What are employees’ top concerns about returning to the workplace, and what might make them consider jumping ship?

by Brianna Crandall — October 16, 2020 — Envoy, creator of a popular workplace technology platform, has just released results from its How to Make Employees Feel Safe at Work During COVID-19 return-to-work study, which found that a total of 73% of US employees fear a return to the workplace could pose a risk to their personal health and safety for various reasons. While a majority of respondents say they do want to return to the workplace once pandemic restrictions are lifted, 75% said they would even consider quitting their job if they felt their employers’ actions to prevent COVID-19 were inadequate or inappropriate.

As employers grapple with how to provide a safe workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Envoy’s latest survey reveals that many workers — including those who have already returned to the office — are worried about their employers’ ability to keep them safe when returning to a shared office. At the same time, an overwhelming majority — 94 percent — say they’d like to go back to the workplace at least part of the time, while continuing some work from home.

Other key findings include:

Employees are concerned companies won’t adequately protect their health

  • A total of three-quarters (75%) of employees say they would consider quitting their job if their employers downplayed COVID-19 risks (36%), didn’t wear a face mask (31%), or urged them to return to work before they felt safe (29%).
  • Of employees who have returned to the workplace, 42% say they’ve experienced preventive measures that were either ineffective or not enforced, including six-foot distancing measures (25%), mask requirements (21%), and handwashing requirements (18%).
  • Though 42% of employees are still working from home, a fifth (20%) have returned to the workplace in some capacity, and nearly two in five (39%) never stopped working on site.

Privacy concerns and proximity to sick coworkers top the list of employee workplace worries

  • Employees are most concerned about not knowing if someone sick comes into the workplace (40%), having too many people in the workplace at once (31%), and being indoors with a lack of proper ventilation (24%).
  • At the same time, employers can’t afford to overstep their bounds, with 37% of employees reporting they would consider a job switch over privacy concerns, including if their employer sent personal  information without privacy measures taken (28%), or asked for personal health information that they weren’t comfortable sharing (21%).
  • Younger employees in particular are more likely to be disturbed about intrusive behavior. Millennials (42%) and Gen Xers (40%) are more likely to consider leaving over privacy concerns than Boomers (27%).

Return-to-work sentiment exposes workplace class divisions

  • Those who work in blue-collar professions such as construction or manufacturing (64%) are more likely to not be very confident that their co-workers will follow safe workplace procedures than those in business or tech services (52%).
  • Those in business or tech services (84%) are more likely to consider leaving their job than those in industries such as construction or manufacturing (71%) or retail or service industry (67%), alluding to the fact that many workers don’t have the luxury to consider leaving their job.
  • Retail or service industry workers (74%) are more likely to not have full trust that their employer will take the necessary steps to keep them safe compared to tech and business workers (64%).

Workers want to return to the workplace, but on their own terms

  • Despite concerns about a return, a total of 90% say they do miss the workplace, especially friends and teammates (47%), small talk at the coffee machine or water cooler (31%), and perks like lunch and snacks (36%).
  • More than 94% want to spend at least one day a week in the office, with 46% saying the ideal number of days in the office is five days a week.
  • Some respondents admitted they do crave space away from family, with nearly one in five (19%) parents saying they miss the workplace’s ability to be a sanctuary from children, and 21% of those in relationships saying they miss it as a break from their spouse or partner.

Larry Gadea, founder and CEO of Envoy, remarked:

The data tells us that employees do want to return to the workplace, but they want to come back to one that takes better care of them and puts their health and safety at the forefront. In order for companies to reopen safely and quickly, they’ll need to adopt technologies that create a more dynamic and responsive workplace that meets the needs of its workers, so that employees can return to the office confidently.

The Envoy return-to-work survey was conducted by Wakefield Research among 1,000 US full- and part-time employees aged 18+ between August 27 and September 1, 2020, using an email invitation and an online survey. The data was weighted to ensure an accurate representation of full-time and part-time employees in the US, ages 18+.

For a recap of the four key statistics that summarize how people feel about returning to the workplace, as well as the full How to Make Employees Feel Safe at Work During COVID-19 report, visit the Envoy website.

Envoy says its vision is to create a unified, data-driven workplace that removes the mundane and broken systems throughout the office — more important than ever in the midst of the coronavirus. The company’s tools, such as Envoy Protect, are designed to make the workplace safer, without sacrificing a great experience or privacy. Envoy is used in more than 14,000 offices across 70 countries, including workplaces like Slack, Warby Parker, and Pinterest, and is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Menlo Ventures, Initialized Capital and others.