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Is America ready to return to work and get back to business?

By September 7, 2020Business

Most U.S. states are making plans to reopen as the country struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. But as governments and businesses move forward, the question remains: Are Americans ready?

And perhaps more importantly: What do they need to feel ready?

We asked more than 500 U.S. residents at the end of April whether they were comfortable returning to the workplace, dining at restaurants, voting at polling places, and visiting other public spaces. Here’s what they say needs to happen before they feel ready to go back.

Return to Work

Two out of three people (66%) are not comfortable going back to the workplace right now. In fact, workers of all ages — from Boomers to Gen Z — are equally wary about returning to shared workspaces, with more than 65% in every age group reporting that they were uncomfortable doing so.

  • A quarter of employees (25%) expect to return to the workplace sometime in May, while 28% believe they’ll be going back in June. Nearly half (48%) don’t expect to return to work until August or later.
  • Workers in the Midwest are 44% more likely to be comfortable returning to work right now than those in the Northeast, though 62% of Midwesterners overall say they’re still uncomfortable with the idea. The South is slightly more uncomfortable at returning to work (67%) than the West (62%).
  • Republicans are two times more likely than Democrats to say they’re comfortable returning, though still only 34% of Republicans say they’re comfortable going back to the workplace.


What would make people feel comfortable returning to work?

Most employees want assurance from public health officials like the Centers for Disease Control (63%) or the World Health Organization (45%) to feel comfortable returning to the workplace. About half say they’d be comforted if their state or local governments say it was safe, while medical interventions, like a treatment or vaccine, would also ease worries. Only 42% say they’d feel safer if federal government officials said it was safe.

Once those criteria are met, however, workers want to see a few more things happen before they feel confident coming back:

  • 39% want the ability to maintain social distancing at work (6 feet between people)
  • 27% want their company leadership to deem it safe to come back
  • 22% want transit options that are sanitary and safe
  • 20% want schools and childcare facilities to open back up


People want to be able to take action

Two out of three people (64%) say they want to be able to wear a mask at work, while nearly as many (61%) want to maintain social distancing. Half want more flexible sick-leave policies, which employees are encouraged to use, even if they only have minor symptoms.


People want their co-workers to take action

Workers are worried, not only about their own safety but about the safety of their co-workers. They also understand that their co-worker’s health affects their own, and many want safety policies put into place before returning to work — like a temporary ban on handshakes and hugs (45%), or a policy that requires employees who travel for work or pleasure to self-quarantine for 14 days (38%).