Vaccine mandates are affecting CEO recruitment: Here's how

The effect of vaccination mandates and the COVID-19 pandemic have often been discussed from the angle of employees who have left their organizations and their managers, but the effect on executive hiring is less explored. Becker's spoke to an executive search hiring manager at WittKieffer to understand how the pandemic has changed executive recruitment in healthcare.

WittKieffer is a global executive search firm that works with organizations to recruit and provide talent at the executive level. Becker's spoke to Elizabeth Frye, MD, WittKieffer's chief of operations and physician executive consultant who specializes in executive searches in healthcare and the academic sciences.

She told Becker's that vaccination mandates being implemented in hospitals and healthcare systems has made proof of vaccination a requirement for a lot of positions. 

"In the search industry, we have to ask the healthcare clients what their vaccination mandate policies are so that we can explain that to candidates. Hiring is then to be contingent upon proof of vaccination," Dr. Frye also mentioned that there wasn't much pushback from candidates against the mandates, especially in her specialty of healthcare. 

For C-level executives in a health system or hospital, vaccination mandates are increasingly a challenge to have to deal with. Deciding whether or not to impose a mandate, working out consequences for noncompliance and dealing with potential backlash have all become common issues for executives. While asking whether or not a candidate would agree with a mandate isn't part of the hiring process, understanding how they would deal with the situation is. 

"How do they respond when they have to make difficult decisions where there is not total consensus?" Dr. Frye said. "What is their leadership style that will allow them to be able to handle the controversy that a decision like this might have?"

Dr. Frye told Becker's that the pandemic has changed and emphasized certain characteristics of leaders that weren't as important before. 

"One of the things COVID taught us is that healthcare organizations have to be facile, innovative and creative. We are looking for healthcare leaders who are out-of-the-box thinkers, who are adaptable and flexible," she said. She also mentioned that courage, communication and consensus-building have become more important since the onset of the pandemic given the difficult, sometimes controversial and divisive policy decisions leaders must make. 

Increases in retirement and focus on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives have both been other trends in executive recruitment. 

After getting their organizations through the worst of the pandemic, more executives are now retiring, possibly because of burnout or delayed retirement plans.

"We've seen a significant number of women leave the workforce," Dr. Frye said. "We're also seeing that people waited on recruiting for open positions because of COVID and financial concerns. As the economy has begun to recover, institutions have opened, they're beginning to hire more aggressively."

Healthcare leadership has a dearth of diversity, and Dr. Frye said the George Floyd protests of summer 2020 helped wake up boards to the issue: "There has been tremendous pressure on at least our search firm to increase the diversity of the slate because we know, if we don't bring them, they can't hire them. We're very proud that more than 90 percent of our slates are diverse."

COVID-19 changed a lot in healthcare, including the leading qualities of health leaders. Going forward, leaders will continue to have to be adaptable and flexible, and decide which pandemic-era policies they want to keep in place. DEI initiatives are also increasingly important and necessary. 


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