Baby boomers support employers requiring proof of vaccination. Gen Zers oppose it

May 20, 2021, 9:00 AM UTC

A big announcement came down from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week: The agency says vaccinated people are now safe to gather in large groups indoors without masks

With the green light from the CDC, more employers are likely to start asking staff to come back to the office. But that also raises the question: Will employers require that employees show proof of vaccination? After all, the CDC said only “vaccinated” people are safe to return without masks to large groups.

To find out how Americans would respond to vaccination requirements, Fortune teamed up with SurveyMonkey to poll 2,113 adults in the U.S. between April 30 and May 3.* The poll’s modeled error estimate is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The finding? If workplaces mandate vaccines, there will be resistance. Among U.S. adults, 53% say employers shouldn’t require staff to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine. Then again, there is a lot of support for it: 45% would like employers to mandate it. That puts employers in a tough spot. Require it, and you risk backlash. Don’t do it, and you risk some staff not returning.

But when you factor in age, the balance of opinion changes—by a lot. Among, Gen Zers and millennials, only 38% support workplaces requiring COVID-19 vaccine proof. That rises to 43% among Gen Xers. Meanwhile, a majority of baby boomers (54%) and members of the silent generation (68%) support such a mandate. The reason likely boils down to the fact that COVID is considerably more deadly for older people.

The big takeaway: If you have a staff and customer base that skews younger, you might find more resistance to a vaccine mandate. The reverse might happen if they skew older.

Business leadership has never been easy. But leading during a time of historic partisanship is particularly challenging: Before making decisions, leaders must now understand the politics of both their employees and their customers. That also applies to return-to-work policies: Among Republicans, 25% support workplaces requiring vaccines for returning staff members. That compares to 69% of Democrats and 37% of independents.

If you have a left-leaning staff or customer base, you’d be wise to not dismiss COVID-19 mandates. On the flip side, if your customers or staff are very Republican-leaning, a mandate could be more likely to backfire.

*Methodology: The Fortune-SurveyMonkey poll was conducted among a national sample of 2,113 adults in the U.S. between April 30 and May 3. This survey’s modeled error estimate is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The findings have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography.

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