By Amanda Schiavo for Benefit News

The workplace has dramatically evolved over the course of the last two years, and as employers prepare for the new year, they’ll need to take into account how employees’ priorities have shifted if they want to attract and retain top talent.

Issues like greater flexibility, permanent remote work, greater investments into mental health support and more focus on diversity and equality are top priorities for employees in 2022, according to Anu Karwa, vice president of people operations at video content creation platform, Socialive. In order to combat the great resignation, employers will need to lead, not follow, in these areas.

“To create an environment that lets people shine and be their authentic selves, practice inclusive leadership and respect everyone’s perspectives, opinions and diverse voices,” she says. “We will begin to see concrete changes being implemented to make a difference with deeper and more thoughtful approaches.”

Karwa shared six predictions regarding some workplace trends she expects employers will see in 2022.

Hybrid work is sticking around
Karwa anticipates that remote work is here to stay, and flexibility will be key. Employees will set their own work hours and employers will need to adjust their hybrid work policies to encourage collaboration from everywhere.

“In 2022, to accommodate more employees starting and ending the work day at different times, organizations will need to optimize hybrid work processes to ensure consistent employee engagement and enhance productivity,” she says.

Meetings will be revamped
Instead of ineffective video calls, employers can experiment with recording short, informative videos with detailed explanations of what is expected, cutting down on the need to coordinate schedules, Karwa says.

Employees will be able to go back and review these videos when they have questions, eliminating “inefficient follow-up meetings that interrupt schedules and allowing for more heads-down work time and increased productivity,” she says.

Diversity and inclusion will take centre stage
Going into 2022, employers will need to realise that employees don’t want lip service when it comes to their diversity and inclusion efforts — they want real actionable changes.

“Employees will expect ongoing initiatives that are visible throughout every part of their company, making DEI practices normal, not outliers,” Karwa says.

The focus will be on keeping women at work
As women make their way back into the workforce, employers will need to put policies in place that will have a significant positive impact, like flexibility and even part-time work, Karwa says. This will allow them to manage their jobs and home responsibilities.

“We’ll see employers provide more scheduling flexibility for working mothers and create more part-time roles than they ever have before,” she says. “More hybrid organisations, in particular, will convert unused space into childcare centres, which will enable more women to participate in the workforce.”

Digital tools will combat the great resignation
While it may be tough to conduct in-person interviews right now, that doesn’t mean prospective employees don’t need to get a feel for the company’s atmosphere. Potential hires want to connect with their future colleagues, and employers will be turning to more engaging video and audio content in 2022, Karwa says.

“Employers will need to find ways to display their culture in a way that is both virtual and real,” she says.

Leaders must recognise and address employee burnout
Employees expect their organisations to take a holistic approach to their overall well-being, and addressing mental health concerns is a big part of that. Employees want to know their workplace leaders understand they are struggling and provide them with benefits and solutions that can help them tackle their emotional stress.

“Companies will no longer be able to implement quick-fix, band-aid-style approaches to resolve deeper issues that result in burnout,” Karwa says. “The entire leadership team at forward-thinking companies will address the root causes that are leading to poor employee engagement and turnover.”

 

How to regain your office productivity

Focusing in the office has long been difficult, especially since companies became evangelical about knocking down walls in the name of open plan collaboration and lowering costs. But now, after nearly two years at home for many people, the return can feel almost designed to undermine your productivity.

“We have to relearn how to work in an office for eight hours,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design consultancies.

“It brings into stark relief just how noisy and disruptive the office can be. Our remote work settings certainly weren’t always havens of peace and concentration either – but many of us adjusted.

“Now, sitting near our co-workers again feels odd: there’s so much movement, collaboration and talk. Background noises now seem to sound louder. Co-workers have 18 months of gossip to share. There are still dozens of Zoom calls clogging your calendar and your commute now eats into the hour you once used to tame your inbox.”

So how do you get work done?

Trim noted the problem is when we’re just using our brains to think it looks like we’re not doing anything. “You need a signal that tells your colleagues that you’re working.

“Close the door if you have one, put on headphones, attach a flag to your desk and flip it up when you’re heads-down on a project,” Trim advised.

