Are employers getting the ‘it’s safe to return’ messaging right?

As people gradually begin to return to the workplace, many aren’t ready to, and for a variety of reasons. Employer messaging about making their workplace safe and healthy is key to getting their staffs back, according to the American Staffing Association in Alexandria, Virginia.

According to its recent survey, 54% of those polled cite barriers preventing them from returning to their on-site work location. The top three reasons cited as obstacles to returning to work in an in-person setting are fear of catching COVID-19 at work, preference to work at home and not yet being vaccinated.

There is also a divide about who to trust about when it is safe to return to their workplace. ASA’s survey found 42% of adults trust federal, state, or local government sources, 28% cite health and safety inspectors of their work location, 28% and 27% trust medical personnel, but just 7% trust the news media or social media.

More than three in 10 listen to work-related sources like their employer, company leadership, direct supervisors and even colleagues.

While employers have guidance from sources like the CDC, state and local authorities, they have also been flying a bit blind in coordinating their safe return plan, said Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association.

“They call it the novel coronavirus because it’s new. This is a novel time for employers who have never had to deal with a pandemic of this scale. So there is a lot of trial and error and there is a lot of experimentation,” Wahlquist said.

With employers among top sources workers listen to about when it is safe to return, it is important that the message is clear and accurate, Wahlquist said.

“We, as your employers, are following the science to ensure your safety. You’ve got to tell employees and show employees, ‘Here’s what we’ve done, and here is what we’re doing.’ You have to encourage employees to ask questions. You just can’t over communicate,” Wahlquist said.

Regardless of the source of information, its survey found 21% say they wouldn’t trust any source regarding whether or not it is safe to return to brick-and-mortar work locations yet.

The Harris Poll conducted the survey on behalf of the American Staffing Association March 25 through March 29, and polled close to 2,100 adults.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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