Survey: 43% of U.S. Workers Question Need to Return to Workplace

Return-to-work concerns are shifting. No longer fearful of contracting COVID-19, 43% of American workers are now questioning whether they need to show up at the office at all, according to a new survey of 3,600 workers by The Conference Board.

Concerns of catching COVID-19, or exposing family members to it, now lag behind anxieties about returning, dropping by nearly half over the past nine months. Moreover, a clear divide among workers has emerged, with lower-level employees, women and Millennials questioning the need to return to the office at higher rates than their counterparts, despite expressing more concern about mental health.

Conducted between May 28-June 4, the online survey represents a cross-section of workers across industries and is a follow-up to similar surveys conducted in late 2020 and early 2021. Key findings include:

  • Workers question the wisdom of returning to the workplace given high productivity. Now at 43%, only 31% felt that way in January. CEOs, men and Baby Boomers were the largest cohorts to have no concerns about returning to the workplace. One-quarter of respondents also noted concerns over the deterioration of mental health, up from 13% in September and January.
  • Stress/burnout is the top well-being concern among workers, particularly among women, Millennials and individual contributors. “What’s striking is that the same workers who question returning to the workplace given high productivity while working remotely have also expressed greater concerns about mental health, stress and burnout,” says Rebecca Ray, Ph.D., The Conference Board’s executive vice president for human capital. “This reinforces the need for companies to pay close attention to the well-being of their people in remote and hybrid work arrangements.”
  • On average, respondents believe that more than half of their organization’s full-time workers will have a hybrid work arrangement. Almost 40% will work two to three days remotely. Another 13% will be remote one day per week and on-site four days, and 30% will be in the office all week. “While there are many difficulties surrounding a move to a hybrid work arrangement, most workers want the flexibility to choose what’s right for them,” said Amy Lui Abel, Ph.D., The Conference Board’s vice president for human capital research. “For companies, the challenge in getting this right will entail policies that are inclusive, technologies that can support the movement of workers, and leaders that can guide and manage a different workforce model.”
  • More than one-third of respondents report that their level of engagement has increased. More than 1 in 10 say it has increased significantly. 
  • Respondents believe their employers have acted on their concerns throughout the last year. In fact, 87% agree to some extent, with 52% agreeing strongly.
  • Two-thirds of workers will be back in the office in the next three months. Nearly half of workers surveyed (43%) expect to return to the office by the end of September – even as only 12% had returned as of June.