do employees feel about these regulations? A new survey by the software company Qualtrics offers insights into how COVID-19 vaccine mandates — or the lack thereof — may inspire people to quit their jobs.
Who’s Considering Quitting?
Not having a vaccine mandate is a major turn-off for a significant number of people. During the first week of August, Qualtrics polled a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 Americans in full- and part-time jobs in industries including tech, government, media, retail, education, finance and health care. The results are set to be published next week.
The majority of U.S. workers — 60% — supported a vaccine mandate for in-person work.
This aligns with other recent polling that has found vaccine mandates to be a popular requirement for employment, especially for industries in which people are likely to regularly interact with others. A July-August Economist/YouGov poll found that more than 60% of Americans support mandatory vaccinations for front-line workers, including prison guards, police officers, teachers, medical providers, the military and members of Congress.
Some employees are willing to stake their jobs on a vaccine mandate. Thirty-seven percent of professionals surveyed by Qualtrics said they would consider quitting if their employer doesn’t mandate vaccines for in-person work.
But there is also a large number of people who said they would be willing to quit if there was a vaccine mandate at their job. The Qualtrics poll found that 44% of employees surveyed said they would consider quitting if their employer required vaccinations, up from 39% in a March survey that asked the same question.
“There is definitely this tug-of-war happening internally at the person-level, but also within companies, about whether it’s right for a company to have a vaccine mandate,” said Ben Granger, an organizational psychologist and employee experience expert at Qualtrics.
He said he wasn’t sure why the number of the people willing to quit if their job mandated a COVID-19 vaccine increased over the summer, but that his “educated guess” is that breakthrough infections and the rise of the delta variant may have created mistrust in the efficacy of a vaccine mandate.
It could also be that unvaccinated Americans simply have a negative reaction to being told they have to get a COVID-19 vaccine. A July poll that found that most Americans who have not already gotten a vaccine do not want one.
Backlash to the idea of vaccine mandates is to be expected, said Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University. But he does not expect this group of would-be quitters to follow through and actually resign in high numbers.
“When push comes to shove and it’s no longer a hypothetical and they see the vast majority of their co-workers willing to roll up their sleeves, most will do the same,” he said. “It will be the rare exception that someone will quit.”
Who Wants A Vaccine Mandate?
Employees in the technology sector felt strongest about mandating a vaccine for in-person work. Two-thirds of tech workers said they supported a vaccine mandate at work, while only 58% of government workers and 59% of retail workers said the same.
Respondents who were younger, Black, Democrats and male were more likely than those in other groups to say they would consider quitting if there wasn’t a vaccine mandate at their job. Forty-three percent of men said they would consider leaving for this reason, compared to 32% of women in the survey.
Over half of Black professionals said they would consider quitting without a vaccine mandate, but only 33% percent of their white peers said the same. The survey was limited, and did not have statistically enough Asian and Latinx respondents to have their answers shared.
When asked about this finding, Jelani Kerr, a health equity researcher and associate professor at the University of Louisville, said there would need to be deeper research to have more conclusive answers. However, Kerr noted that “more recently, we are seeing more studies of larger shares of Black people who are taking the vaccine. That signals heightened interest, heightened awareness, and that may help explain what is going on with that.”
Younger professionals felt the strongest about having a vaccine mandate. While 48% of respondents ages 25 and under would consider leaving their jobs if they were asked to return to work without a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, only 39% of workers ages 26 to 40, 36% of workers 41 to 55, and 31% of baby boomers 56 years and older said they would consider doing the same.
Younger generations are more likely than older generations to deal with the gig economy and unstable labor markets, and that may explain why they are more willing to leave a job that does not align with their values.
“Perhaps, with the precarity, comes a group of individuals who may be much more flexible in their thinking about leaving employment situations that they may feel don’t serve them well,” Kerr said.
When told that Black young male professionals were the demographic most likely to consider quitting without a workplace mandate, Gostin said it challenged vaccine hesitancy myths.
“What it is telling me is that they are making a wise choice. People of color, and African Americans in particular, have had a disproportionately high burden of COVID, and they are opting for safety,” he said. “It’s an enormously encouraging sign for our vaccination program and it sweeps away the prejudgment that African Americans are more resistant to the vaccine.”
Overall, Granger said the survey speaks to the importance of companies keeping employees up to date about vaccine mandate decisions. He said companies shouldn’t just wait until they have a decision to communicate their plans. Instead, he recommends that employers tell employees what factors they are relying on to make a decision.
“Part of that should be what their employees think about it, how their employees feel about their physical safety and their personal safety,” he said.