Nearly Half of Older Workers Hesitant to Return to Work as Pandemic Wanes

June 15, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Nearly half of workers ages 45-64 say they are not in any rush to return to the office in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, a new “Back-to-Normal Barometer” survey has found.

Released Monday, the ongoing survey’s latest findings also indicate that after the prolonged separation from the office most Americans experienced due to the pandemic, a majority of respondents want flexibility in their future work arrangement, with most wanting to divide their time between home and office.

When asked to rate the statement, “I’m ready to return to my place of work full time,” 26% of respondents 45-64 strongly disagreed, while another 16% somewhat disagreed.

That 42% combined disagreement was much higher than for younger age cohorts. In fact, only 33% of those 25-34, and 22% of those 35-44, similarly disagreed.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of workers ages 45-64 agreed with the statement, “I would prefer if my employer allowed office workers who had been working from home to continue working from home full time, once the office re-opens,” 47% strongly agreed and 19% somewhat agreed.

And 55% of those 45-64 strongly agreed, and another 15% somewhat agreed, with the statement, “Once offices reopen, I would be in favor of a policy that allows office workers to split their time working from home and the office.”

“A big mistake employers should avoid is assuming that just because they personally are eager to return to pre-pandemic operations, all their employees are as well. Many of the older ones are not,” warned Rich Thau, president of Engagious, one of the three firms — along with the Sports and Leisure Research Group and ROKK Solutions — that conducted the survey.

While 66% of those 45-64 agreed with the statement, “I would prefer if my employer allowed office workers who had been working from home to continue working from home full time, once the office re-opens,” an even higher percentage of younger workers agreed: 71% of those 25-34, and 72% of those 35-44.

Also, while 70% of those 45-64 agreed that “Once offices reopen, I would be in favor of a policy that allows office workers to split their time working from home and in the office,” 70% of those 25-34, and 77% of those 35-44, similarly agreed.

Part of the explanation for workers’ interest in working from home may be tied to perceptions of productivity.

The Back-to-Normal Barometer asked respondents to evaluate their levels of agreement with this statement: “People working at home have been just as productive as they were when they worked in a physical office.”

It found 72% of workers 45-64 agreed, along with 76% of those 35-44, and 52% of those 25-34.

“Our findings suggest some potential foundational changes to what constitutes the workplace,” said Jon Last, president of the Sports and Leisure Research Group, and a former national president of the Insights Association and Marketing Research Institute International.

“Our research takes an unprecedented review of consumer attitudes of the past compared to today’s environment so that a vast variety of industries can make strategic business decisions to navigate the difficult terrain ahead to get back to normal,” said Ron Bonjean, Partner at ROKK Solutions.

The online survey was conducted in early June and the respondents were a random national sample of 387 employed Americans. The margin of error of the survey is +/-3.87 %.

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