One of New Zealand's largest employers, digital services company Spark, has launched a drive aimed at encouraging all 5000 of its staff to get vaccinated in the fight against the Covid-19 Delta variant – and is giving them time off work to do so.
The initiative, begun several weeks ago, aims to have as many staff as possible vaccinated, says chief executive Jolie Hodson. "The more we can do to help keep Aotearoa safe and move the country forward the better off we'll be."
She says the company has not set a target and is unable to reveal how many staff have been vaccinated so far, but recent surveys of those in frontline roles show that well over 90 per cent have either had the jab, have booked or are planning to book an appointment.
"As you would expect of a company our size, we tend to mirror the country's experience when it comes to willingness to get vaccinated and so far we have found the vast majority of our people we have spoken to support it," she says. "There is a small minority who are opposed and there are others who are undecided or have concerns.
"We are a business that respects diversity of thought and we always aim to create a safe space for different perspectives to be heard. But we are also clear on our own position that we support the vaccination programme and are actively encouraging our people to participate.
"Our leaders and our people are openly sharing their 'why'," Hodson says. "We are creating opportunities to come together as a company to discuss concerns and directing those who are unsure or who have concerns to the appropriate medical sources for advice.
"New Zealand businesses are walking a tightrope – between respecting the right of employees to make their own health decisions while appropriately fulfilling their obligations to keep their people and customers safe."
Hodson - who says she has personally had both jabs - says the company is giving its people time off work to get themselves and their families vaccinated. "They can take as much time as they need. We trust them to do the right thing and we want to make sure they are safe."
The company is also working with the Ministry of Health to run on-site vaccinations for employees and their whanau in their Level 2 lockdown locations in Wellington and Christchurch and will be piloting the use of rapid anti-gen testing as another layer of protection for its people.
She says Spark's focus on vaccination complements its broader approach to Covid such as distancing, scanning, hygiene and mask wearing, and its wellbeing strategy, Mahi Tahi, which focuses on a healthy workplace, connection, mind-health and energy.
This approach has seen Spark provide all staff a "day off on us" recognising the increased rates of stress and anxiety being experienced as the lockdowns drag on. It has also provided access through company-wide Teams calls to a range of experts from executive coaches to qualified health pyschologists.
Hodson says Spark supports the NZ Herald's 90% Project set up to create awareness around the need to be vaccinated and has also been supporting the vaccination drive-through at Auckland Airport (by providing donations and other in-kind support to encourage participation) and the national Super Saturday vaccination drive.
Hodson says achieving a high level of vaccination is important for Aotearoa to recover and build back stronger.
"Technology has helped us adapt to Covid-19 by keeping us connected from a distance, enabling home-schooling, e-commerce, contact tracing and keeping us entertained, but it can't replace human connection and reuniting with family and friends.
"Now is the time for medical science to play its part in helping us to adapt to a 'Covid-normal' world and beat back the pandemic once and for all."
She says it is particularly important to protect those who can't be vaccinated such as very young children and the vulnerable. "We have said from the start of the pandemic if we are to come out of this stronger as a country we have to ensure our recovery is just and that we leave nobody behind.
"That is why high levels of vaccination are so important. We need to protect our children, our most vulnerable and those who can't get vaccinated to protect themselves – we need to protect each other."
Hodson says her own family (herself and her husband, 16-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son) are all double jabbed but she has a younger niece and nephew who cannot be vaccinated yet.
"We want to be able to spend Christmas with them as I'm sure most people across the country will want to be with their families," she says. "My own parents live out of Auckland and if we're still in the same situation at Christmas as we are today we won't be able to be with them."
Hodson says Spark is working through a risk assessment across its operations to identify and assess Covid-19-related risks to its people, business partners, community and work environments.
"This will help us decide how best to manage our health and safety obligations," she says. "Naturally if this assessment identifies potential changes for our people and ways of working we will consult with them."