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Agility in the C-Suite

CEOs on Their Changing Roles and Responsibilities 

“COVID-19 has taught me to be forever mindful about what it means to act with empathy and humility.”

The pandemic’s myriad of challenges is adding complexities to the workplace, and the C-suite is no exception. CEOs have been forced to adapt to changing circumstances, new stresses and uncertainty. Leadership amid the pandemic has an increased emphasis on serving as a social listener equipped with the emotional intelligence to better support and connect with employees and stakeholders. Some of Southeast Michigan’s top CEOs explain what they are doing differently.

WE DIDN’T TAKE VACCINE MANDATE LIGHTLY, IT WAS BEST DECISION FOR US

By Bob Riney

On June 29th, 2021, Henry Ford Health System announced that we were going to require the COVID-19 vaccine for our workforce of 33,000+ team members, making us the first health system in the state of Michigan and one of the first in the nation to do so. While ultimately the right thing to do for our employees and our patients’ safety, we did not take that decision lightly.

All things considered, we lost a very small segment of our workforce, but every loss – especially during a nationwide staffing shortage, not just in healthcare, but in every industry – is one loss too many. In response, we instituted a new hiring process that is already offsetting the folks who declined to be vaccinated and resigned, plus we have had the pleasure of welcoming back and reemploying many who initially resigned due to the mandate, but have since changed their minds.

Of utmost importance to us was that we stick to our values, which is treating people with respect, whether they view our mandate as something they agree with or not. We heard from a wide array of diverse voices and treated everyone with the utmost respect, because that’s who we are.

If others want to learn a lesson from our experience, I hope the lesson is that the divisiveness around the vaccine and vaccine mandates is unnecessary. We made the best decision for our patients and for our employees, but that doesn’t mean we hold any ill-will towards those that disagreed with us. If we are truly “all in this together,” that includes everyone – regardless of what choices they make. Whether those choices are made by businesses, or their employees.

Bob Riney is the president of healthcare operations and chief operation officer of Henry Ford Health System.

Vaccine Mandates Should Be Left to Individual Businesses

The Detroiter asked Dennis Cowan, partner and co-leader of business transactions and planning practice group at the Plunkett Cooney law firm, why businesses, not government, should make vaccine mandate decisions. His response is below, edited for length and clarity.

ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL DOESN’T WORK FOR BUSINESS

The problem with a mandate is that it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. For a company that has offices, there’s nobody in the offices anymore – why should there be a mandate to get everybody vaccinated when there’s no contact? Then there are people working from home or alone like truckers, and outdoors like construction workers. Each employer has to make a determination and I support that 100 percent.

MANDATES EXACERBATE LABOR SHORTAGE AND SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES

A lot of businesses might have their operations curtailed if they had to enforce a mandate and workers wouldn’t come into work. We’ve got supply chain problems which would just be exacerbated by this. You also have the specter of people quitting. A lot of businesses, especially smaller ones are just hanging on with the folks that they have.

VACCINES ENTER TERRITORY TRADITIONALLY BETWEEN EMPLOYEE AND PHYSICIAN

It’s one thing to tell an employer that they have to require construction workers to wear safety equipment helmets, or to observe certain safety protocols. It’s quite another, to tell an employee, they have to do something with their body that usually is reserved for the employee and their physician to make those kinds of determinations. This is very new territory. I think businesses have done a pretty good job of taking care of their businesses and their employees and customers. I’d say leave it that way.

Federal vaccine requirements are important for business

Rock Central’s Vice President of Government Affairs and Economic Development Jared Fleisher spoke at a Mackinac Policy Conference’s Evening View session on why he is supportive of federal vaccine requirements. Portions of his comments are below, edited for length and clarity.

WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY FOR EMPLOYEE SAFETY

I’d emphasize it’s not a vaccine mandate. It’s get vaccinated or be tested weekly. From our perspective, it’s a safety mandate; the safety of your co-workers and your community. We strongly encourage our team members to get vaccinated. If that’s not your personal choice than you have to get tested, because you are in an office setting with your co-workers and we have a responsibility collectively for their safety.

REQUIRING VACCINES LEVELS PLAYING FIELD

(Without a federal mandate) Each employer is on their own. If one employer requires it and one doesn’t, you have the worry about losing your critical labor force that may want to go to a place without these requirements. We were worried about that when we made our (vaccine requirement) announcement, although we ultimately didn’t see it. But it is an issue more broadly in the labor market and that’s why you see (some major) business groups supporting it. It levels the playing field for the overwhelming majority of employers.

REQUIREMENTS KEY TO BEATING PANDEMIC

It’s a challenge for smaller businesses. But what’s the alternative? If you’re not vaccinated and in close proximity the virus is going to jump. If you’re not vaccinated, you have a much higher viral load and it’s more transmissible. Then more people will get sick and there’s more possibilities for more variants because we have more hosts. We need to make the sacrifice to win the war.