Why employees shouldn’t expect ‘normal’ for a while

A recent survey found 60% of employers aren't planning to fully reopen their workplaces for at least two months.
By: | May 22, 2020 • 3 min read

It probably comes as no surprise, but a vast majority of employers nationwide—90%—are planning for a slow, phased-in approach in seeking a safe return to the workplace, according to a new survey. Of the 210 employers polled from companies of all sizes, in fact, 60% indicated that they are not considering opening the work site for all employees within the next two months.

The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions conducted the survey in early May to support regional coalitions and employers, as well as to benchmark re-opening strategies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another high-response data point, 88%, will have a multi-disciplinary task force in place to plan and deploy the safe process for returning to workplaces.

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“There is a clear pivot across America as employers prepare to go back to work, but this will hardly be business as usual,” said Michael Thompson, National Alliance president and CEO, in a company release. “In general, employees who can work from home will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

Thompson adds that other employees will return to the workplace in a phased manner with a clear plan of action intended to mitigate risk and accommodate those most at risk or concerned for their safety.

“This is likely our ‘new normal’ in the COVID-19 era,” he said, adding that the poll included 210 employers with workforces ranging from fewer than 500 to 10,000 and higher. Industries surveyed from associations connected to the National Alliance included manufacturing (24%), healthcare and social assistance (13%), and finance and insurance (12%).

Find all of HRE’s coronavirus coverage here.

Additional key findings include:

    • Of employers with over 1,000 employees, 97% already have a multi-disciplinary return-to-work task force in place. More than seven in 10 of smaller employers indicated they have a task force ready to go.
    • More than 90% of employers are including the following functions in their return-to-work task force: senior leadership, human resources, communications, operations and safety.
    • Of the factors being considered in a phased re-entry, the top policies already in place include: ability to work from home (92%) and criticality of job function (88%). Employers are also supporting their employees with policies in place around health-related risk factors (82%), family or childcare issues (79%), age-related risk factors (77%) and employee readiness (74%).
    • The top five safety strategies currently in place are increased workspace cleaning (90%), mandatory mask use (88%), meeting size restriction (81%), personal protection equipment beyond masks (58%) and alternate shifts (55%).
    • Employers are looking to guidance from all levels—federal (96%), state (95%) and county/city/local (92%). Plus, the Centers for Disease Control is viewed as a key resource for guidance by 95% of employers.
    • As noted, 60% of employers will not be opening the workplace to pre-pandemic levels within the next 60 days. Also, policies currently in place include mandatory social distancing (87%) and mandatory full work from home for those who can (70%), while 59% have accommodations for parents while schools are closed.
    • When polled on virtual support for health-related risk factors, leading programs currently in place include “support stress and emotional health” (75%), “cardio fitness” (59%) and “addiction treatment/substance use disorder” (50%).
    • Testing is not currently a major factor for most companies in their phased re-entry, with just 43% indicating testing capability is currently in place. Otherwise, 24% are considering testing within the next 60 days, and 33% are not considering within 60 days.
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  • The top criteria being considered in clearing employees to come back to the workplace are daily screenings for COVID-19 symptoms (51% in place and 28% considering), employee pledge to social distance both inside and outside the workplace (46% in place, 38% considering), employees being tested and free of COVID-19 (22% currently, 39% considering) and positive antibody testing (45% considering and 54% are not considering).
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.