“Then, honour and reinforce the signal. If someone knocks, politely tell them you’re busy and ask them to come back when the door is open. If you’re a manager, try creating office hours, periods where your team can come to you for help.”

Trim pointed out that she is advising many companies on office redesigns to meet the now even greater need for people to have quiet spaces for work. “Before Covid, managers didn’t always see the need for quiet places for uninterrupted working but now it’s what workers expect. Many companies are putting in additional focus rooms to allow people in specific areas to work uninterrupted or to take zoom calls in the office.”

Employees who have some flexibility on their in-office days can also use hybrid schedules to their advantage.

“Save work that requires deep concentration for home. And certain tasks – editing a shared document with colleagues, tackling confidential conversations – are also better done remotely,” Trim says.

But the office is now even more essential for bonding time: there is a really pent up need now for people to reconnect with colleagues and meet new colleagues for the first time.

“There needs to be some type of outlet for workers to talk and socialise. We as humans have an evolutionary need to feel a sense of belonging. Relationships grew too transactional when everything was online,” says Trim.

“Meeting face-to-face has helped people be more honest with one another and assume good intentions when projects hit snags for instance.”

She adds it was also particularly important for younger, less experienced workers to get back to the office to learn from senior colleagues while absorbing the company culture.

By Greg Gatherer, Account Manager at Liferay

In today’s competitive world, brand loyalty is no longer a guarantee for digital businesses. Customers are increasingly making purchases based on the experience that companies offer, rather than on the products or the prices. This means that customer experience has become a major differentiator for digital businesses.

Companies must find innovative ways to distinguish their offerings through the entire customer lifecycle, including later stages that still have untapped opportunities for engagement.

Customer experience doesn’t end after purchase

People have grown accustomed to doing their own research on products before engaging with a brand. Key findings from a Gartner customer experience survey show that 82% of smartphone users consult their phones before they make a purchase in-store. This means that the opportunities a company has to influence customers in the early stages of the customer lifecycle are being cut down.

But there are still ample opportunities to reach out to new customers post-purchase and continue to engage them as a way of preparing them for the next purchase with your company. Research has shown that existing customers are both easier to sell to and more profitable than new customers.

Rather than focusing on narrowing opportunities to influence new customers, businesses should find ways to nurture their existing customers, ultimately turning them into advocates that will come back to purchase again and again.

Changes in customer loyalty

If existing customers are so profitable, why do businesses neglect them in favor of new customers? Often, the answer comes down to the changing nature of customer loyalty and how difficult it is to turn people into repeat customers.

Companies used to be able to develop lifelong brand loyalty in their customers through big campaigns or traditional loyalty programs. The idea of lifelong brand fans meant that loyalty was defined as buying solely from that brand— like a staunch supporter of Coca-Cola that refused to drink Pepsi.

Now, it is incredibly easy for customers to switch brands, and they don’t hesitate to exert that right. Millennials will cite anything from poor customer experience to feeling that a brand no longer fits their identity as reasons for moving on from a previously favourite brand. Experiences are what earn customers’ loyalty today, and businesses will need to adjust their strategies in order to account for this reality. The more information and differentiators companies are able to offer with their experiences, the more loyal customers will be.

These four strategies will help you focus your efforts on engaging your existing customers in a way that creates loyalty for your brand.

1. Collect the right data

Companies need to collect information that is actionable, not just interesting. There’s no value in asking customers to give up personal details if that data cannot be analysed for new ways to advance your business. Companies would do better to focus on tracking behaviours that give them a better understanding of their customers.

With detailed insight, companies can choose to alert store reps, confirm product availability before customers show up, offer free delivery if they give online purchasing a try, or send a reminder that, if the customer comes in a day early, they’ll be able to take advantage of the store’s annual sale. These are the kinds of detailed insights that differentiate experiences, the way a mom and pop shop would be able to simply by familiarity with its customers.

2. Go beyond segmenting

One of the benefits of refocusing on engaging existing customers is that you have an opportunity to gain deeper insights by continuing to collect and analyse data over time. Track the way customer behavior changes throughout repeat purchases, and use that to inform the experience you’re creating for new customers. Eventually, you should also be able to use this data to more accurately identify who your top customers are, and what it is that keeps them consistently engaged with your company.

