Going Back to the Office Amid COVID Variants

Going back to work even after a vacation can feel daunting, but it's child's play compared to what American employees face today. The pandemic hasn't exactly been a vacation for most, and returning now is associated with severe health risks like the Delta variant, which is presently the predominant strain in the U.S. In light of these worries, we conducted a study into how employees and employers alike are handling and/or planning to handle a potential return to on-site work.

Employees shared the top actions they hoped their employers would take, how vaccination requirements are coming into play, and the level of return anxiety felt by various demographic groups.

Key Takeaways

  • Fully vaccinated Americans were the most concerned about COVID-19 variants at work.
  • 13% of employees currently working on-site would quit their job if their employer requires proof of vaccination.
  • Fully vaccinated employees were more anxious than unvaccinated workers about returning to work in person.

Preparedness for Returning to the Office

First we gauged employees' general level of readiness for returning to on-site work. We asked about their level of concern and compared responses by both vaccination status and political affiliation. We also took a pulse check on their support (or lack thereof) for vaccination requirements at work.

Ready to go back?

The vast majority of remote workers (77%) said that they would be willing to return to work if their employer required proof of vaccination for all employees. Countless major companies, from Bank of America to AT&T and BlackRock, have already established vaccine requirements like this, and many others are following suit. Evidently, the majority of employees support this decision; however, we still found that a significant 21% felt unsure about returning to work even with vaccine requirements in place.

Republicans (63%) and Democrats (73%) were mostly aligned in their concern about COVID-19 variants in the workplace. It was actually vaccination status that caused the biggest difference in individuals' level of concern. Those who were fully vaccinated were also the most worried about COVID-19 variants at work. Perhaps this is because those most at risk of contracting COVID-19 are also the most likely to be vaccinated, pushing their concern levels higher. It could also be because those who have made the decision not to get vaccinated are less concerned about or convinced of the risks of COVID-19 in general. Overall, only 5% of respondents could say they were not at all concerned by the thought of returning to the office.

Thoughts on Mandatory Vaccine Requirements

So how would the news of a vaccine requirement be received by employees? The next section of our study asked respondents to consider how they would react if their employers made vaccination mandatory. Answers were compared by job level and political affiliation. We also asked various demographics if they felt vaccine mandates should be their company's top priority right now

Implementing mandatory vaccination at work

Many of those who were not in support of vaccination requirements were adamantly against it – enough so that 13% of on-site workers said they would quit their job if their employer required proof of vaccination. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to feel this way, although 1 in 10 Democrats were still on Team Quit. Managers were also more likely than their lower-level counterparts to say they would quit.

Passing a vaccine mandate at work was considered not only important but a top priority for 31% of employees overall. Slightly more remote workers and Democrats felt this way, but in general, we found that most people weren't likely to see a mandatory vaccination policy as the single most important thing on their employer's to-do list. In the next section of this study, we'll dive into other priorities and responses employees hoped to see in light of the new variant and an impending return to the workplace.

Emotions Around Going Back

The anxiety employees felt over the idea of returning to work was palpable. The last section of our study looks at how vaccination status and work situation affected employee levels of anxiety as well as the top actions people hoped their employers would take to safeguard them.

Employee fears over returning to work

Overall, anxiety was extremely high. When asked how they felt about returning to work, exactly half of respondents said they felt very or extremely anxious, while just 8% said they weren't anxious at all. The group that had already been vaccinated were the most likely to feel very or extremely anxious, as were those currently working remotely.

In order to combat these fears, employees first and foremost wanted their employers to require proof of vaccination for all their workers (62%). But that isn't the only approach companies can take, nor was it the only one employees wanted. About half wanted their employers to rotate schedules for on-site employees, theoretically enabling social distancing and minimizing exposure. Forty-eight percent also wanted to be able to continue to work remotely. Improved sick day policies weren't mentioned as often, but 39% still hoped their employers would consider them.

Reality of the Return

Employees should know that any concerns they have about returning to the workplace are common ones. Most people agreed that the thought of going back to the office was anxiety-inducing, even if they were fully vaccinated or currently working remotely. In fact, concerns about COVID variants were very-to-extremely high among the majority of workers.

Employers should know that calling employees back to work is raising concerns and that there are solid actions they can take to quell fears, such as rotating employees or enabling them to work remotely when needed. Also know that while most employees didn't feel that mandating vaccines should be a top priority, it was something the majority hoped their return was predicated upon.

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Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,012 employed Americans. Among them, 56% were men, 43% were women, and 1% identified as nonbinary. For political breakdowns, the sample sizes were as follows:

Democrats:539
Republicans:275
Other:198

Work situation breakdowns, the sample sizes were as follows:

Remote workers:568
Onsite workers:238
Other:206

For short, open-ended questions, outliers were removed. To help ensure that all respondents took our survey seriously, they were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question.

These data rely on self-reporting by the respondents and are only exploratory. Issues with self-reported responses include, but aren't limited to, exaggeration, selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and bias. All values are based on estimation.

Fair Use Statement

To remain safe and secure at work, it's crucial to stay in the know – as knowledge truly is power. You are welcome to share this data-backed information with your audience; just be sure you link back to this page when doing so and that your purposes are noncommercial.