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Ready to get back to work, white-collar Americans want COVID rule-breakers fired

A new survey has found that most American office workers want to get back to normal – with one caveat: Colleagues who break COVID rule can be fired.

“The survey showcases just how strong the national demand is among employees to return to the office, but also how insistent they are that employers provide a safe environment,” said Joe Du Bey, CEO of Eden Workplace, which conducted the survey of 1,000 officer workers.

JOE Du BEY

“It is clear that people miss seeing their colleagues, and I also believe that a more flexible future is desired with a shift to the hybrid office.”

The Eden Workplace Return to Office Survey found that 85 percent of office workers are looking forward to returning to the office in some capacity.

But nearly two thirds  (61 percent) want strict enforcement of COVID-related workplace regulations by their employers. In fact, a quarter (26 percent) even feel that employees who violate COVID safety rules should face the steep consequence of being demoted or even fired.

As the availability of COVID-19 vaccines has elevated discussions about employees returning to the office, Eden Workplace’s survey reveals a significant majority (80 percent) of office workers expect a social stigma against their colleagues who refuse to get vaccinated.

This includes more than half (53 percent) who expect a moderate or severe stigma, leaving colleagues to keep their distance or even shun unvaccinated co-workers.

Conversely, 14 percent think COVID safety rules should be treated more like guidelines, with no consequences for employees if they don’t follow them.

The results also indicate different perspectives by age, ethnicity, and education levels. While 89 percent of millennials wish to return to the office, only 80 percent of baby boomers felt the same. Also, while 90 percent of non-white office workers expressed that they were looking forward to returning to the office, the results for white office workers were slightly lower at 84 percent. In terms of education, those with a college degree were the most likely to want to return at 90 percent.

Other key findings from the survey include: 

Employers are going to have to rethink their approach to traditional in-house proceedings.

Two-thirds of office workers (66%) will not be comfortable with in-person meetings unless everyone in attendance is at least six feet apart. 

A significant proportion of office workers won’t be comfortable being on site unless even stronger safety measures are enforced, such as mandating the use of medical-grade PPE (42%) or proof of vaccination for all attendees (30%). 

Most workers feel basic COVID protections must be the new normal, but there is a large discrepancy among employee expectations depending upon access to COVID health and safety information and their level of displacement during quarantine.

The vast majority of workers expect free hand sanitizer (71%), company-provided masks (61%), and their workspace to be socially distanced (59%).

Less than half expect temperature checks (47%), screening for vaccinations or tests (34%), contactless technology like to open doors (28%) or pre-registration to enable contact tracing (28%).

Meanwhile, those who never worked from home are far more likely to not want their employer to enforce COVID rules (46%), compared to those who have been working from home during quarantine (38%) and those who have already returned to the office (33%).

The survey also reveals that returning to the office does not appeal to 15% of workers.

While most workers miss their coworkers, they don’t expect a major shift in how they will dress for work.

More than half of the respondents reported that  socializing with colleagues (52%) was their top reason for wanting to return to the office.

Others missed benefits include having access to proper work equipment (44%) or just getting out of the home (44%).

More than half (53%) expect to return to their pre-COVID, in-office dress style.

Another 23% think their colleagues will use the opportunity to showcase more formal attire (9%) or stylish and chic outfits (15%). On the flip side, 24% expect their colleagues to dress as casually as they did while working from home.

 “One prominent theme from the data is that, despite some variation in employee expectations about how the return to the office will roll out, they want to go back,” Du Bey said.

“Working from home clearly has its place, but the drive among workers to be among peers and colleagues is extraordinary. The timeline for a full return to the office is fluid, but it seems that we have turned a corner. It is therefore critical that employers invest in the proper technologies to help them manage their space and keep their employees safe.”

The Eden Workplace Return to Office Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research among 1,000 nationally representative U.S. full- and part-time office workers ages 18+ between February 9 and February 17, 2021, using an email invitation and an online survey. 

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