Who will deliver ‘the jab’ message in your workplace? Make sure it’s not an abrasive leader

By Michael Plowright

Thursday August 19, 2021

Right now in every Australian workplace, everything must be done to maximise trust and minimise further distress about COVID vaccinations.
Right now in every Australian workplace, everything must be done to maximise trust and minimise further distress about COVID vaccinations. (Monkey Business/Adobe)

COVID19 vaccinations are rightly at the forefront of conversations in every Australian public, NPO and private workplace. Returning to a level of normality is the aim with Fair Work Australia, state and federal governments together with the legal sector navigating the minefield of mandates and regulations

A crucial element around vaccination communications is not just the message/s themselves but who will deliver them and how. Whether vaccinations are mandated or not is only part of the current challenges facing private and public workplaces.

The other challenge is ensuring that the leader or manager who delivers all health and vaccination messages has a positive leadership temperament and sensitive communication skills.  If an abrasive or dogmatic leader is chosen, it could be the difference between a surge of workplace conflict and additional bullying claims or not.

Surveys indicate differing opinions

Current data indicates that the majority of Australians are in support of mandatory vaccinations. A recent RACGP survey via Core Data reports that 68.8% of Australians “strongly” or “somewhat strongly” support compulsory vaccinations. Further, a survey commissioned by the industry body Restaurant & Catering Australia reported 63% of Australian’s support mandatory vaccinations for employees.

There are various other surveys showing approximately one third of Australian workers do not support mandatory vaccinations. And whilst the discussions continue and policies and regulations debated, there will always be the need for a delicate communication strategy.

This played out acutely in the recent SPC vaccine mandate, with unions and several workers up in arms.

Every workplace must diligently assess the right person to deliver all messages to minimise dissent and maximise acceptance.  And they must not be abrasive leaders.

Who are abrasive leaders?

Abrasive leaders are men and women in positions of authority across all levels of public and private sectors who have a history of rubbing up staff and stakeholders the wrong way. Their mannerisms and communication style cause emotional distress because it is combative and autocratic with no third-person perspective.

Most public and private workplaces are fully aware who their abrasive leaders are, through persistent inappropriate behaviours. These leaders don’t listen, they cut off debate and regularly humiliate with poorly judged humour.

They have a reputation as being unapproachable in the best of times, often making up their own rules without collaboration. Often HR or other managers are aware of informal complaints but there has been no action to address the behaviours.

Such leaders are not the people who should be delivering highly charged messages of whatever policy or regulations your workplace chooses to implement.

Every workplace will contain individuals who are resistant to vaccines and other health messages. These are mostly driven from fear due to a myriad of reasons, including losing freedoms of choice through to valid medical and health concerns.

An abrasive leader will exacerbate fears, leading to conflict and division at best and bullying claims at worst.

Choosing an appropriate leader to deliver vaccine and health messages

The leader who is designated to deliver health and vaccination messages must have a non combative and engaging manner. Their level of trust and respect in situ in the workplace is essential to maximise uptake. The leader chosen must be a strong listener, empathetic and able to steer dialogue and distress calmly.

In the overall context, the Fair Work Commission encourages employers and employees to work together to find a collaborative approach of “discussing, planning and facilitating” COVID vaccines in the workplace. Worksafe Australia legislation asks all employers to consult with employees about all COVID19 and control measures.

Staff who are fearful of vaccinations need to be heard as to why they are resistant. Therefore the leader must have an open mind perspective to address concerns with trust. Influence and inspiration not coercion is the goal.

An abrasive leader who doesn’t listen and cuts off others off is likely to miss why there is reluctance and finding a solution that could work for all parties.

A solution may be as simple as asking a qualified medical professional to present in your workplace to answer employee questions. Or offering paid time off to get the jab to convey appreciation of workers financial stress is also valuable. Empathy to all varying situations and issues will create a strong sense of workplace trust and acceptance to act.

A key to identifying the appropriate leader is to draw on the workplace internal knowledge bank.  Check with HR, Health & Safety and other key employees for their honest feedback and do not hesitate at any point.

The stakes are high

The risk of having a leader who already has palpable staff pushback and dissent will increase the risk of additional bullying and harassment claims. And right now in every public and private Australian workplace, everything must be done to maximise trust and minimise further distress.  

The stakes are just so high and emotions and confusion running rampant. So a leader who has a soothing, strong and confident leadership style and manner is the only person to deliver these messages for positive impact.


Challenging the narrative that public sector workplace bullies cannot change

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