People increasingly confident about return to offices

Half (49 percent) of employed British adults feel positive about the prospect of returning to their place of work after lockdown, with less than one in five (18 percent) feeling negative, an Aviva study claims. The findings paint a relatively positive picture for businesses that have supported their people through lockdown, such as regularly communicating with workers and taking necessary steps to manage the risk of infection in the workplace. However, where businesses have not embraced risk management and prevention strategies, employees may decide not to return to work at all.

However, it is clear that there is a long way to go before businesses are compliant with the practical guidance from the government to make work safe for employees and customers.

The survey of more than 2,000 employed adults working in the UK found that 61 percent of those returning to work believe their employer will make the work environment safe to return to. However, in a clear warning to businesses that don’t put safety first, the survey found that 35 percent of employees returning to work don’t trust their employer to make the workplace safe and may not return to work for their employer.


Concerns remain

For workers who feel neutral or negative about returning to work, infection remains workers’ top concern as they come back to their place of work. Whether from colleagues (44 percent) or customers (33 percent), employees are most concerned about virus transmission in the workplace, which underscores the need for employers to embrace clear prevention strategies to protect their people and the public.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Employees over 55 were the least concerned about the impact of lockdown on their mental health[/perfectpullquote]

Coronavirus has affected everyone in different ways, depending on a number of factors including age, industry, and geography. For example, only 29 percent of 16 – 24 year olds said they were concerned about the risk of being infected by colleagues, compared to 44 percent across all age groups. Infection concerns increased consistently by age group, with those over 55 most concerned (49 percent).

Conversely, employees over 55 were the least concerned about the impact of lockdown on their mental health (7 percent). This compares to 21 percent of young employed people who said the changes under lockdown affected their happiness.

However, the biggest concern facing young people returning to work is confusion and a lack of communication over social distancing (39 percent). Underscoring the importance of communication, young people were also the most critical of communication from their employer, with just 14 percent rating communication with their employer as ‘excellent’ – well below the average response of 25 percent who rated employer communication as ‘excellent’.

The confusion voiced by young people in this survey shows that employers have a clear need to regularly communicate with all of their workers about their return to work and to keep them informed of the safest ways of working, including how to manage social distancing in the workplace.


Regional differences

Where we live also affects our attitude to returning to work. Aviva’s research suggests that the greatest concern for Londoners returning to work wasn’t the workplace itself, but getting there. Concern about commuting by public transport was noted by nearly half (47 percent) of all respondents in the Greater London area, more than any other area of concern.

Employees’ concern of catching Covid-19 from colleagues varied widely by location. Compared to the national average across workers from all regions (44 percent), workers in or around Plymouth (57 percent), Norwich (55 percent) and Cardiff (55 percent) were the most concerned about infection from colleagues, while those in  Nottingham (34 percent), Southampton (37 percent), and Newcastle (38 percent) registered the lowest concern.

Attitudes towards risk are also varied across industry sectors. Healthcare workers, who were some of the heroes emerging from lockdown, showed admirable positivity in the face of danger, recording the lowest levels of personal concern with regards to infection from colleagues (38 percent), compared to other sectors in the survey. They also had a relatively low score for concern of infection from patients (34 percent).

The industry most concerned about infection from colleagues was the sector that included construction, at 60 percent. Workers were understandably concerned as their jobs are physically demanding and frequently require the need to shout over loud noise – both thought to be contributory factors to the spread of the virus.


Safer offices

In Aviva’s survey more than 2,000 employed UK adults were asked about their attitude towards returning to work. Of these, 42 percent spent lockdown working from home, 26 percent continued to work in their usual place of business, 21 percent were furloughed and 6 percent continued to work in different locations in a key trade (e.g., plumber, electrician, etc.). A further 5 percent were not working and not on furlough.

Of the workers that continued to work in their usual place of business, or continued to work at different locations, 80 percent said that their employer had taken some steps to improve their safety, and the safety of customers entering the premises.

The top three changes implemented by businesses were easy access to hand-washing and hand sanitiser (65 percent), reducing the number of employees and/or customers allowed in the workplace (50 percent) and sign-posting traffic flow through the premises to support social distancing (42 percent).

While welcome, this shows that many businesses still have a long way to go to fully comply with the government’s five point plan for safely returning to work and being Covid-Secure.