Survey: 89% of workers have health concerns about returning to the office

As more Americans become vaccinated against COVID-19, U.S. offices have begun opening their doors to employees who have spent the past year and a half working from home. But a new Glassdoor survey conducted from July 8-12 shows that, despite looking forward to returning to work at the office, many U.S. employees also have lingering health concerns.

“Our survey shows that there are many questions that people still have, and that excitement to see people again is still juxtaposed with concerns,” Glassdoor’s Corporate Communications Manager, Alison Sullivan, told Yahoo Finance.

The survey, conducted by Harris Poll in conjunction with Glassdoor, spoke with 1,042 employed adults, 278 of whom are working from home full-time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those working from home, 96% planned to return to the office in some capacity — and 66% said they were eager to return.

Still, 89% of employees are concerned about returning to the office due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, which has resulted in rare so-called breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals. Of the 278 work-from-home employees surveyed, 35% feared contracting COVID-19 at work.

Employees returning to the office may have to wear masks. Image: Getty
Employees returning to the office may have to wear masks. Image: Getty

Just Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published new mask guidance that encourages even vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors in areas with "substantial or high transmission," which can complicate back to work plans for many.

The survey also reflected ambivalence about working from home, noting several drawbacks to remote employment. Thirty percent of employees who worked from home believe that permanent remote work would hurt their chances of promotion. Meanwhile, 27% percent of employees feel less connected to their colleagues, and 26% feel less tied to company culture. And nearly one-third of employees felt working from home made them more likely to quit.

Leadership should 'interrogate' returning to the office

Glassdoor's Sullivan suggests that employers practice empathy and understanding as employees adjust to being back to their place of business and solicit feedback about their concerns.

“It’s really interesting to see this having both, being really excited to take conversations and relationships outside of the screen and back into reality. But people also want to still be safe," she noted.

Human Resources and recruiting consultant for startups and nonprofits Anna Silverman tells Yahoo Finance some of her clients are nervous about going back to work. She also notes that employers should consider practicality when it comes to asking employees back into the office.

Employers must understand precisely why they want their employees back in the office — for example, just wanting to see people face to face might not be the best reason to bring people back in.

“The old ways of doing things have not necessarily been the most efficient conditions or businesses. I really encourage leadership to deeply interrogate why they come back in person and to be mindful of the reality that the job market has changed dramatically,” Silverman said.

That transformed job market can benefit employers, too. They now have the chance to hire the best person for the job regardless of location due to the new virtual working environment. Conversely, demanding that people work in person could hurt their chances of recruiting the best talent.

“Employers who are demanding folks return run the risk of attrition and then also not be able to compete for the best,” she said.

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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