Business leaders are investing in new safety protocols and wellbeing initiatives to help their people navigate a changed work environment. But amid a health crisis, economic uncertainty and social unrest, many employees simply aren’t feeling comfortable returning to the office or confident in their ability to do their jobs.
PwC surveyed more than 1,000 American workers nationwide during the week of June 9, 2020. (This is our second employee survey; the first was conducted in early May.) The results reveal the need for a reset. Leaders have an opportunity to change how they’re connecting with their employees and better understand what they can do to make them feel more productive and prepared in an uncertain world.
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Fewer than half (47%) of employees who were forced to stop working or work remotely say safety measures like wearing masks or reconfiguring layouts to promote physical distancing will make them more comfortable returning to the office. Only 45% say requiring customers to follow safety and hygiene practices will make them more comfortable. Even mandatory testing, like temperature checks before allowing people on-site, doesn’t inspire confidence.
The takeaway: For employees, safety protocols have quickly become normalized and are now expected—and don’t necessarily make people more comfortable returning to the office. Still, it’s important to recognize that some groups will value those measures more than others, and to understand who those people are and exactly what they need to feel more comfortable. For example, 58% of workers aged 45-54 and 54% of workers aged 65 and older say implementing new workplace safety measures would make them feel more comfortable being on-site, compared with only 40% of those aged 18-34. And 55% of respondents from the Northeast, where outbreaks are much higher than in other parts of the country, say they’d feel more comfortable if customers were required to follow safety and hygiene measures, compared with 45% of all respondents.
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The pandemic and recent social unrest have moved many business leaders to make a greater effort to lead with empathy. They’re showing compassion and speaking out against racial intolerance, investing in wellbeing resources and communicating transparently about the possibility of layoffs, furloughs or other cost-cutting measures. Unfortunately, these actions aren’t resonating enough with employees. Only about a third of employees say these actions make them feel more confident in their ability to do their job.
The takeaway: The messages and actions leaders make now matter greatly and are meaningful to many employees, customers and other stakeholders. But the way those actions are communicated may need to be more customized and targeted so they feel more relevant and inspiring to your employees. Personalizing your messaging, customizing benefits to help people overcome individual challenges and adjusting your communication strategy to encourage more opportunities for two-way dialogue may also help.
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With 54% of finance leaders in PwC's CFO Pulse Survey planning to make remote working a permanent option, there’s a greater need to ensure people have the tools and resources they need to be productive and successful in a virtual work environment. The majority of employees said their organization’s tools and resources for collaboration, communication, coaching and creativity are “somewhat” or “very effective.” Slightly over a third (37%) of employees, for example, rated collaboration as “very effective.” But there’s room for improvement. About a quarter of employees said their organization’s tools and resources in these same four areas are either “not very” or “not at all” effective.
The takeaway: These skills and behaviors are critical for businesses to create new products, find new sources of revenue and grow. And 44% of CFOs say they plan to accelerate automation and new ways of working once they transition back to on-site work. But many organizations need to do more to ensure employees have the necessary tools and skills. Meanwhile, many organizations are seeing significant improvements in other skills and behaviors as a result of new ways of working that emerged during the pandemic, such as greater agility, faster decision-making and more resilience and empathy. Identify what has worked well and improved, encourage those behaviors and take steps to embed them into your culture.
(Percentage listed as “very effective”)
Don’t assume you know what people want or need. Give your team ways to share their personal situations or challenges if they choose to do so and communicate their needs. Pulse surveys can also be a useful way to gather data and get a sense of how employees are feeling.
Only 9% of CFOs plan to offer targeted benefits based on what employees say they need help with, such as providing assistance with childcare. Only 7% plan to offer hazard pay for on-site workers in affected areas. But a third of employees said those measures would make them more comfortable returning to on-site work. Providing benefits that help ease people’s personal constraints may go a long way toward improving their comfort level and confidence in their ability to do their jobs.
As you consider investments that will either sustain or improve how your employees work in this changed environment, think about what resources they need most and target that area. Do they need better tools or new skills? Different behaviors? Better ways to measure and encourage new ways of working? Get input from your people by asking them what they need and what could help them be more productive, collaborative and creative—then invest in the areas that will have the most impact.
PwC surveyed 1,022 U.S. based adults from a general population between June 9-11, 2020. The survey was conducted online. The PwC Workforce Pulse Survey is conducted on a periodic basis to track changing sentiment and priorities among employees. View the May 11, 2020 survey.
Bhushan Sethi, Co-Global Leader of PwC's People and Organization Practice, spoke with Policy on Demand about the results of PwC’s second Workplace Pulse Survey, including worker sentiment on returning to work, bridging the gap between employers and employees, impressions of contact tracing, biggest back to work challenges, and how transparent communication is critical. For more information, visit us at PwC.com/us/policyondemand