Reboot: Employees want safety and well-being prioritized

Employers have the opportunity to raise awareness about protecting people and productivity

As states begin to loosen shelter-in-place mandates, companies are planning for a return to the workplace by implementing a raft of safety measures. But how do employees feel about returning to the workplace? To find out, PwC surveyed more than 1,100 American workers nationwide during the week of May 4, 2020. The results might surprise employers:

  • Do you know how your workers feel about returning to the workplace?
  • Has employee sentiment informed your plans for the reboot?
  • How are you planning to educate and communicate with workers who want to be safe yet have questions about tracing?

Workers worry about getting sick

Among the workers we surveyed, 39% were forced to stop working (while still being paid) or were forced to work remotely. Of those, the vast majority — 70% — said that something would prevent them from returning to the office or work site if their employer asked them to return. Most — 51% — cited fear of getting sick.
 
Overall, parents of children under 18 are more reluctant to return to work, citing, among other issues, an unwillingness to take public transportation. Meanwhile, some workers are also taking care of family members who are ill. Employers are well-advised to integrate these concerns into their plans for the reboot, which might well require a combination of on-premises and remote-work options.


Barriers to returning to the workplace*


Top reasons that Americans would not be able to return to work

Fear of getting sick from being at work
%
Unwilling to use public transportation for my commute
%
My responsibilities as a parent or caregiver
%
Taking care of sick family members
%
Source: PwC COVID-19 US Employee Pulse Survey
May 8, 2020: base 468 (those forced to stop working, but still being paid and those forced to work remotely)
Q: Which of the following would prevent you from returning to your office or work site location, if your employer asked you to return tomorrow? Please select all that apply. *main categories
Note: Workers in the Northeast are more likely to select unwillingness to use public transportation.

Keep me safe, say workers

A little over half of all workers who had been forced to stop working or forced to work remotely are seeking guarantees of safety from their employers. Topping the list of measures they would like employers to provide is personal protective equipment (56%).

They also want to be informed immediately when a colleague has tested positive for COVID-19 (51%) and want customers to follow safety and hygiene protocols when they are onsite (51%). Companies already have many of these measures in place, according to a PwC survey of 288 US CFOs and finance leaders between May 4-6: 83% are implementing workplace safety measures such as wearing masks and offering testing while 73% are reconfiguring their worksites to promote physical distancing.


Preferred safety measures*

Provide personal protective equipment, such as masks
%
Assurances I'll be notified if someone I work with has tested positive
%
Require customers to follow safety and hygiene practices
%
Provide assurances about cleanliness and disinfecting procedures
%
Clear response and shut-down protocols if someone were to test positive
%
Reconfigure layout to promote physical distancing between workers
%
Provide mandatory employee testing for clearance prior to return
%
Provide a way to give feedback on COVID-related policies
%
Reconfigure layout to promote physical distancing between workers and customers
%
Close off high risk areas that cannot be adequately disinfected
%
Source: PwC COVID-19 US Employee Pulse Survey
May 8, 2020: base 468 (those forced to stop working, but still being paid and those forced to work remotely)
Q: Which of the following measures would you need your employer to take in order to feel comfortable going back to your office or work site location?
Please select all that apply.
*main categories

The role of tracing tools

Workers want to be safe. They don’t want to get sick. But they have reservations about tracing tools — a dichotomy because tracing tools might well be among the more effective ways to stay healthy. This dichotomy offers employers a real opportunity to raise awareness about the role of tracing tools, to help ensure the well-being of both remote and on-site workers while respecting their privacy. 

The tracking methods causing the most concern — with 31% saying they’re very concerned — include wearable devices to track location and proximity to infected individuals as well as phone apps that track location. While 45% are in favor of mandatory COVID-19 testing for health clearance before returning to the workplace, 24% are very concerned about this very same testing. Overall, men, workers in the Northeast and parents of children under 18 have more concerns about monitoring.


Concerns about being tracked
(Percent of American workers “very concerned”)

App on my phone that tracks my location and proximity to people who've been infected
%
Wearable device that tracks my location and proximity to people who've been infected
%
Employer-required COVID-19 virus testing
%
Workplace cameras to monitor workplace health and safety protocols
%
Employer-required COVID-19 antibody testing
%
Temperature checks when arriving onsite
%
Workplace sensors to monitor workplace health and safety protocols
%
Source: PwC COVID-19 US Employee Pulse Survey
May 8, 2020: base 1,189
Q: How concerned are you about your employer using each of the following to track which employees have contracted COVID-19 or are potentially at-risk?

What does this mean for employers?

Workers are communicating a clear message: They want employers to prioritize their safety and well-being when they return to the workplace. Companies are already responding with a raft of safety measures designed to help protect people and productivity — including extending remote work options and modifying the workplace. 

Communicating the extent of these safety and hygiene protocols will be essential in assuring employees who were forced to stop working or forced to work remotely that they are safe in a post-COVID-19 workplace. Employers also have an opportunity to educate employees about the technology available to help keep them safe while also protecting their privacy. 

A key component of that education is raising awareness of the connection between tracing and each employee’s health — the importance of being able to pinpoint potential risk exposure precisely so they can take action quickly. Embarking on this type of ongoing dialogue can help employers identify the best path forward to help protect people and productivity.

Contact us

Carrie  Duarte

Carrie Duarte

Workforce of the Future Leader, PwC US

Dr. Deniz  Caglar

Dr. Deniz Caglar

PwC's Strategy&, Principal, PwC US

Bhushan Sethi

Bhushan Sethi

Principal, Joint Global Leader, People and Organization, PwC US