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Employees Hesitant to Return to Office in Early 2021

With the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations underway, employers are feeling more optimistic about returning their workforces to the office in 2021.

A survey by software company Traction Guest found that business leaders expect to have 51% or more of their employees back in the physical workplace in January. However, the survey also indicated that employees aren’t likely to comply with a return unless it’s done so safely.

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Of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 91% said they will take action if their employer fails to create a safe onsite work environment, with 40% indicating they would explore new job opportunities.

“Reopening facilities during COVID-19 presents complex challenges for employers. The associated costs and business disruptions are alarming if nearly a third of employees depart because they don’t feel safe onsite. Employers have the choice to either COVID-proof their offices now or risk losing employees,” said Keith Metcalfe, CEO at Traction Guest. “Software can provide significant value by streamlining secure collection of health attestations and COVID-19 screenings while centralizing shift management and emergency communications. This technology can also reassure employees that their health and well-being are a top priority.”

Employee Concerns and Confidence About Returning to Work
The “2020 Return-to-Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic Study” found that some employers expect to have 75% in-office capacity by this winter:

  • 15% of employers plan to have 75% in-office capacity by Winter.
  • 28% of employers plan to have 75% in-office capacity by Spring 2021
  • 38% of employers plan to have 75% in-office capacity by Summer 2021

The study found that more than one quarter (26%) of employees do not feel confident in their employer’s approach to inviting staff back to the office. Additionally:

  • Almost a quarter (24.9%) are not confident about their employer’s approach to screening individuals for COVID-19.
  • A similar amount (23%) do not feel confident about their employer’s communication capabilities for emergency situations.
  • Over a quarter (26%) of employees do not feel confident about their employer’s ability to accurately account for all people entering their workplace at any given time; and
  • When it comes to their employer’s ability to retain or delete their health-related information and use it appropriately, 21% do not feel confident in their employer’s approach.

When asked what precautions would make employees more confident about returning to work, employees identified the following:

  • Daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms for employees before they arrive onsite at a workplace location (57%).
  • Frequent or routine COVID-19 testing for all employees (56%).
  • Controlled number of staff returning to work on a given day (51%).

When asked what action they would take if their employer failed to create a safe in-office work environment, employees reported they would:

  • Raise concerns to authorities or labor unions (40%).
  • Explore new employment opportunities or resign (31%).
  • Consider legal action against their employer (20%).

Employee Health and Safety Is the Top Employer Concern
Nearly all (87%) employers reported that employee health and safety risks are the top concern. Other employer concerns about bringing employees back to work during the pandemic include:

  • Employee retention risks (52%)
  • Financial risks (41%)
  • Reputational risks (37%)
  • Legal duty of care risks (35%)

The Role of HR
HR leaders reported controlling the total number of staff returning to work on a given day and limiting staff to specific shifts/time were top precautions that would make them feel more confident about bringing employees back onsite.

When employers were asked what technologies would make them feel more confident about bringing employees back to the workplace amid COVID-19:

  • HR leaders reported employee and visitor check-in/out systems as the number one technology (67%). Half (50%) of HR leaders also identified invitation/scheduling tools.
  • Heads of security chose employee and visitor check-in/out systems (40%), invitation/scheduling tools (40%) and contact-tracing tools (40%).
  • C-level executives identified employee and visitor check-in/out systems (70%) and security access control systems, such as a door lock keypad or other security system that is required upon entry (69%), as preferred return-to-work technologies.

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