3. Turn service culture into a process

Great customer experience often comes down to a story about exceptional one-on-one employee-customer interactions.

Part of great customer experience is maintaining consistency across interactions through the use of technology. Take a local coffee shop as an example; if its customers pay through a mobile app, the store will automatically have a record of their usual orders. If that information is shared with the POS system when the customer walks into the store, then it doesn’t matter if they come at a different time of day or go to a different location — the cashier still knows their usual order. Customers have access to the same great experience, and it’s consistent for all customers, instead of being dependent on the regular cashier remembering a customer’s face and preferences.

4. Integrate loyalty initiatives into your digital strategy

The goal of focusing on existing customers is still to drive profit through excellent service, and that might look different than a traditional loyalty programme. Companies need to assess the success of loyalty initiatives within the context of their entire digital strategy, rather than assuming loyalty programs will be profitable on their own.

The future of customer experience

As new digital channels open up, companies will need to be prepared to manage data in a way that eliminates noise and focuses on valuable insights that can enhance the customer experience. Digital leaders are focusing heavily on transforming their companies so that their technology solutions are part of a unified platform. Business systems need to be able to tap into the many disparate touchpoints customers are interacting with and process that data quickly and efficiently. The future of customer experience depends on taking this detailed customer knowledge to scale, and using that to consistently deliver personalised experiences at the individual level. Data not only matters, it is thought to be among the most precious assets most organisations have.

At the end of the year – and especially this year – companies and management teams usually take stock of how the company has performed. With the tough times that many businesses have been plagued with recently, many aren’t able to afford big bonuses or any monetary rewards at all.

There are, however, other ways that you can reward staff at the end of this year and even throughout next year.

Here are five ways that you can reward employees even if you don’t have a lot of money:

Gift vouchers

If full bonuses are off the cards right now but your staff still deserve a reward, consider vouchers as a. token of appreciation that can be given to employees. They can be anything from a massage to a retail store and more. Think outside the box. You could even purchase a voucher from a service like SweepSouth, which will give your staff some time back too. Having a Sweep Star in their home to help with household duties or maintenance on the house will take one thing off their list to worry about at the end of the day.

Treat them to a big team lunch

Team lunches or dinners are great for morale and an excellent way to reward staff at the end of the year. Use the opportunity to speak up and thank them for their hard work. But make it a special meal don’t go to the restaurant up the road and order pizzas. Look for ways to make a lunch or dinner something unique. For example, you could have a picnic somewhere or put a unique spin on the standard company lunch, with a brunch such as the Dubai-style brunch at Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront. Already being Dubai-style makes it unique in that it’s hosted from 1pm to 4pm on selected Saturdays and other days of the week if you’re booking it for year-end, but it’s also unlike any other brunch. Many brunch selections are simply breakfast meals but the Radisson takes it up several notches. You will have to book to experience it for yourself!

Give them a new space to work in

This one is especially for the parents who have been working from home for most of the year. If you can, gift staff with a change of scenery to kick off the year. Take a look at co-working spaces in your city and see which ones suit your company best. It doesn’t have to be every day, of course. It could be a day a week for a month. Serviced office space, The Business Exchange, has recently opened in Cape Town’s Waterfront and has a few office spaces in Johannesburg. It’s worth looking into if you are based in these cities!

Allocate extra leave days

You might not have money to give, but you can reward your staff with additional time off. And who doesn’t love extra leave days? Multinational public relations agency, Irvine Partners, recently took the decision to reward its staff with five extra leave days every year.

“Our team has worked tirelessly around the clock, across different time zones all year,” says Hayley van der Woude, MD of Irvine Partners. “It was important for us to be able to show our team that we value their hard work, while also encouraging a better work/life balance. Extra leave days was a tangible way to show this.”

Reward the best-performing team members

If you can’t afford to reward everyone, reward the best-performing members of your team. This will not only give them a hard-earned prize, but it will also incentivise the rest of the team. It could be a big reward such as a holiday package at a top hotel in the country or city. Kruger Shalati: The Train on the Bridge, for example, sells vouchers that you can purchase for others. As one of the top tourism establishments in the Kruger National Park, it will surely be a well-received reward for hard work.

