People Are Anxious About Returning to In-Person Work

Woman with face mask travelling in metro during COVID-19 outbreak.

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After spending more than a year at home, most workers feel anxious about the prospect of returning to the office in person.

A survey of workers by research firm InnovateMR found that 73% expressed at least some anxiety about going back. The most common fears related to COVID-19. Women were more worried than men, while young people were particularly concerned that their looks and social skills have gone downhill.

When the government locked down the economy in spring 2020 in an attempt to control the pandemic, many employees shifted to remote work. Now that more than half the working-age population has been fully vaccinated and infection rates have plummeted, many employers are planning to call back workers into the office as early as this summer. There’s just one catch: How many will come?

"It depends on the company on whether it can get everyone back,” said Will Luckey, director of client development at InnovateMR. “But it could be a rude awakening for those that aren’t proactive. Smart companies are putting feelers out now on how people feel about returning and putting steps in place. Companies have to be flexible and listen to their employees, maybe be open to hybrid or use a phased approach.”

COVID-19 was the biggest worry. One-third of the workers were concerned about catching the virus, while 29% were scared about bringing the virus home to family and friends. 

Young people between ages 25 and 34 were more likely than older respondents (those between 35 and 44) to be stressed out about their current looks (21% vs. 6%) and in-person social skills (22% vs. 10%).

Women were almost twice as likely as men (31% vs. 16%) to feel “entirely anxious” about returning, while men were more likely (34% vs. 24%) to feel “entirely relieved.” 

Although InnovateMR’s study didn’t probe the source of the young’s angst, separate studies have shown that eating and exercising habits changed during lockdown. It is well documented that many people, bored at home and not able to roam freely outside, ate—a lot. Getting COVID-19 even took on a new meaning—getting the COVID 19 pounds.

Maybe companies enticing workers back to the office should offer a gym perk.

InnovateMR’s study of 1,300 workers was conducted between April 26 and 30.