Posted August 3, 2020 by Mark Perna
A new study reveals which health protocols matter most to America’s workforce. Mark’s article, “What Employees Really Want When They Return To Work” published at Forbes.com on July 28, 2020.
How are employees feeling about their employer’s back-to-physical-workplace policies? A new study by the American Staffing Association offers some answers.
According to the ASA Workforce Monitor study, employees’ most common requests in order to feel safe at work are social distancing measures (51%), detailed cleaning protocols (45%), PPE requirements (41%), COVID-19 testing offered to employees (41%) and temperature/symptom screening (41%).
Most employed adults are satisfied with their employer’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically the office cleanliness protocols (85%), remote/telework policies (82%) and communications about the pandemic (81%). However, across all generations, male employees are more likely to be satisfied than their female counterparts regarding employer cleanliness protocols, pandemic communication, and return to work plan. And the younger the worker, the less likely they are to be satisfied.
Though the majority of Gen-Z (62%) approves their employer’s back-to-work plan, they are the least satisfied generational cohort. This may be, in part, because many don’t work in office settings where it’s easier to practice social distancing. “Nearly four in 10 (36%) Gen-Z work in jobs that involve more physical contact with the public and with other workers such as construction sites, retail settings, warehouses, restaurants, labs, driving to work at multiple sites, et cetera,” says Richard Wahlquist, president and chief executive officer, American Staffing Association.
But as the newest entrants to the world of work, Gen-Z may be discontent with more than just their work setting. The study indicates that in general, this generation is less happy about their day-to-day job duties (38%), work hours/shift (33%), job security (28%) and their job overall (26%). “The world of work is currently being defined by one word: disruption,” says Wahlquist. “No Gen-Z workers have ever been employed during a recession, let alone a global pandemic, and it’s starting to affect their generally optimistic attitudes about careers and the future.”The world of work is currently being defined by one word: disruption. Click To Tweet
How can employers address employee dissatisfaction, especially among their youngest workers? Wahlquist believes it communication is the key. “Employers need to be transparent, authentic, and flexible when it comes to workforce communication and workplace policies.” And remember: communication is a two-way street. Listening to younger employees’ concerns, validating their point of view and inviting their participation in creating workable solutions are all ways to ease the current discontent.
As we move through month four of the pandemic, companies are now navigating the varied preferences of employees who want to return, others who want to continue working from home and those who want a hybrid of the two. For many, remote work has proven to be a viable option for business continuity—but other employees are admittedly struggling.
“To the extent possible, companies should work with their employees to continue to make telecommuting an option now and in the future,” says Wahlquist. “This new way of work that isn’t tied to physical location may also change employer perspectives about the need for traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ jobsites moving forward.
“The most common and biggest hurdle in accommodating employees’ varied preferences is the implementation of an effective communications strategy, no matter the physical location of employees,” says Wahlquist. “Regular, two-way communications are particularly important for some employees, like those in the light industrial sector who cannot telecommute, to help them understand everything their companies are doing to further their safety at work—and to allow them to ask questions and get answers in a timely manner.”
To help employers tackle the logistics of reopening their facilities, ASA released the Safely Back to Work Best Practice Protocols, including best practices for different sectors and types of work environments. How can companies position these policies for maximum employee acceptance?
Wahlquist says, “The more that company policies are based on government requirements and best practices, the less they may seem arbitrary in nature and, therefore, may be more palatable to employees.” Once again, clear and frequent communication is of paramount importance. “There is no such thing as too much communication in the time of COVID-19,” Wahlquist says. “Outreach to employees can’t be a one-time effort or shared through just one channel. Effective communications are accomplished through regular, consistent information exchanges and dialogue across all available employee-directed mediums.”
Challenges may also arise as some employees follow the protocols closely, but others don’t. “People need to feel safe at work,” says Wahlquist. “Any complaints about employees who may not be following safety protocols must be taken seriously and handled in the same manner as accusations of workplace harassment or equal employment opportunity law violations.”People need to feel safe at work. Click To Tweet
What employees ultimately want from their workplace isn’t much different now than pre-COVID, but one of the most basic requirements—a safe and clean environment—is no longer taken for granted. Employers who communicate often, invite dialogue, listen well and apply health and safety protocols consistently can reassure their workforce that employee wellbeing is not just a perk, but a business priority.