• Although over 70% of workers are concerned that COVID-19 rates will rise once more people return to the office, employers and employees are focused on how the vaccine can reduce these perceived risks. 
  • 63% of all workers say COVID-19 vaccine access should be the biggest factor in determining when employers bring people back to the workplace.
  • Over half (52%) of workers say companies should require all employees and new hires to be vaccinated, but this number jumps among those working virtually: 60% of remote employees say vaccines should be mandatory, compared to 46% of those currently on site.

Amid the ongoing pandemic and an accelerating COVID-19 vaccine rollout, U.S. employers and employees stand at a crossroads. Whether employees return to the office, remain virtual or fall into a hybrid model, the vaccine is on everyone’s mind

At the time of writing, nearly 100 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and there are already signs that some companies will be bringing workers back earlier than anticipated. But how will these vaccines, the fastest ever developed, influence how employers bring workers back to the office — and what supports and guidance do workers want as they navigate this shift?

Indeed wanted to better understand what workers and companies think about the COVID-19 vaccine and returning to the office. To learn more, we surveyed 2,000 employees from a variety of sectors, career levels and industries, as well as 749 leaders, managers and other decision makers from employers in different industries. Going back to work brings new questions and concerns, but Indeed’s findings show that employers and employees are taking a solutions-oriented approach — and are frequently in alignment. 

By working together, companies and employees can ease the transition back to the office for everyone, helping to build a post-pandemic workplace that is safer for all. 

75% of workers concerned they will be required to return to office “before they feel comfortable”

First, we wanted to dig into where people are working at this point in the pandemic and how this shapes their concerns about COVID-19 in the workplace. 

Among employees surveyed, 37% are working virtually for the time being, while 29% of the employers we spoke to have all employees working from home. Just over one-quarter (27%) of employers plan to keep their workforces fully remote, and the rest will be bringing at least some workers back to the office. 

84% of remote workers and 73% of on-site workers are concerned about the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace. 

Source: Indeed

But workers have mixed feelings about the workplace and are on the lookout for possible danger. We found that 84% of remote workers are very or somewhat concerned about the risk of COVID-19 in the office, as are 73% of workers currently on site. 

Similarly, 71% of all employees are worried that COVID-19 rates will rise as more people return to work in person, and 75% fear they might be required to report to the office before they feel comfortable. 

As we see, many workers have risk on their minds as they navigate these uncharted waters — and they want their employers to have a plan. 

Vaccine access top of mind for workers now, especially remote

When asked what factors they want their employers to consider with back-to-office plans, 63% of all workers put vaccine availability at the top. 

This is even more important for those working from home, who have been shielded from risk by their employers thus far: 73% of remote workers say vaccines should be the main priority for returning to the office, compared to only 58% of workers currently on site. 

Overall, we find that workers who are still at home have a more conservative position when it comes to perceived risks. In fact, over half (53%) of remote employees agree that employers should bring workers back to the office only once a vaccine is widely available locally, compared to 31% of on-site workers. 

On a personal level, employees have similar priorities when it comes to their own concerns about going back to the office: 54% of all workers  — and 68% of those working remotely — say local access to the COVID-19 vaccine is the biggest factor in their comfort level, while over half (53%) focus on their employers’ general safety measures, such as masks, social distancing and temperature checks. 

Workers aren’t just worried about themselves, however: 35% want their family members to get vaccinated before they’ll feel at ease returning to the workplace, for fear of placing their loved ones at risk. 

Over 50% of workers say employers should require all employees to be vaccinated

52% of workers want their companies to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all employees. 

Source: Indeed

Just how strict do workers want their employers to be with vaccine policies? Over half (52%) of workers say companies should require all employees and new hires to be vaccinated. Again, this number is higher for employees who are still remote, of whom 60% say vaccines should be mandatory, compared with only 46% of employees who are already at the office. 

Remote workers also take a hard line regarding how employers should respond to workers who refuse the vaccine: 29% believe these employees should be terminated outright, far higher than the 10% of on-site workers who say the same.

81% of workers want their employers to provide clear guidelines about vaccines. 

Source: Indeed

All told, 81% of workers say they want employers to provide clear guidelines regarding the role of vaccines for employees returning to the office, and the figure jumps to 91% for remote workers. 

Not only does this take out the guesswork for employees during a potentially nerve-wracking time, it also gives employers a chance to show they are committed to protecting their workers — and doing their part to fight COVID-19 starting in the workplace. 

So what do employers have in mind?

Employers take a tough stance on vaccines but leave room for exceptions

At the time of writing, a majority (68%) of employers say they have a clear strategy regarding COVID-19 vaccines and employees. 