 

Remote working is here to stay

Source: IOL

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the corporate world has seen a huge move towards remote working or, at the very least, more people working from home more often.

And considering this trend has been in place across the world for almost two years, there is strong belief that it is here to stay, forever altering the office property market as we know it.

Some professionals are even refusing to return to the office or to accept new positions at companies which insist they work on site.

This presents corporates across the globe with a dilemma, and it is playing out differently from company to company. Some are luring top talent simply by allowing them to work remotely.

The compromise appears to be a hybrid approach which allows employees to work from home a stipulated number of days a week.

International trends

PwC’s US Remote Work Survey, released in January, found that remote work had been an overwhelming success for both employees and employers, with 83% of employers saying the shift had been successful for their company, compared to 73% in its June 2020 survey.

Fewer than one in five executives say they want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic. “The rest are grappling with how widely to extend remote work options, with just 13% of executives prepared to let go of the office for good.”

The survey also found that real estate portfolios are in transition, with 87% of executives expecting to make changes to their real estate strategy over the next 12 months. These plans include consolidating office space in premier locations and/or opening more satellite locations.

“Over the next three years, while some executives expect to reduce office space, 56% expect to need more. These mixed findings show that some companies are planning to reinvest the remote work dividend in new ways in order to create a special experience in the office.”

In the UK, recent research released by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, similarly reveals that employers are now more likely to say that the shift to home working has boosted productivity than they were in June 2020.

The figures are, however, lower than their US counterparts, at 33% and 28% respectively. The findings are part of a new CIPD report exploring how organisations can learn from ways of working during the pandemic to make hybrid working – a mixture of working at home and on site – a success.

The CIPD stresses the need for employers to look at flexible options beyond home working, recognising that not all roles can be performed from home.

“The pandemic has shown that ways of working that previously seemed impossible are actually possible. “Organisations should take stock and carefully consider how to make hybrid working a success, rather than rushing people back to the office when there are clearly productivity benefits to home working,” says Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD.

Employee demands

Another survey, in the US by insurance company Breeze, found that the work-from-home trend as a response to the pandemic has turned into a revolution in how people want to work.

Results showed that:

• 65% would take a 5% pay cut.

• 38% would take a 10% pay cut.

• 24% would take a 15% pay cut.

• 15% would take a 25% pay cut.

• 39% would give up health insurance benefits.

• 23% would give up 50% of their paid time off. • 36% would give up their retirement plan.

• 47% would give up mental health benefits.

• 34% would give up “their right to vote in all future local and national elections for life”.

Weighing in on the remote working debate, FNB commercial property economist John Loos says remote working has been shown over many years to work well, and is getting better as technology improves. What is surprising is that some work-from-home opponents do not see the opportunity for cost reductions.

On his LinkedIn page, Loos writes: “Employees reduce costs through less commuting, time and transport. Companies reduce costs through less office space and related infrastructure.

“On top of this, surveys… suggest that the labour market may adjust in such a way that market-related salaries of remote workers may in future be lower than office-bound employees.”

The potential savings opportunities seem “huge”. “Many employees want better quality of life, and they are prepared to take a pay cut for it. The progressive companies will see opportunity and drive greater work from home. The denialists and resisters will pay higher salary bills and battle more to retain and attract top skills until the market has punished them enough. This will be the continuation of a multi-decade trend and the office property market is likely to battle and ultimately to shrink in relative size as a result.”

Corporate response

Recently, the BBC reported that, in June, Apple chief executive Tim Cook sent out a company-wide memo telling staff they would be required back in the office by early September, and workers would be expected to be present for three days a week, with two days of remote work.

But some employees pushed back with their own letter and some even quit their jobs. This trend has been unfolding in several big corporates in the US.

Others, however, have bucked the trend by offering a full or partial switch to permanent remote working. Some of these corporates, who will no doubt attract top skills looking for such working conditions, include:

Remote working looks to be the way of the future, with some on-site work part of the mix.

The future of the South African office

A recent Business Day Dialogues LIVE discussion focused on what the future holds for the South African office.

