Workforce Wire

57% of workers support a mandatory Covid-19 vaccine for return to office: CNBC Survey

Key Points
  • The Q4 2020 CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workforce Happiness Survey finds a partisan political divide over the issue of Covid-19 vaccinations and the workplace.
  • Overall, a majority of workers say they would support a requirement for all colleagues to be vaccinated, especially older workers.
  • But support from Democrats is at 75%, while 41% of Republicans say they strongly oppose it.
Here's how American workers feel about employers mandating the vaccine
Here's how American workers feel about employers mandating the vaccine

A majority of workers (57%) in the latest CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workforce Happiness Survey say they would support a requirement that everyone at their workplace or office receive a Covid-19 vaccination soon after it becomes available to the public. While political leaders in the U.S. have been hesitant to make sweeping regulations related to the coronavirus, business leaders may be in a unique position that would allow them to enforce strict measures in their work environments. 

Public health professionals have been clear that vaccinations are the key to fully reopening businesses, workplaces, and schools. In the new poll of more than 9,000 workers nationwide, conducted Nov. 30 to Dec. 7, nearly four in 10 workers (39%) say they are still not fully back to the office, including 22% who are still working fully from home. 

But company leaders and HR teams are in a bind: without a fully vaccinated workforce, they can't guarantee the safety of their employees, and yet many workers are still hesitant to get the vaccine — and even more are nervous about being forced to do so by their employer.

Age is a factor in vaccine views

Workers in some white collar industries are a bit more likely than others to support requiring vaccinations among their colleagues. Those working in consulting and research (68%), entertainment and leisure (67%), and technology (64%) are some of the most in favor of requiring vaccinations before returning to work. 

Workers in the health care and pharmaceuticals industries are no more likely than workers overall to favor requiring workers to be inoculated before returning to work (57%).

Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester from Northwell Health at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, U.S., December 14, 2020.
Mark Lennihan | Reuters

Danielle Lombard-Sims, Chief Human Resources Officer for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and a member of the CNBC Workforce Executive Council, says her organization is allowing employees to opt-in rather than requiring vaccinations.

"We have been extremely impressed with how our workers are responding, as many of them have indeed opted in. We provided over 500 vaccinations in 1 day, and anticipate having the first allocation of 2,000 Covid-19 vaccinations provided by the end of the week," Lombard-Sims says.

Workers age 65 and older (73%) are much more likely than their younger cohorts to support requiring vaccinations before they return to the workplace, especially compared with workers 35-44, just 51% of whom support the idea. 

Age is a major factor in worker views on mandatory workplace vaccination, though it is not just older employees. The youngest working demographic is among the most likely to support a Covid-19 vaccine requirement.

By race, White and Black workers are equally likely to support requiring vaccinations among their colleagues, while Hispanic workers and — by the largest margin — Asian workers are significantly more likely to be in favor of requiring vaccinations.

Partisan politics drives vaccine sentiment

But, like so much else in 2020, partisanship is the real driver of differences in opinion. Three quarters of Democrats (75%) support requiring vaccinations at their workplace once they become widely available, compared with just 41% of Republicans; independents fall right in the middle, with 55% in favor of requiring vaccinations. 

Even more drastic, 41% of Republicans say they "strongly" oppose a requirement that all colleagues get vaccinated soon after it becomes available, reflecting a degree of polarization that will make it difficult for companies to craft vaccination policies. 

Views on vaccination and safe return to the workplace break sharply among employees based on their political party, and that echoes other recent polling that shows the influence of partisanship when it comes to the issue of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Plenty of polling bolsters this new evidence that partisanship has seeped into the debate around vaccinations, driving a deep wedge between Republicans and Democrats. In the latest Axios-Ipsos coronavirus index, 26% of Republicans but just 17% of Democrats and 18% of independents say they would refuse to get a Covid-19 vaccine. 

The new COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor Report from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that vaccine hesitancy is higher among Republicans (42%) than among any other cohort, including by partisanship, age, race, and geography. 

SurveyMonkey's own polling in partnership with Outbreaks Near Me, a joint team of epidemiologists from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, shows that 60% of Democrats but just 42% of Republicans would want to receive the new Covid-19 vaccine right away. 

Discrepancies in the results noted above are largely due to the many varied ways that pollsters are asking about vaccine hesitancy, which in turn reflect the competing public opinion factors related to receiving a vaccine. As laid out in the SurveyMonkey and Outbreaks Near Me data, concerns range from those related to risks of bad side effects or allergies, to a fear of needles, to religious concerns, and on.

80% of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity: Fauci
80% of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity: Fauci

But political concerns are prevalent, too, and these are reflected in much more than just the hesitancy to receive a vaccine. Data from the Pew Research Center finds a 19-point gap (69% to 50%) between Republicans and Democrats who say they would get vaccinated for the coronavirus. In addition, they find similar partisan differences in the number of people who say they are "bothered" when people around them in public do not wear face masks and in the number who are "bothered" when stores require shoppers to wear face coverings. 

Fundamentally, the Pew data point to a bigger underlying problem: that of a lack of agreement across partisan lines on basic facts related to the severity of the pandemic and the related trust in political and scientific institutions. According to the Pew report, about half as many Republicans as Democrats consider the outbreak to be a threat to public health (43% vs. 84%). Further, just 22% of Republicans say they have a great deal of confidence in scientists, compared with 55% of Democrats. 

For CEOs and human resources professionals, the return to work is already a fraught endeavor, and factoring in political considerations adds yet another challenge. Though most workers have now returned to work in-person, at least part of the time, business leaders will want to do everything they can to maintain the trust of their workforce. In this environment, that may mean strict requirements on vaccinations, despite the downside. Whether they want to or not, some employees will perceive this as a politically-driven decision, not just a safety precaution.

The Q4 2020 CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workforce Happiness Survey was conducted across 9,209 Americans from Nov. 30-Dec. 7 using SurveyMonkey's online platform and based on its survey methodology.