In recent months, much of Corporate America has adopted the government approach to ensuring workers are receiving the coronavirus vaccine: Get the jab or expect a pink slip. However, other companies are taking a different route to nudge their employees toward inoculation: incentives. Until employers are forced to require jabs by government mandate, a growing number of large organizations are giving their personnel wads of cash. Has this been a better strategy for Whirlpool and Alaska Airlines than mirroring the state’s conventional iron fist tactic? The science of incentives tells a fascinating story about vaccination rates.
Corporate America for Vaccinations
Alaska Airlines recently offered unvaccinated employees a $200 bonus if they can prove they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Seattle-based carrier announced in an online statement that it would provide “special COVID pay” for staff members who have refused to receive a vaccine. Individuals will have until Oct. 15 to get the bonus. Meanwhile, those who are not vaccinated will be forced to participate in a vaccine education program and take part in a testing protocol. Also, new employees will be mandated to be fully vaccinated.
In May, Whirlpool Corp. started offering $200 cash bonuses to its 27,000 U.S. workers to push them to get vaccinated. However, due to the resurgence of coronavirus cases in Michigan, Whirlpool raised the incentive to an astounding $1,000. Rather than enact mandates, the company is dedicated to persuading employees voluntarily with monetary compensation. Vanguard is also paying its workforce $1,000 to get vaccinated.
For the last several months, Bolthouse Farms has been proffering its full-time hourly workers $500 for getting COVID-19 vaccines to speed up herd immunity. Devon Energy is extending the same level of payment if they can show they are fully vaccinated by October.
Kroger has been encouraging vaccinations for both customers and workers. In February, the supermarket chain introduced a one-time remuneration of $100 to all associates who “present appropriate proof of vaccination to their human resources representative.” Kroger also launched a $1 million sweepstakes or free groceries for a year to push its shoppers to get the vaccine.
A long list of businesses – large and small – are employing other methods for both workers and customers, such as free child care, discounts, free products, paid time off, and gift cards, to increase vaccination rates. Anheuser-Busch pledged to purchase Americans over 21 a round of beer once 70% of U.S. adults are partially vaccinated. Delta Air Lines has experimented with a “negative incentive” ploy, demanding employees to go through weekly testing and pay a $200 monthly surcharge for health insurance starting in November.
That said, with Washington introducing mandates for private businesses with 100 or more employees to force their workers to be vaccinated, will these corporations eliminate these incentives? Until that question is answered, the next query would be: Are these incentives generating the results they wish? Human nature suggests yes.
The critical question is: Do vaccine incentives work? Many studies have shown that using financial compensation rather than coercion has led to success, whether it is quitting smoking or losing weight. In August, Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal physician, wrote in the Montreal Gazette:
“The question becomes: Do these programs work? The short answer is a qualified yes. Incentives have been used and studied in many different fields of medicine and have been used to get people to quit smoking, exercise more and eat better.”
Indeed, there are plenty of real-world examples during the pandemic to highlight the flourishing nature of incentives. Krispy Kreme revealed that giving away 1.5 million free glazed doughnuts to any adult with a vaccination card has helped with vaccination rates. If Americans are still on the fence, the offer is valid for the rest of the year. The Unified Government Public Health Department in Wyandotte County, MO, announced a $500 Visa gift cards lottery. This helped achieve a modest bump, from an average of 95 first doses per day to 134. Ohio implemented a cash lottery for residents, awarding five $1 million prizes for adults and five full scholarships for teens. A week after the initiative was announced, vaccination rates surged 28%.
The people do concede that they would get vaccinated in exchange for an incentive. A recent analysis from Joblist found that one-third of unvaccinated workers and unemployed admit they would get jabbed for a bonus, paid time off, or another type of incentive. A separate study from researchers at the University of California found that Democrats were more likely to respond to a cash reward, while Republicans were more swayed by lifting public health restrictions (masks and social distancing).
Will the Government Get Out of the Way?
In a desperate act to return to normal, the private sector is doing its part in reinvigorating stagnant vaccination rates. For some, the incentive for being vaxxed is staying healthy. For others, it takes monetary compensation to roll up their sleeves. Whatever the situation may be, it is clear that, despite the pro-vaxxers undermining the efficacy of the jabs, vaccinations are accomplishing their goals: limiting symptoms and avoiding hospitalization. Unfortunately, those who are the most adamant about getting more Americans to be vaccinated are the ones who are disincentivizing individuals to receive the vaccine, whether it is continuing mask mandates or threatening termination of employment.