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COVID-19 Survey Data Yields Surprising Insights

COVID-19 Survey Data Yields Surprising Insights

Big events with society-wide impacts like the COVID-19 pandemic are a major disruption and pose unique challenges for business, further underscoring the need for organizations to keep their finger on the pulse of employee sentiment. Now more than ever, timely, relevant data reflecting employee needs and concerns is critical to helping company leaders shape their thinking about the state of the workplace, and guide their decisions as they move forward into the new normal.

To help our clients address the challenges of the pandemic, Perceptyx introduced a series of free COVID-19-related employee surveys starting in early March. More than 100 large enterprises—including CVS Health, Comcast, S&P Global, and Checkers/Rallys—have since administered these surveys to their employees. Survey focus ranged from company response to the pandemic, to supporting managers working to maintain business operations, and readiness for returning to work.

Employee responses yielded insights that will help CHROs and other leaders guide their organizations through the evolving pandemic. They also populated a research database that now includes more than 500 million data points, which have revealed some unexpected findings. The Perceptyx Research & Insights team continues to mine this database to identify insights and themes that apply to organizations of all types and sizes. We have compiled their most recent findings in a new whitepaper, The Young and the Restless, available for free download.

The paper examines three key insights related to the needs of young workers (Digital Natives) under the age of 26, who are just starting their careers:

  1. Digital Natives are at the greatest risk of feeling disconnected from the effort to meet organizational goals.
  2. Digital Natives feel less productive and supported in remote environments, leading to pervasive negative sentiment about remote work.
  3. Return to work preferences vary by age, with Digital Natives expressing a higher preference for return to the physical workplace compared to slightly older coworkers.

Impact On Engagement Is High Among Youngest Workers

The data reveals that young workers—who are usually perceived as being the most engaged—have emerged as the group most at risk of feeling disconnected during the pandemic. Young workers who had been working in a physical workplace but are now working remotely had the least favorable attitudes in some key areas of well-being and productivity. These findings are surprising, given that these Digital Natives are some of the most technologically adept workers and would seem to be the best prepared for remote work. Specifically, the data shows that young workers:

  • Feel less productive and supported working from home
  • Have more negative perceptions about remote work

To understand how leaders may be able to foster a better sense of connection, well-being, and higher productivity for these disaffected young employees, we compared responses of young employees who did feel supported and productive against those who did not. The following actions emerged as good strategies for addressing disengagement among younger workers:

  • Frequent conversations with younger employees to alleviate stress, build connection, and enable problem solving
  • Support for individual employee decisions about the return to the workplace
  • Open communication to build trust

Employees Have Varying Needs & Preferences About Work Settings

In the wake of the pandemic, 75% of employees began working remotely from home—slightly more than the 72% who were working in a physical workplace prior to the pandemic. When asked about work preferences once a return to the office is safe, 56% of employees indicated a preference for alternating between working in a physical workplace and working from home.

While older employees (over the age of 45) were the most likely to express a preference for returning to a physical workplace, employees in the youngest cohort (under 26 years old) were almost as likely to express this preference.

When asked about the types of support employees need to work effectively from home, employees in the middle cohorts (26–45 years old) were two and half times more likely to express the need for help managing caretaking responsibilities.

These findings suggest the following:

  • Employee interest in mixed working arrangements can help organizations plan for a smooth transition back to the workplace.
  • Employees struggling with caretaking responsibilities may welcome alternative schedules that allow for phased movement in and out of the physical workplace—and help the organization maintain social distancing guidelines.
  • The situation is evolving, and organizations should continue to seek employee feedback during the return to the workplace.
  • New programs to support flexibility for employees with caretaking roles may be needed to keep employees with caretaking responsibilities engaged and active in the workforce.

Seeing The Way Forward

While the route back to normal is still uncharted, organizations that quickly respond and adapt to changes will recover more quickly and be the most successful on the road ahead.

As the workforce continues to adjust to the new normal and organizations address evolving employee preferences, the ability of leaders to listen closely and respond quickly and appropriately will be more important than ever. (Tweet this!) With greater visibility into the employee experience and the connections between employee perceptions and business outcomes, HR leaders can respond quickly and decisively to address new challenges as they arise. This capability will be a crucial differentiator between organizations that recover quickly and those that do not.

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