“Hindsight 2020: COVID-19 Concerns into 2021”: A New Survey by The Workforce Institute at UKG*

Today’s post comes to us from the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

This week, we announced the results of a new survey we conducted with our friends at Workplace Intelligence looking at how employees around the world are feeling about their employers’ response to the pandemic so far, and what the top concerns of those employees are as we move into 2021 and beyond.

One of the things I’m really excited about with this survey is that we reached out to employees and business leaders – nearly 4,000 of them – in 11 countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.) to get a truly global perspective. Given that COVID-19 is a global pandemic, considering this global perspective rather than just focusing on the U.S. is critically important.

So, how are employees feeling? Well, here’s the hindsight part:

Only a fraction of employees (20%) felt that their organization met their needs during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Three in 10 employees and business leaders wished their organization better leveraged technology to provide flexibility, especially when the pandemic was at its most chaotic.
  • A common complaint about the initial pandemic response is that it was too slow, according to a third (36%) of employees and business leaders, who wished offices closed faster and safety measures for essential workers were implemented sooner.
  • Nearly a third (32%) also yearned for more communication – both sooner and more transparently – which is a primary regret for more than a third (35%) of C-level leaders.

I think this data can be really instructive for employers. Focusing on providing your employees with the technology they need to be successful and communicating transparently are key. And as the pandemic continues to evolve in 2021 and beyond, employers should try to be as nimble as possible, reacting quickly to the changes and thinking about how to efficiently equip employees to deal with them.

Other key findings in the survey:

Burnout and concerns about job security and safety are weighing on workers:

  • Half of employees globally say they’ve been working either the same or more hours regularly since the start of the pandemic, which helps to explain why 43% call their organization’s ability to balance workloads to prevent fatigue and burnout a priority.
    • Burnout and fatigue are equally concerning for employees working remotely (43%) and those in a physical workplace (43%).
    • More than a third of employees and business leaders (36%) are concerned about future layoffs and furloughs due to economic instability created by COVID-19. This is most concerning in China (44%), followed by Mexico (41%), Canada (40%), and the U.S. (37%).
    • Concerns about job security span all generations: Gen Z and younger Millennials (35%), older Millennials (37%), Gen Xers (36%), and Boomers (34%) are all equally worried.
    • 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.

Nearly half of employees globally (46%) say quick notification about confirmed COVID-19 cases in the workplace is their top concern.

  • Even though older workers are considered a higher risk population for COVID-19, the younger the respondent, the more concerned they are with rapid notifications in the workplace: this is the biggest concern for more than half of Gen Zers and younger Millennials (51%), and then decreasing by generation from older Millennials (45%), to Gen Xers (44%), and then Boomers (42%).
    • While employees and business leaders in India (58%), Mexico (53%), and China (48%) say sharing news of a positive test is a top concern, fewer people in Germany (39%) and Australia/New Zealand (38%) feel the same way.
    • Only 13% of all employees are worried about movements being tracked at work to fight COVID-19 – including fewer than one in 10 Gen Zers and younger Millennials (8%) – signaling they may recognize the immediate safety benefits in this approach to aid contact tracing.

This survey shows that we are living through a time of high anxiety about a number of issues – burnout, job security, job safety, physical safety. But one piece of really good news was this: a third of employees globally (33%) say they trust their employer more now than before the pandemic began because of how organizations reacted.

Strong bonds can be forged through difficult times. Camaraderie and loyalty flourish when we band together to succeed through adversity. This pandemic is terrible, and no one would have chosen to go through it, but given that we all have no choice, there is an opportunity here for employers to go the extra mile for employees, to give them the tools they need to be successful, to communicate openly and honestly, to show empathy and appreciation. Employers who do all this will come through this pandemic having built trust with their employees and will be better poised for success of all kinds as we move out of pandemic life and into what comes next.

*You’ll notice we are now referring to ourselves as “The Workforce Institute at UKG” to reflect our recent merger. We like the sound of it and hope you do too!

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