Most Benefits pros have been very busy again. They’re trying to keep everyone safe while handling the onslaught of sick employees and time off requests due to Omicron. But now that things have quieted down a bit, would you like to know how your peers are doing when it comes to returning to the workplace?
The third edition of the Alera Group COVID-19 Employer Pulse Survey looked at how employers are doing as they make their way back to the workplace. They surveyed 290 employers from Oct. 18, 2021 to Nov. 4, 2021.
Before the pandemic hit, the minority of employers had some type of remote workforce. Now, thanks to COVID-19, the majority have it.
Transition back to workplace
But as we said, things are just starting to calm down from the Omicron surge. So, are most companies bringing their employees back to the workplace? If they are, how are they doing it and fairing?
Most employers are transitioning their people back to the workplace. According to the survey, 74% of large employers (1,000+) have “some” employees back in the office. Only 10% of them have all workers back. And 5% haven’t taken the plunge yet and are trying to decide when to do it.
As for small employers (less than 25), 49% have their entire workforce back in the office, and 22% have some back. But it’s easier for small businesses – they have fewer employees to worry about.
For those still contemplating when and how they’ll bring employees back, it looks like the consensus deadline is by the end of March 2022.
However, even when employees are brought back into the office, the majority of employers (69%) still plan to follow a hybrid work schedule. Only 6% plan to bring all employees back.
Whether all or just some people are brought back to the office fulltime, top priority for all employers is still safety!
Various policies and procedures are being put in place to ensure people’s safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Here’s what the surveyed companies are doing:
- collecting vaccination status (52%)
- requiring masks onsite (50%)
- requiring masks for unvaccinated (47%)
- conducting health screenings (27%)
- recommending wearing masks onsite (26%)
- doing temperature checks (24%)
- requiring negative COVID-19 tests (23%), and
- requiring vaccination (20%).
The size of the employer does make a difference because there’s more probability of spreading COVID-19. Employers with more than 500 employees say they’re conducting health screenings and requiring employees be vaccinated and wear masks. Those with under 500 are in the category of recommending masks be worn. And employers with less than 100 employees are less likely to collect vaccination status than those with 100+ employees.
As for tracking negative tests and vaccination status, 20% are relying on employees to self-attest. However, 57% said they’ll track it internally and verify it with a copy of the test result. Nine percent still aren’t sure how they’ll go about tracking. For smaller employers who know their employees well, self-attestation is probably OK. But large employers will probably want documented proof.
Of the companies that require vaccination, 90% said they’ll use vaccine cards for proof.
So for those who have returned to the workplace, what are the most common and greatest challenges?
Of course, top of the list is maintaining a safe workplace and keeping employees healthy! Then the list goes on to include employees not wanting to return to the office, maintaining company culture with a hybrid workforce, getting employees vaccinated and government regs.
Looking into the future, what concerns employers most over the next six months is hiring and maintaining employees in the time of the “Great resignation.”
After that, employees’ mental health and well-being is the next biggest concern for the short-term future.
What employers don’t seem real concerned about are labor and employment violation lawsuits related to COVID-19. While they aren’t running rampant right now, they’re likely to increase as more companies go back to the workplace.
Retention, hiring & mental health
To boost hiring and retention practices, many (69%) mid-sized employers (500-999) have added hiring and retention bonuses to their wheelhouse. Whereas 81% of large employers have gone the way of hybrid recruiting and hiring practices. Still others are looking more internally to fill positions, as well as nationally.
Since the pandemic hit, the focus of many companies has been on their employees’ mental health and that’s not about to change. One factor the survey found was employees’ mental health deterioration increased with employer size. Eighty-two percent of large employers said their employees’ mental health got worse since the pandemic started. It also worsened depending on the industry, such as health care, nonprofit and education.
While the pandemic has brought to life the struggles employees have with their mental health, it has always been around. It’s just that so many bad things happened during the pandemic (e.g., people dying, isolation, schools going virtual, people getting laid off, etc.), people didn’t have the skills to deal with it.
Now employers are doing more to support their employees’ mental health like:
- communicating more frequently with employees and asking for their concerns and opinions (55%)
- providing flexible work schedules (51%), and
- offering mental health services and/or employee assistance programs (42%).
For Benefit pros, the key is to keep the lines of communications open. Make sure employees know you are there for them and will help them find the programs they need.