American workers plan to stay put, but want more in return

Despite high burnout rates, Americans don't want to change jobs, but now have high employer expectations, according to a new study from Ketchum.

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Image: iStock/Khosrork

U.S. workers are apparently adopting the old (really old, 1539) Irish idiom of "better the devil you know": A year after the world went into lockdown, Americans are going to stay in their current jobs—at least 70% of U.S. respondents to a new Ketchum study will. Ketchum's The New Essentials: Working Lessons from a Year in the Pandemic reported this data, despite the high rates of burnout, from both frontline essential workers and non-frontline workers.

American employers will be expected to pay for their workers' loyalty. Ketchum said "data confirms that while most American workers plan to stay put, their expectations of their employers is higher than ever." 

So, yes, they'll stay in their jobs, but despite their plans to remain in their current roles, nearly half of employed Americans (47%) feel more burned out now than at the beginning of the pandemic. 

This burnout is even higher for frontline workers (55%) and those working remotely full time due to the pandemic (56%). Half of remote workers now struggle more with work-life balance (49%).

SEE: Gartner's top tech predictions for 2021 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The benefits of remote work

Remote work showed many a healthier work-life balance. Ketchum's report said, "The ability to work remotely has become more important to 77% of employed Americans, and 60% of remote workers feel they are more effective at their jobs working from home."

Two-thirds (66%) of Americans working from home say they'd like to keep doing so after it's safe to go back to the workplace, and one in 10 non-frontline employees (10%) say nothing could make them feel safe going back to work in person. 

But it's not all sunshine and roses because working virtually can be stressful. Forty-nine percent of employees working remotely full time due to the pandemic said they would return to the office full time if it meant they never had to get on another video call. There might be some Zoom-fatigue in there.

The burden of frontline workers

In practice, public and the media, frontline workers did all of the heavy lifting for the rest of us throughout 2020, and 57% of frontline essential workers now feel more, not less, appreciated at work by the public compared with the beginning of the pandemic; 61% also feel more appreciated by their employers, a higher percentage than among workers overall (52%). 

Frontline workers also are more likely than employed Americans overall to feel the pandemic has made them more empathetic toward colleagues. 

To vaccinate or not?

Many U.S. employers now provide access to the COVID-19 vaccine and offer incentives for employees to get vaccinated, but adoption is uneven: 19% of frontline workers said they had already been vaccinated. But despite one-third of employed Americans saying that mandatory vaccinations of all employees would make them feel safe going into work, about a quarter of all workers (26%) said the vaccine isn't a priority for them. They said they want to get vaccinated at some point, but not necessarily as soon as they are eligible, or, they will only get vaccinated if their employer requires or incentivizes it. And 15% of workers overall say they do not plan to be vaccinated or don't know their plan.

Highlights of the study

  • 29% of employed Americans want to move to a four-day work week
  • 46% want workplace flexibility
  • 46% view health benefits as a top priority
  • 24% would like to see new or expanded mental health benefits made available to them (including 26% of self-identified frontline workers—people who are indispensable in roles that require in-person contact to keep their organizations functioning)
  • 77% now consider their ability to work from home more important than they did pre-pandemic
  • 66% said they want to keep working remotely even after it's safe to return to the workplace
  • 49% said they'd be willing to go back to the office full time if it spared them from ever having to use video conferencing again
  • 33.3% said they'd feel safe going to work in an environment where all workers have been vaccinated
  • 26% of all workers say getting vaccinated isn't a priority for them
  • 15% said they either don't plan to be vaccinated or don't yet know if they will 

Definitely worthy of rewards for hard work, frontline workers said they now feel more respected and appreciated by the general public as well as their employer.

The report stated, "The shift from nice-to-have to necessary is defining 'new essentials,' a re-examination of the employee experience, that might not have been on the table before the pandemic. The challenge for employers is to determine which of these changes are permanent and how to deliver on them."

The "new essentials" that workers say they now consider more important are in addition to, not a replacement for, standard compensation and benefits. Among the top 10 are:

  • health insurance benefits
  • salary level
  • paid time off
  • the employee's health
  • family
  • feeling safe at work 
  • employers that do the right thing

Ketchum said the data "will help guide companies as they design their approach to long-term hybrid work arrangements, consider expanding their benefits packages and find new ways to support frontline workers in delivering essential services."

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