In response to lockdown restrictions imposed in 2020 many organisations moved their staff to working from home. Even as restrictions have eased, some companies have opted to move permanently to remote working, while others have opted for a hybrid model between working from home and time in the office. In some quarters there is a reticence to returning to the office full time.

Clinical psychologist and the chair of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Dr Colinde Linde said most people soon started to miss human connections during the hard lockdown. Enforced social isolation has resulted in a mental health pandemic.

Working from home suits some people, she pointed out, while others prefer an office environment or a hybrid arrangement. The challenge, she said, is not everybody has the luxury of a dedicated space to work at home where they will not be interrupted.

Irrespective of where people choose to work, work-life balance will always be a challenge, she said.

Rob Kane, CEO of Boxwood Property Fund and a board member of the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA), said declining demand for office space has had a devastating impact on certain commercial property sector nodes, including Sandton and the Cape Town CBD. However, this was a trend that was apparent even before Covid and was merely exacerbated by the pandemic.

However, he believed the work from home honeymoon is over as more employees return to the office. Although the expectation is that the office market will ultimately shrink by around 20%, he said evidence indicates that office spaces will continue to exist. However, they will become less sterile and warmer environments than in the past.

Linda Trim is a director at Giant Leap, a company which helps companies get the best out of their people by creating award winning workspaces. Innovation, creativity and speed to market are all harder to achieve when staff are working remotely, she said.

According to research conducted by Giant Leap, more than 80% of employees want to get back into the office. However, she stressed that there is no one size fits all solution and that organisations need to find a middle ground that suits them. The future office, she predicted, will offer greater flexibility and less rigidity. Work spaces need to become spaces where people want to be, offering great coffee, ergonomic furniture, enticing meeting spaces and state of the art technology.

Professor Francois Viruly, associate professor at the University of Cape Town and a non-executive director of the Accelerate Property Fund, said the danger of looking at global trends where people are returning to the office more rapidly than locally, is that you lose the local context. He agreed that working from home suited some more than others but was less than ideal for first time workers who had not had the opportunity to pick up on workplace culture or to receive the necessary support.

What the pandemic has shown us, he said, is a trailer of the future and what is possible. However, in transitioning through these possibilities, there are uncertainties as we adapt to a new environment and a new normal.

By Masechaba Sefularo for EWN

While many continue with the new normal of working from home, an Ipsos survey has found that the phenomenon takes a toll on productivity and staff morale.

The online survey, which was conducted over two days, showed that companies risked losing competitiveness as productivity slumped due to working remotely.

While many said that they enjoyed working from home, they also said that they had to contend with far more distractions.

Sixty-seven percent of the respondents quizzed on how COVID-19 had affected their work-life said that they were spending more time on domestic chores and errands while 27% admitted that they were not disciplined enough to work from home.

The survey found that younger workers, between the ages of 18 and 28, were more adversely affected by working remotely.

Respondents also highlighted issues of trust, the absence of on-the-job training and a sense of isolation, which affected team cohesion and organisational culture.

 

Hybrid work is harder than it sounds

Workers in South Africa are at a crossroads as some people return to the office and while others choose to stay home making for a complex new working model that can be difficult to get right.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “The new hybrid workplace creates a host of challenges -one the biggest is that people working in offices will have a much richer exposure to people’s behaviours and knowledge at work than the remote people. They will have a shared experience that simply isn’t available to people outside the office.”

Trim notes that at the start of the pandemic, many office workers were all in a similar position. “But now as hybrid work becomes the norm, there is a growing communications divide between the in-office and remote people. During meetings for example, we’ve noticed a tendency for office people to direct their comments to each other instead of to their screens. They would tell inside jokes and forget to call on the remote people.”

What are the top 5 solutions to these challenges?

1.Fewer screens

During remote meetings it is difficult to assess eye contact and to follow the usual back and forth between people as they communicate, often using non verbal cues. It is very difficult to gauge one-to-one communication between people during remote meetings.

Says Trim: “Our temptation when holding hybrid meetings is to have the in-person people get together in a room and each open their laptops. Instead, try to set up one camera that captures everyone in the room—their faces and bodies. This way, everyone gets access to the same nonverbal exchanges between the people in the room.”

