Return to work woes as staff say there’s no place like home

As the UK looks to end its Plan B restrictions, and with it a return to work, there is growing evidence that staff are not keen to return to the workplace.

Increasing numbers are reprising Dorothy’s mantra in The Wizard or Oz. While firms are busy opening their doors, they are adamant there is no place like home.

This week US corporate giant Honeywell released the initial findings from its second annual study on workers’ perceptions and feelings on the health and safety of their workplace. The results will make grim reading for management as thousands of staff who typically work in buildings with 500 or more employees across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, India, the Middle East and ASEAN were asked how they felt about a return to the office.

It found that a significant majority of respondents (87%) were more concerned about working in an office building. Despite the broad rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, this figure is a 19 percent increase in concern compared to last year’s findings. Results from the January 2021 survey, of a smaller sample size, showed 68% of workers not feeling completely safe working in their employer’s buildings at the time.

Of more concern was the fact that 62% of all respondents said they would leave their job if their employer failed to take what they deem to be necessary measures to create a healthier indoor environment that promotes well-being.

When asked their thoughts on what poses a bigger threat to their safety, nearly 3 in 5 (57%) of those surveyed noted co-workers not following safety guidelines, while more than 2 in 5 (43%) said outdated ventilation systems.

Honeywell has been quick to warn that many companies have been forced to again rethink their return to office strategies given rising infection rates.

“These insights imply that employers need to continue to consider how they are creating healthier and safer workspaces, in particular related to improving indoor air quality and tracking compliance to guidelines such as social distancing and mask wearing,” it said. “In the long term, creating a healthier workplace can be a competitive advantage to drive employee satisfaction and retainment.”

The past two days, since the UK’s announcement that restrictions are to end have seen briefings by firms over a return to work as the request for those who can to remain working for home is rescinded.

Hybrid working remains a growing option for many firms, but there are growing concerns that for many the lure of home will trump even the prospect of two or three days in the workplace.

A number of surveys on the past six months have thrown up a surprisingly high percentage of staff who have been vocal in their willingness to leave their current roles if they believe that companies are not doing enough to protect their welfare.

There is a view that for those who have been vaccinated the now dominant Omicron variant poses little risk of serious illness or death. However while in government circles there is a view that the world will need to live with COVID as it does with influenza, the emergence of a more lethal strain of the virus cannot be ruled out.

For companies that have breathed a sigh of relief that the restrictions are set to ease with a promise that there will be no more lockdowns, the problems may just be starting as the road to a return to thew workplace is looking far from as smooth as had been hoped.

Jon Guy,

Editor, Emerging Risks

Increasing numbers are reprising Dorothy’s mantra in The Wizard or Oz. While firms are busy opening their doors, they are adamant there is no place like home.

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