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chart of vaccine hesitancy versus purpose in life shows the the more purpose one has in life the more willing they are to get a vaccine

Vaccine Hesitancy — How Employers Can Influence Willingness

Kumanu Founder and CEO Vic Strecher, Ph.D., MPH, Patrick L Hill, and Anthony Burrow recently published a research paper Sense of purpose in life predicts greater willingness for COVID-19 vaccination. A summary of the findings and practical steps employers can take to improve vaccine hesitancy is discussed below.

The past year has witnessed a worldwide “common purpose” to combat COVID-19 and return to regular activities. Part of this effort involves encouraging vaccinations and reducing individuals’ hesitancy. Although “purpose” has been mentioned frequently in pandemic-related discussions among politicians, policy agencies, and the media, we know little about whether purposefulness plays a role in people’s willingness to get vaccinated.

Individuals with a greater sense of purpose perceive they have a guiding direction provided by life goals and commitments. They tend to have a stronger orientation to the future and have aspirations beyond their immediate interests. As a result, a strong sense of purpose predicts improved health behaviors such as physical activity and lower illicit drug use, preventive screening activities such as mammography, and greater emotional self-regulation and resilience. Likely due to this future orientation, people with strong purpose, on average, even make more money and have a greater net worth over time.

In a recent study using a national sample of over 2,000 U.S. adults conducted in collaboration between The Harris Poll and Kumanu, we found that people with a greater sense of purpose were far more willing to get vaccinated, even when accounting for demographic factors, political affiliation, and psychological wellbeing. Adults higher on the sense of purpose scale reported greater importance of getting the vaccine for personal health and the health of others. These findings suggest a sense of purpose in life may be an important factor in encouraging vaccination.

Importantly, we know that purpose in life can be improved. Our work at Kumanu, supported by strong neuroscience, epidemiological, and experimental evidence, shows that carefully constructed but simple-to-use interventions can help people build greater sense of purpose and to live more purposefully. Applying this knowledge to large public health campaigns may profoundly influence vaccination willingness and improvements in the public’s health.

So how can you apply this knowledge? Here are three purpose-driven steps you can take within your organization to influence vaccine willingness:

  1. Help your employees fulfill their life purposes through their work. This process – often called “job crafting” – can work for employees at all levels (see Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” if skeptical). One way to stimulate job crafting is through volunteer programs. Another is through a promotional campaign to encourage employees to write about how their job helps them fulfill their purpose. Turn the best stories into posters and create a new normal.

  2. Promote belonging and dignity at work (do your employees feel they can voice a contrary opinion without fear of retribution?). Research has found that the sense of belonging can be stimulated through affirming one’s purposeful core values. The reverse may also be the case. Employees who feel they belong in an organization are likely to feel greater purpose and meaning.

  3. Create an organizational purpose that transcends traditional revenue-based business purposes. Hint: revenue-transcending businesses tend to make more revenue! Does your business make bricks to make money, or does it help build cathedrals? Which company would I rather wake up for and go to each working day?
With a strong purpose, one’s mindset can shift toward an interest in protecting yourself – not just for you – but to be able to remain purposeful every day.

About the Author

professional headshot of vic strecher

Vic Strecher, PhD, MPH

CEO and Chief Purpose Officer, Kumanu

Vic Strecher is professor of Public Health, founder of the Center for Health Communications Research, and Director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. In 2015, Vic launched Kumanu, leading a paradigm shift in how individuals engage in the pursuit of purpose, meaning, and wellbeing. As CEO and chief purpose officer, Vic leads the company as well as its world-class Scientific Advisory Board.


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