57% of employers will require COVID-19 vaccines for some workers. 

Source: Indeed

Regarding the question of whether or not to mandate the vaccine, 70% will strongly encourage but not require it for all of their employees, and 57% plan to make it mandatory for at least some workers. 

Within this latter group, 58% will require all employees and new hires moving forward to get the vaccine, and 17% will require vaccines only for on-site workers. 

Meanwhile, 10% say vaccination will be voluntary for all employees, raising a possible point of conflict since 25% of employees we surveyed believe vaccines should be voluntary. 

Most employers have plans for handling employees who resist vaccination pressures, and unvaccinated workers are likely to draw attention. 

Over half (56%) of employers plan to require documentation of vaccination status for at least some employees, and another 16% of employers are still weighing this option. 

While 32% say they’ll only allow medical or religious exemptions, which are protected by law, 22% of employers are leaving room for philosophical exceptions based on employees’ beliefs. Approximately one quarter (23%) will discourage exceptions but will allow them on a case-by-case basis. 

Surprisingly, 23% of employers have not yet considered how to handle exemptions.

Most employers believe the vaccine could boost morale, productivity and even revenue 

However, while it sounds like employers are taking a tough stance when it comes to vaccines, most plan to stay somewhat flexible. 

When asked how they plan to handle employees who refuse to get vaccinated, 23% will consider moving them to full-time remote positions, and 21% will likely allow exemptions in individual instances. 

A majority (76%) of employers intend to provide employees with educational information about vaccines to help them make informed decisions, so perhaps they’re hoping to sway opinion — and, in the process, boost their in-house vaccination rates. 

While encouraging vaccines aligns with public health guidance and can have a significant impact on the future of COVID-19, many employers also believe inoculation is good for business. 

When assessing their own handling of the pandemic, 59% feel they have done well during these challenging times and even say their companies’ response to COVID-19 has increased their appeal among job seekers. 

Looking ahead, 57% anticipate that vaccines could improve employee morale, 54% believe they could boost productivity, and 40% predict increased ability to hire. What’s more, 34% believe the vaccine might even raise their revenue for the rest of 2021.

That said, employers are aware that vaccines are not a cure-all and are best used as part of a holistic approach: 80% will continue to enforce additional COVID safety measures, such as masking, even after people are widely vaccinated in their areas. 

Employers favor local guidance over the CDC when it comes to COVID advice

We’ve all had a crash course in public health and epidemiology over the last year, and employers are no exception. But what authorities are employers consulting to make informed decisions about those additional measures when it comes to returning to the office?

Interestingly, more employers (60%) are turning to local public health guidance than are looking to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for advice (48%). 

99% of employees will continue COVID-19 safety measures even after vaccinations are widespread. 

Source: Indeed

It remains to be seen whether vaccines will be mandatory for many, but the good news for job seekers and employees is that 99% of employers are or will be implementing COVID-19 safety measures like masks (78%), social distancing (75%) and temperature checks (61%). 

Some employees can also expect to see changes in the workspace itself: 40% of employers will have reduced capacity, while 39% plan to alter the physical floorplans to enhance social distancing, rethinking closed meeting rooms (53%), shared work areas (52%) or snack and coffee areas (46%). 

In terms of deciding when to bring workers back, 72% of employers plan to start this year. For many, however, the exact timing is still in question

Meanwhile, 60% say vaccine availability is the top factor in determining when to bring workers back, while 47% are also watching for reduced local transmission. 

Similarly, employers have their eyes peeled for signs they need to put on the brakes. When asked what factors could cause or have caused a delay in return plans, 56% cite new strains of COVID and 48% note challenges accessing the vaccine, while 46% are following guidance from local public health officials. 

Employers and employees mostly aligned, prioritizing vaccines in return to work

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout gains speed, many employees wonder how it will impact their work in the coming year. 

The good news is that, as Indeed’s research shows, workers and employers are largely on the same page. The majority of employers plan to require or strongly encourage vaccines for at least some workers, and over half will ask for documentation. 

However, employers are also mindful that a tough-love approach will not work on everyone, and many already plan to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis — although hopefully these will be a rare occurrence.

By providing the guidance employees need and want during this new stage of the pandemic, employers can make returning to the workplace a positive, safer experience — and play an important role in reducing the risk of COVID-19 in their communities. 


Methodology:

In February 2021, Indeed surveyed 2,000 employees from a variety of sectors, career levels and industries, as well as 749 leaders, managers and other decision makers from employers in different industries.