Physical safety, psychological security, job stability: employees worldwide share top COVID-19 concerns for the workplace of today and tomorrow
In a sweeping survey of employees and business leaders across 11 nations, The Workforce Instituteat UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group) found only a fraction of employees (20%) felt their organisation met their needs during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there is a silver lining: a third of employees globally (33%) say they trust their employer more now than before the pandemic began because of how organisations reacted.
Top needs and concerns
“Hindsight 2020: COVID-19 Concerns into 2021,” commissioned by The Workforce Institute at UKG and conducted by Workplace Intelligence, explores how nearly 4,000 employees and business leaders1 in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. felt about their employer’s initial COVID-19 response and examines the top needs and concerns of the workforce through 2021.
In these uncertain times and as we enter a new period of increased restrictions, there are many employee expectations and concerns that business and HR leaders must address in order to alleviate anxieties around the world of work.
Research found that, according to U.K. workers, less than half of U.K. organisations were prepared to manage through the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (42%) and their organisations made mistakes during the pandemic (44%). However, more than half (53%) of U.K. workers say their organisation went above and beyond expectations during the pandemic.
Looking ahead, less than two thirds (57%) of U.K. workers believe that their organisation will be prepared to manage through another potential spike in cases of COVID-19. With this in mind, the research highlights the following key workplace concerns and expectations.
Communication is key, alongside swift decisions
Globally, the most common complaint about the initial pandemic response is that it was too slow, according to a third (36%) of workers, who wished offices closed faster and safety measures for essential workers were implemented sooner. However, in the U.K., the most common complaints were that workers wished their organisation had acted with more empathy for employees (31%) and communicated sooner and more openly (31%). This was then followed with 28% wishing the response had been quicker.
It’s not all about physical health – mental health is more important than ever
The biggest employee operational concern in the U.K. is balancing their workloads (42%) so they don’t get burned out. With over half of U.K. workers stating that they’ve been working either the same or more hours regularly since the start of the pandemic (51%), it’s imperative that organisations recognise this and respond accordingly. Overall, over half (53%) of U.K. workers say their organisation has taken at least some measures to guard against burnout; this rises to three in five (59%) globally.
Burn out and redundancy
Overall, organisations are focusing more on ensuring staff do not burn out, which is further reflected in the fact that the top three concerns about operating over the next 18 months in the U.K. are: future redundancies or furloughs due to economic instability (40%), ability to help employees balance workloads to prevent fatigue/burnout (39%), and the ability to offer necessary learning and development opportunities.
Future redundancies are also a concern for employees, with two fifths of U.K. workers (40%) concerned about future redundancies and furloughs due to economic instability created by COVID-19. This is equally a concern in China (44%), Mexico (41%), Canada (40%), and the U.S. (37%), but less of a concern in France (26%) and the Netherlands (27%).
Cleanliness, commuting, and common areas are cause for concern
While 45% of workers worldwide say overall cleanliness is a top concern going forward, they’re equally concerned with using shared common areas like lounges and restrooms (42%) as well as shared workspaces like conference rooms (37%). More than a third of all employees (35%) also voiced concern about passing through high-traffic areas such as lifts, staircases, and waiting rooms.
Physical workplace concerns vary by country: In India and France, the top concern is safely commuting to the workplace (72% and 50%, respectively), while overall cleanliness and sanitation is most worrisome to those in Mexico (60%), Canada (50%), Germany (47%), Australia and New Zealand (46%), the U.S. (44%), and the U.K. (42%). In China, two-thirds (63%) are worried about passing through high-traffic areas while a third of employees in the Netherlands (35%) are nervous about shared common areas.
In terms of person-to-person contact, 46% are concerned about being quickly informed about presumed or confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the workplace and 43% are concerned about their company’s ability to react quickly to presumed or confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
Only 13% of global employees are worried about movements being tracked at work to fight COVID-19 – including fewer than one in 10 Gen Zers and younger Millennials2 (8%) – signalling they may recognise the immediate safety benefits in this approach to aid contact tracing.
Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR, executive director, The Workforce Institute at UKG says: “As organisations around the world operate through an unprecedented global pandemic, they need to double down on their employee experience strategy. However, instead of looking for trendy perks, they must get back to the foundational needs every employee requires: physical safety, psychological security, job stability, and flexibility. Among employees who trust their organisation more now than before the pandemic, 70% say the company went above and beyond in their COVID-19 response. By truly putting the employee first, a mutual trust will begin to take hold that will propel employee engagement – and the success of the business – to new levels.”
Dan Schawbel, managing partner, Workplace Intelligence; advisory board member, The Workforce Institute at UKG adds: “While organisations made mistakes during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees also recognise the unprecedented nature of this once-in-a-generation event. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, employees want their employers to adapt and evolve as quickly as possible. Those that have made changes to address and protect employees – specifically physically, emotionally, and with economic stability – have earned newfound employee trust, which will be a valuable commodity that helps ensure future success.”