Only 28% of Workers Expect to Return to Workplace This Year

Only 28% of Workers Expect to Return to Workplace This Year

Women, junior employees feel most pressure to return
An empty office

Employees who started telecommuting this spring might have originally expected their time working from home to be short-lived, but now, less than a third expect to return to the office in 2020.

Specifically, only 28% of workers see themselves returning to their workplace this year, according to a newly released survey by the Conference Board, a business-focused think tank.

While workers have generally been reluctant to return to their place of work throughout the pandemic, women and some less-senior employees are more likely to worry that not going back could threaten their job security, the survey found.

Return date pushed to 2021

More than a third of respondents to the survey (38%) said they expected to return to on-site working some time in 2021 or after that.

While a vaccine has been widely seen as a pathway to back to normal life, only 7% of respondents said they expected their return to the workplace to hinge on a vaccine being readily available.

However, some workers questioned the wisdom of returning at all, with 33% saying they’ve been productive at home and don’t see a need to go back to an office or other work site to do their jobs.

Women in particular said they have been able to maintain a high level of productivity at home, with 46% expressing that sentiment compared with 36% of men.

Most workers not very comfortable with returning

Fewer than 2 in 5 workers (17%) said they felt very comfortable with the idea of returning to the workplace. In comparison:

  • 39% said they are only “moderately” comfortable
  • 31% said they are not comfortable at all

At the same time, some workers feel pressure to return to their place of work in order to keep their jobs. In fact, 20% of individual contributors — those who are not managers — said they feel pressure to go back, along with 21% of front-line managers who also feel that way.

On the flip side, only 4% of C-suite executives said they feel pressured to return to an office or other site in order to keep their positions.

Interestingly, individual contributors are also the least comfortable with the idea of returning to the office, with 42% expressing this discomfort, compared with 31% of workers overall.

Women more likely to have workplace concerns

Women are also more likely to feel pressure to go back to working in person. Specifically, 17% of women felt they must return in order to keep their jobs, compared with 10% of men.

Women also have a string of other work-related concerns:

  • 67% of women are concerned with the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace — slightly more than the 61% of men who felt the same
  • 39% of women are concerned that colleagues won’t follow safety colleagues, compared to 32% of men who also have those concerns

An earlier survey found that some women are even considering leaving the workforce because of the pandemic.

Overall, the top employee concerns about returning to the workplace are:

  • Contracting COVID-19 personally (51%)
  • Exposing family members to COVID-19 (49%)
  • Lack of an available, effective and safe vaccine (40%)

Methodology: The Conference Board surveyed more than 1,100 workers across multiple industries during Sept. 16-25, 2020.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.