73% of employees fear return to workplace will compromise personal health and safety

A new study finds most employees would consider quitting their job if employers' COVID-19 prevention measures fall short.

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73% of US employees fear a return to the workplace could pose a risk to their personal health and safety, according to a study released Wednesday by workplace technology platform provider Envoy.

While a majority of employees said they do want to return to the workplace once COVID restrictions are lifted, 75% said they would consider quitting their job if they felt their employers' actions to prevent COVID-19 were inadequate or inappropriate, according to the Protecting the Workplace study.

As employers grapple with how to provide a safe workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Envoy's latest survey reveals 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.

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At the same time, an overwhelming majority,  94%, said they'd like to go back to the workplace at least part of the time while continuing some work from home, the study said.

Privacy, sick coworkers top the list of workplace concerns

Employees are most concerned about not knowing if someone sick comes into the workplace (40%), too many people in the workplace at once (31%), and being indoors with 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%), the survey said.

Younger employees are particularly 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 coworkers will follow safe workplace procedures than those in business or tech services (52%), the survey said.

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%) and retail or service industry (67%), "alluding to the fact that many workers don't have the luxury to consider leaving their job," Envoy said.

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%), the survey said. Workers want to return to the workplace, but on their own terms.

Other key findings include:

  • Employees are concerned companies won't adequately protect their health.

  • Three quarters (75%) of employees said 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% said they've experienced preventive measures that were either ineffective or not enforced, including six-foot distancing measures (25%) mask requirements (21%), and hand-washing requirements (18%).

  • Despite concerns about a return, 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.

  • Many 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.

"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," said Larry Gadea, founder and CEO of Envoy, in a statement. "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 ages 18+ between Aug. 27 and Sept. 1.

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