2. Create turn-taking rules

When people first try hybrid meetings, the people present got into a quick flow of bouncing ideas off each other and drifted towards ignoring the remote participants. “People felt left out and unheard,” Trim notes.

Formal rules about turn-taking and calling on people are often now needed until everyone has had a chance to share. “Remote people are already at a disadvantage, so small behaviours that give them a voice are critical,” Trim advised.

3. Kill the chat box

The chat box on collaboration tools like Teams has the potential to create more than one narrative, as in-person and remote workers start to have separate sidebar conversations during meetings.

“When people have different understandings of who contributed and how others responded, you have fertile ground for conflict,” Trim warned.

For hybrid meetings, consider disabling the chat box. Encourage people to say what they think and ensure remote and in-person people follows the same guidelines for speaking up.

4. Prioritise in-person time for newcomers & independent workers

The two groups who may see the least value in coming to the office—newcomers without work friends and people who work independently—are ironically the most at risk for losing out by staying home. “Not only are these employees not as naturally integrated in social networks, but they also have fewer opportunities to showcase their ‘unseen’ work.

Encourage newcomers and independent workers to spend time at the office. And when they get there, don’t have them sit alone in a cubicle working.

5. When people come to work, give priority to social networking over just business

When bringing everyone together, the temptation is to do the work that feels a bit more difficult to handle remotely. Focusing purely on work, though, does little to close the communications and knowledge gap between remote and in-office people. “If you want to get the most bang for your buck, have people spend that precious in-person time networking.

Have one day a month where everyone comes to the office for an informal “happy hour” get-together. The goal is for the most isolated people to make small connections across their networks. Over time, they will build their network and learn how to better navigate the office,” Trim concludes.

 

Source: MyBroadband

Here are 10 steps before considering dismissing an employee for refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine:

1. Perform a Covid-19 risk assessment

This will determine whether a mandatory vaccination policy is necessary and to identify employees who work in situations where:

  • The risk of transmission is high due to the nature of their work.
  • The risk for severe Covid-19 or death is high due to an employee’s age or comorbidities.

2. Develop a vaccination plan or adjust your existing Covid-19 plan

3. Educate employees about vaccines and provide them with more information

Relevant information can be found in the vaccine FAQ section of the NICD’s website .

4. Assist employees with registering for vaccination on the EVDS portal

Registering on the health department’s Electronic Vaccination Database System (EVDS) allow South Africans to book a time and select the vaccination site where they would like to receive their vaccine.

5. Give employees paid time off to be vaccinated

If you implement a mandatory vaccination policy, you may not withhold pay or force employees to take leave without pay.

6. Place employees who suffer from vaccine side effects on paid leave

Employees who suffer from side effects after taking the vaccine should be given sick leave. If their sick leave is exhausted, they may qualify for further paid time off.

7. Keep employees informed on vaccination issues

This includes notifying them about:

  • The obligation to be vaccinated and by what date.
  • The right to refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds.
  • The opportunity to consult with a health and safety representative, worker representative or trade union official.

8. Counsel employees who refuse to be vaccinated on any constitutional grounds

Talk to employees and allow them to seek guidance from a health and safety representative if requested. Refer the employee for further medical evaluation if they refuse to be vaccinated based on a medical condition.

9. Explore alternative arrangements

Dismissal should only be a last resort. The employer should attempt to accommodate the employee in a position where they do not require the vaccine.

Possible options to consider include letting the employee:

  • Work off-site
  • Work from home
  • Work in isolation (at the workplace)
  • Work outside normal working hours
  • Work while wearing an N95 mask

10. Follow the correct procedure for dismissals

If all other options have been exhausted, Truter advised against disciplinary action. Instead, he said to deal with the dismissal as one of “operational requirements” or “incapacity”.

By Keymanthri Moodley, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Medicine and Director, The Centre for Medical Ethics & Law, Stellenbosch University. Published on IOL.

In recent months, the question of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination or limitations on those who choose not to be vaccinated has become a hot topic. In many countries, healthcare professionals and care home workers in facilities for the aged or disabled must be vaccinated as an occupational requirement. They are duty bound to accept a vaccine because of their non-negotiable pledge to avoid harm to patients, colleagues and their own families.

