How Do Employees Feel About Returning to the Workplace During the Pandemic?

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The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to be a major public health concern throughout the United States and around the world. Small businesses and large corporations have had to make major logistical changes to the way they do business. During the early days of the pandemic, offices, schools, restaurants, and other businesses closed, and employees who still had a job had to work from home. As cities and states start to slowly reopen, there are still a significant number of employees who are working remotely.

In fact, some companies, including Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and Microsoft, have found that the remote work model has been successful, and that some employees will continue to work from home indefinitely.  However, employers who are opening their doors and requiring employees to return to work, despite the ongoing pandemic, may find that many workers are not yet comfortable with the idea of coming back to the office.

According to an online survey conducted by the nonprofit think tank The Conference Board, of the more than 1,100 U.S. workers surveyed, over 25 percent said that they expect to return to work by January 1, 2021. Thirty-eight percent expect to return to work at some point in the new year, and seven percent expect to return to work after a vaccine is available. The survey included over 1,100 workers across several different industries to gain an understanding of how employees feel about returning to work during the pandemic. When asked how comfortable they feel about it, 39 percent said they were moderately comfortable, 17 percent said they were very comfortable, and 31 percent said they are not comfortable with the idea of returning to work.

Do Workers Feel Pressured to Return to Work?

The prospect of returning to work can be a difficult one, particularly if the employee has existing health issues that put him or her in the high-risk category. If the employee must return to work or risk losing his or her job, this puts a great deal of pressure on the worker, especially if he or she is concerned about being exposed to the virus. According to The Conference Board, when it comes to feeling pressure to return to work, the survey results revealed the following:

  • Seventeen percent of women felt pressure to return to work, compared with 10 percent of men.
  • Sixty-seven percent of women expressed concern over contracting COVID-19, compared with 61 percent of men.
  • Twenty percent of individual contributors and 21 percent of frontline managers felt pressure to return to work, compared with only four percent of C-suite executives.

The survey also revealed the following findings:

  • Close to 30 percent of survey respondents had little confidence that fellow employees would follow the proper health and safety protocols when returning to work.
  • Employees who were concerned about returning to work cited the following top reasons:
    – Risk of contracting COVID-19
    – Risk of exposing a family member to the virus
    – Lack of a vaccine

Another survey of 900 people in the United States, including 293 small and mid-sized business owners, 108 human resources managers, and 501 full-and part-time employees, looked at how employers and employees felt about returning to work. The following shows the different perspectives when asked about returning to the workplace:

  • According to the employers’ point of view, 59 percent of workers refused to return to work for the following reasons:
    – Made more money from unemployment benefits: 50 percent
    – Not comfortable with the health risk: 43 percent
    – Found a new job: 33 percent
    – Not happy with the new terms, including reduced salary, schedule changes, or fewer hours: 32 percent
    – On a paid leave: 20 percent
    – Responsible for taking care of a family member: 15 percent
  • According to the employees’ point of view, 17 percent would not return to work or were unsure about returning to the office for the following reasons:
    – Did not want to take the health risk: 40 percent
    – Looking for a job that allows remote work: 37 percent
    – Did not like the new terms of the job: 28 percent
    – Made more money from unemployment benefits: 26 percent
    – Responsible for taking care of a family member: 20 percent
    – On a paid leave: 11 percent

Does Working from Home Affect Productivity?

Millions of employees have had to adjust to working from home over the past several months. In fact, according to a survey of global office workers, 88 percent of the survey respondents were working from home during the pandemic. Researchers also found that 76 percent of global office workers and 82 percent of U.S. office workers would prefer to continue working from home when the pandemic is over. According to the president of Global Workplace Analytics, these workers have gotten a taste of what it is like to work from home and the flexibility that it allows. They do not want to go back to a traditional workplace. The survey revealed other interesting findings about productivity, salaries, and workplace distractions, including the following:

  • A mere six percent of workers said they were not interested in working from home after the pandemic ended.
  • When working alone, employees report that they are productive 75 percent of the time at home, compared with 63 percent of the time at the office.
  • Workers report that they are as productive at home as they are in the office with colleagues. However, they are more satisfied when collaborating in person.
  • Workers encounter fewer distractions when working from home than in the office. In fact, when working in the office, distractions and interruptions accounted for 78 minutes a day versus only 43 minutes a day when working from home.
  • Over half of the employees surveyed were willing to give up their workspace in the office in exchange for the opportunity to work from home. This demonstrates a preference for flexibility over an assigned desk.

How can Employers Prepare the Workforce for a Safe Return to Work?

Many of the restrictions are being lifted in states across the country. Restaurants and schools are starting to open with strict social distancing protocols, and safety precautions are strictly enforced. Businesses are also opening back up. In some cases, that means that employees are required to return to the workplace. During these uncertain times, employers have a responsibility to take the following steps to ensure that their workers are safe and well-informed:

  • Make safety a priority. Companies should require that employees and customers wear face masks at all times and practice social distancing when indoors. Temperature checks should be required before entering the building. High-touch communal items such as coffee pots, water coolers, and vending machines should be removed. Companies should set up sanitation stations in the office and encourage regular hand washing. The building’s ventilation system must be checked to ensure it is working properly.
  • Re-examine the company’s business strategy. The specific challenges that the company may face under the new restrictions need to be identified. The company should make the appropriate changes necessary for workplaces to be spaced apart. The office should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before employees return to work.
  • Be flexible. Companies need to anticipate external changes and prepare plans to respond to those changes. One suggestion is to create a rapid response team that will track changes in government guidance and look at countries whose cases are low, and the steps they have taken.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Managers need to understand that returning to work is an adjustment for employees. Companies should encourage feedback from workers about how the transition is going and address any challenges that they encounter.
  • Build a diverse and agile workforce. Companies can consider hiring contractors, freelancers, and other workers who can add value to the business and take some of the pressure off the full-time, regular employees as they readjust to the in-office routine. Managers should encourage collaboration with other departments and hold informal meetings where workers can share their experiences and any new skills they may have acquired while working from home.
  • Be more efficient. Companies should consider whether certain remote work practices can replace on-site work procedures. For example, video calls may be more efficient than in-person meetings.
  • Make sure that employees feel supported. Returning to work, particularly during a pandemic, can be unsettling. The organization should support the workers’ physical and mental health and offer counseling, provide financial advice, and furnish the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Evaluate the company’s tech support. Businesses should determine whether any technology needs to be updated, upgraded, or replaced.
  • Encourage employees to learn new skills. Companies should provide training sessions or online courses that workers will find informative, interesting, and useful.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Protect Workers’ Rights During the Pandemic

If your employer is requiring you to return to work during the pandemic, contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We understand that there are workers who may have pre-existing conditions or health issues that make them more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus. Others may be concerned about exposing family members to the virus if they are required to return to work. If you test positive for COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus at work, we will ensure that you receive the full financial benefits for which you are entitled and assist you with the claims process. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.