2021 Return to the Workplace Post-COVID, Vaccines Survey

PUBLISHED May 13, 2021

One of the most pressing questions many employers across the country are asking is, “When will we bring our workers back to the office?” A new survey from global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. found just 17% of respondents are already back in the office and 58% do not yet have a date on which they will return.

The survey was conducted online among 191 companies of various industries and sizes nationwide between April 13th and May 7th.

While 17% of respondents are already back in the office, 14% will return in September, with many of those respondents naming after Labor Day as the approximate return date. Another 9% plan to return this summer, between May and August. Nearly 2% of companies said they will return in the fall or early 2022.

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

“Rather than risking outbreaks, most employers are waiting until the majority of Americans are vaccinated or for transmission rates to drop significantly,” said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“Many leaders recognize that vaccines are making it safe and possible for the nation’s workers to return to in-person work. While we are seeing few companies mandate the vaccine, company decision-makers are listening to local and national public health experts and know that it is imperative that most Americans receive it,” he added.

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In fact, a previous Challenger survey conducted in March found 97% of companies would not require the vaccine, though 57% responded they would strongly encourage workers to receive it. In the new survey, 38.9% of companies are offering or would consider offering incentives for their workers to get the vaccine, with the majority offering or considering additional paid time off, including time off to receive the shot.

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

“Even if workers are vaccinated, many children are not yet eligible, so parents are navigating that risk, creating roadblocks for some parents to come back to the office in person,” said Challenger.

Indeed, the pandemic created increased calls for parental support from employers. Challenger’s March survey found 13% of companies were offering child care options and 40% were offering flexibility specifically for parents.

“The post-pandemic workplace is full of new challenges for leaders at companies across the country. They need to weigh the concerns of their talent with known public health recommendations and still meet business needs,” said Challenger.

Challenger surveys HR and business leaders about work post-COVID

Related: Return-to-Work Plans: How have company plans changed over the course of the pandemic? Learn more.

Challenger offers the following tips for employers as they navigate the return to work:

  • Listen to your talent. Take surveys of your teams to get a feel for ongoing concerns. Can they work to their full potential in the office? Are they meeting or exceeding goals while working remotely? Will ongoing health concerns distract them? Be ready to incorporate team feedback at all levels into policymaking.
  • Be flexible. Workers are navigating a host of different challenges, be it child care or health concerns, that may make it difficult to return to work in person. Meanwhile, other team members may be vaccinated, feel safe, and are more than ready to see peers in the office. Especially if team members are meeting their goals, maintain a level of flexibility as the business transitions to the new post-pandemic normal.
  • Create clear, consistent communications. It seems new federal and local guidelines are changing daily – and are sometimes at odds. Because of these rapid changes, communicate company expectations often. If a new policy is enacted because of an update to public health guidance or team feedback, make sure it is clearly communicated and enforced consistently.
  • Lead with empathy. Keep in mind that the pandemic, both directly and tangentially, created a lot of trauma for American workers. Even if everyone stayed safe and healthy, the ongoing lockdowns, racial justice issues, and deep partisanship has taken a toll on many people. Leaders can help their talent deal with any mental health issues as the pandemic ends and the country enters a period of recovery.