Other occupational groups who work in proximity to the public or in large indoor venues also have a responsibility to adhere to a mandatory vaccine policy. Likewise, barring medical contra-indications, civil society has a reciprocal duty to accept vaccinations to protect healthcare and other essential workers.

Where specific policies enforcing vaccination do not exist, other measures are being used to encourage vaccination or to nudge the unvaccinated. Incentives are being provided in some contexts for those who opt for vaccines. These include monetary incentives or food vouchers, retail discounts and lower life or medical insurance premiums.

Less attractive measures are being implemented in other settings, such as weekly Covid-19 testing for the unvaccinated. Some countries are restricting access to venues like cinemas, nightclubs, concert halls and indoor restaurants.

Travel regulations are tightening up globally. Vaccine passports are increasingly being required for international flights. And in a minority of places, among them Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, fines of up to $357 are levelled against those who refuse vaccinations.

Paradoxically, throughout the pandemic, the voices of those clamouring for individual rights and civil liberties have rung loudly and abrasively, constantly attempting to crowd out calls for the common good and public interest, constantly attempting to overpower calls for herd immunity via Covid-19 vaccines.

South Africa, too, is grappling with the question of vaccine mandates. As a bioethicist, I have no doubt: ethically, vaccine mandates are justifiable on multiple levels, based on the common good and a public health ethics framework.

This framework, which has been outlined by researchers, is based on the principles of solidarity, effectiveness, efficiency, proportionality and transparency. It intends to achieve three things in a public health emergency. First, to save lives. Second, to use limited resources efficiently. And, finally, to create social cohesion in the public interest and to build public trust.

It is no longer a matter of whether vaccine mandates should be introduced in South Africa, but when. The country’s Constitution and several pieces of legislation provide for this, in certain circumstances and with several factors taken into account.

Policy and principle

In 1985, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council adopted the Siracusa principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These principles are now firmly enshrined in international human rights law and standards. They require that any restriction on human rights must be based on law.

These principles are reflected in Section 36 of the South African Constitution, which deals with the limitation of rights. The National Health Act No. 61 of 2003 also applies – it contains regulations relating to notifiable medical conditions. So too does the Disaster Management Act.

Restrictions on individual rights imposed via vaccination are not arbitrary. South African law requires that they be based on a legitimate objective and must be strictly necessary for the achievement of the policy objective.

In the case of Covid-19, the objective of preventing transmission of infection is unambiguously in the public interest. The least restrictive and intrusive means must be used and the burden of justifying a limitation of human rights lies with the South African government.

The South African Bill of Rights (section 36) specifies that any limitation must be “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom”. It also requires that the restriction be proportional to the purpose of the limitation. So the bigger the risk to public health, the larger the restriction may be on individual rights.

Most importantly, such restrictions must be based on scientific evidence. They should not be arbitrary, discriminatory or unreasonable. Billions of Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally and have demonstrated good safety data, with protection from severe disease and death in most cases.

Serious side effects have been experienced only by a minority with underlying risk factors. The majority of deaths in the United States currently are occurring among the unvaccinated. A similar trend has been noted in South Africa. Given this data, mandatory vaccination satisfies the requirement for being reasonable.

It is clear that, based on its existing legal framework, South Africa can legitimately introduce a mandatory vaccination policy for specific occupational environments and leisure activities.

Section 23 of the Constitution, for instance, states that “everyone has the right to fair labour practices”. A mandatory vaccine policy could be regarded as a fair labour practice – it prevents harm to all. Everyone has a right to a safe working environment. Employees who are vaccinated may legitimately object to having unvaccinated employees in their working environment.

The Disaster Management Act Covid-19 regulations are important to highlight. Specifically, regulation 14(3) states that any person “who intentionally exposes another person to Covid-19 may be prosecuted for an offence, including assault, attempted murder or murder.”

No luxury of time

Going forward, improving health literacy is a critical prerequisite to enhance vaccine acceptance. It must be accelerated and expanded rapidly to reach all communities.

However, there is no luxury of time during a public health emergency to engage in prolonged community education efforts. In parallel with counselling, and vaccine literacy efforts, mandatory vaccine policies in high-risk environments are indispensable.

 

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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