Download Full Report (PDF): Employee Expectations Are Changing Due to COVID-19

This is an IPR Signature Study. Presented by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center and The Harris Poll.


Executive Summary
The Harris Poll and the Institute for Public Relations surveyed 831 U.S. adults employed full time, from May 15 to May 17, to find out how they feel about returning to work and what safeguards they would like employers to put into place. Non-essential employees want to return to the office only when they feel comfortable doing so and most of them want staggered returns.

As more companies are planning for the return to work, employees say their safety should be top-of-mind for their employers. Communicating effectively, outlining safety precautions, and ensuring enforcement of guidelines will be critical as will be making sure employees have access to protections, such as sanitizers, PPEs, and physical barriers. The COVID-19 pandemic may also have implications for the future of the open office concept.

Safety also significantly influenced the likelihood employees would support legislative legal protections for companies. Companies who demonstrate accountability for employees were more likely to find support for legal protections as were companies who are honest and open about their shortcomings.

1. Most employees want to phase out the open office concept to ensure social distancing. To ensure social distancing, 80% of respondents said there should be sectioned-off offices and a phase-out of open-space offices.  Additionally, more than three-quarters said employees (78%) should stagger employees return to the office. Nearly 9-out-of-10 (87%) respondents said employers must have clear guidelines outlining safety precautions before they allow employees to return to the office.
2. Overwhelmingly, employees don’t think employers should require employees to return to the office if work can be done remotely until COVID-19 is no longer a threat.  83% of respondents agreed that if work is able to be done remotely, employers should not require employees to return to the office until COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

3. Most employees think they should be able to work from home until they are comfortable to return. 81% of respondents said employees should be allowed to work from home during the pandemic until they feel comfortable to return.
4. Three-quarters of employees expect workplaces to supply certain protections when they re-open. 74% of respondents say workplaces must have a supply of hand sanitizer in order to re-open. Other measures include use of personal protective equipment (PPE) (58%), physical barriers/workspaces reconfigured for social distancing (56%), and temperature tests (55%).
5. Employees expect their employer to provide certain benefits if they contract COVID-19 at work. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they should be entitled to paid sick leave (72%) while two-thirds (67%) said they should receive payment for COVID-19 testing.
6. Americans are more likely to support legal protection if companies demonstrate accountability for employee safety.  Employees are more likely to support reforms under consideration in Congress to provide legal protection for essential business against unfair litigation related to COVID-19 if certain safeguards are in place. The top two that would create more support include companies demonstrating how they are taking accountability for public safety (56%), transparent messaging outlining legal requirements (48%), and honest and open communication about blind spots and improvement areas (47%).

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll from May 15 to 17, 2020 among a nationally representative sample of 831 U.S. adults who work full time. The margin of error is +/- 3 percent.

About the Institute for Public Relations
Founded in 1956, the Institute for Public Relations is an independent, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations.™ IPR creates, curates, and promotes research and initiatives that empower professionals with actionable insights and intelligence they can put to immediate use.  IPR predicts and analyzes global factors transforming the profession, and amplifies and engages the professional globally through thought leadership and programming. All research is available free at and provides the basis for IPR’s professional conferences and events. Follow us on Twitter @instituteforpr.

Media Contact:
Nikki Kesaris
Communications & Marketing Manager
Institute for Public Relations

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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