Incentives are more effective than mandates, according to Blackhawk Network's study.
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Forget Mandates – Incentives Can Effectively Encourage COVID Vaccinations and Boosters

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Research finds the majority of Americans are receptive to low-dollar incentives from their employers for getting vaccinations, which can go a long way in nurturing employee loyalty

By Marina Hodges, Senior Director and Head of Incentives Marketing at Blackhawk Network

We’ve all seen the headlines. Company XYZ is imposing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and employees are pushing back—or even leaving the company. While many businesses are trying to do the right thing by implementing mandatory vaccine policies in the interest of employee and public health, they may be going about it the wrong way. And the timing couldn’t be worse; employers are facing a tight labor market where talent is at a premium. Any misstep that alienates employees could have dire consequences on productivity, retention and brand reputation.

There’s a better way to navigate these murky waters: leverage incentives.

Here’s the why and the how:

The stakes are high, as employee satisfaction and loyalty are of paramount importance

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics[1], 47 million people quit their jobs voluntarily last year. Which is 12 million more than in 2020 when the pandemic began. There are more than 76.5 million current job openings in the U.S.5 and the jobseeker’s market is noticeably pronounced. With only 18% of recent survey respondents reporting being satisfied with their current job4, the odds are high that the Great Resignation and Great Reshuffling will continue as employers face a minefield of potential ways they can lose employees.

Workplace safety concerns are very much still present.

Although social distancing and mask mandates are falling by the wayside, people are still hesitant to congregate with their colleagues. New research from Blackhawk Network[2] found that more than a quarter of respondents prefer to work remotely so they can continue to distance themselves from others. Employers across the country are wrestling with the right way to ease concerns and create safe physical workplaces, and as a result many are turning to vaccine mandates. 

There is undoubtedly room to move the needle on vaccinations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[3], only 66% of the U.S. population has completed the COVID-19 vaccination process and only 47% has received the first COVID-19 booster. Hundreds of millions of Americans are still eligible for vaccinations and boosters as more variants emerge every day. It makes sense that employers want to push vaccination rates among their employees. With so many people still vulnerable to COVID-19 and/or able to spread it, workers’ health and safety are directly related to day-to-day business operations.

Vaccines and boosters still have a shot—thanks to (relatively inexpensive) incentives.

A common misconception is that if people wanted to be vaccinated and boosted, they would be already. But research from Blackhawk Network[4] has shown that this isn’t necessarily the case. The study found that 66% of respondents who had not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine and/or booster would accept money from their employer or the government for getting the vaccine. Of those respondents who would accept a monetary incentive, 44% would accept a modest reward of $100 or less. In a follow-up study[5], 66% of respondents who had not yet received the COVID booster but were open to it or on the fence would be interested in receiving a monetary incentive from their employer to get it. Among those for whom money would be an acceptable incentive, 60% would accept $100 or less. When you consider the high costs of employee attrition, recruiting to fill open positions in a hyper-competitive labor market and the resources required to onboard new employees, $100 incentives are relatively small potatoes in comparison.

Incentives work better than mandates.

Incentives are powerful tools for driving desired behaviors across a variety of use cases. And they do so in a way that empowers the people earning the rewards; they are in control of their own destiny and aren’t being forced to do something. On the other hand, mandates are abrasive and often ill-received. People don’t want to be told what to do or how to live their lives. Research2 has found that 10% of employees would quit their job if they disagree with company policies.

Incentives can help drive long-term company loyalty

At a pivotal time in your employer/employee relationship, offering incentives can open the door for ongoing engagement and loyalty-building touchpoints with employees, beyond the vaccinations use case. Building trust with, showing respect for and rewarding your labor force can go a long way in the long run. For example, an employer that offers $100 incentives to its employees for getting vaccinated and boosted can disburse the monetary reward on a prepaid card. That same card can then be reloaded throughout the year when the employee achieves a goal or reaches a professional milestone.

Incentives are invaluable tools they can tap to achieve short-term vaccination goals and springboard long-term employee engagement, loyalty and productivity. Empowering employees to make their own decisions provides a gentle, positive way for organizations to remain competitive—and safe—in today’s business landscape.

As the Senior Director and Head of Incentives Marketing at Blackhawk Network, Marina Hodges sets and executes go to market strategies that deliver success for Blackhawk’s partners and the company. Marina advises Blackhawk’s clients spanning across a spectrum of industries on how best to market and execute meaningful, effective reward and incentives programs.


[1] “Job Openings and Labor Turnover – January 2022” is part of a monthly report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
[2] “Workplace Arrangements, Rewards, and Engagement Survey” is an internet-based survey conducted by Survey Monkey on behalf of Blackhawk Network between February 25, 2022 and March 1, 2022. The sample size included 3,278 U.S. respondents ages 18+.
[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker was accessed on May 26, 2022.
[4] The “COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives June 2021” report is based on the combined findings of two internet-based surveys conducted by Survey Monkey on behalf of Blackhawk Network between June 25–28, 2021. The sample size included 3,138 U.S. respondents ages 18+.
[5] “Workplace Arrangements, Rewards, and Engagement Survey” is an internet-based survey conducted by Survey Monkey on behalf of Blackhawk Network between February 25, 2022 and March 1, 2022. The sample size included 3,278 U.S. respondents ages 18+.

Forget Mandates – Incentives Can Effectively Encourage COVID Vaccinations and Boosters
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