Studies warn that unvaccinated workers could prevent the return to work

21 May 2021 5 min. read

With the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine across the UK, lockdown measures are slowly being lifted – meaning the potential return to the workplace is drawing closer. Tensions remain high among the workforce, however, and a majority of employees have indicated that they would complain or leave their firm if their bosses ignored Covid-19 safety measures upon their coming back to the office.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, offices have largely been shuttered throughout the last year. During the lockdown, the vast majority of workers were either furloughed, or carried out their duties remotely, as all non-essential services were order to close themselves off from public access.

During that time, there has been ample time for the polling of employee sentiment regarding the fabled ‘return to normality’ that has been said to be on the horizon at various points during the crisis. Each of these surveys has ultimately made it clear that workers are wary about the health risks posed by rushing back to the office, and are largely unwilling to go “back to normal,” with the majority at least expecting to be able to work remotely for part of the week.

Study warns that unvaccinated workers could prevent the return to work

In spite of this, employers remain largely disconnected from such concerns. In December, for example, Theta Global Advisors found that while 60% of workers expected their work to change drastically in the future, more than half of UK managers considered themselves “out of touch” with the processes required to facilitate a return to the office. Many of the staff polled seemed concerned by the behaviour of business leaders during the lockdown, and were concerned that they were not acting with their interests at heart, while a previous survey also found that 24% said their employer hadn’t explored any flexible working options to help them or their colleagues return to work.

Now, two new studies have further highlighted the fracturing relationship between bosses and their staff, as the British workforce is increasingly pressured to return to the workplace. As the Covid-19 vaccination is rolled out across the country, HR teams are being met with many new challenges, especially ensuring everyone feels safe and welcome as they head back into the workplace. First, research by digital health pass found that of 1,144 UK employees, 78% said they would either raise a formal complaint or consider leaving their workplace, if their employer does not take Covid-19 safety seriously on their return, while 12% said they would leave the company altogether.

Age gap

While the vaccine roll-out in Britain has now seen more than 55% of the population receive at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, these have been concentrated among at-risk groups. Largely, this means staff under the age of 50 are yet to receive a jab, and as such the number of Millennial and Gen Z staff who said they would consider making a formal complaint or consider leaving was even higher. Over 80% of both groups said that they would take action if their employer did not ensure the health and safety of all employees.

Comparatively, the generations who have been able to get the first jab were slightly less concerned over workplace pandemic safety – however, the figures still stood at a large majority. Around seven-in-ten Gen X and Baby Boomers said they would consider making a formal complaint or leaving their workplace if steps were not taken to protect the health and safety of staff.

Speaking on the findings, Simon Osman, Chief Executive of digital health pass, said, “Kick-starting the economy and getting people back socialising with their colleagues and working together is essential at this moment in time… [But] the UK population has never valued their health and wellness more than right now, and businesses who fail to adhere to the needs of their employees will likely find themselves with unhappy staff or employees choosing to work elsewhere, according to our survey.”

Required vaccination

The findings echoed a second study, this time from HR software provider CIPHR, which found that as the return to the office gets closer and closer, the concern over unvaccinated co-workers is growing. The research found that 64% of UK workers think employers should be able to require employees to receive the Covid-19 vaccine before returning to the workplace – and more than one-third of employees also stated they would not work in the same space as someone who had refused the Covid-19 vaccination.

Again, Gen Z and Millennials were the most vaccine-conscious co-workers with 38% saying that they would not work in the same office or work environment as someone who refused a Covid-19 vaccine. On top of this, 78% of the youngest age group said they thought employers should be able to require that staff receive a vaccination before they are allowed to return to the workplace.

Commenting on the study, Claire Williams, Director of People and services at CIPHR, remarked, “It doesn’t come as a surprise that many British workers think employers should require all staff to receive the vaccine, when as a nation we’ve spent the past year responsibly adhering to the government rules to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. However, it is concerning that so many workers have indicated that they would not want to return to the workplace if one of their co-workers refused to be vaccinated. Ongoing investment in workplace health and safety is going to have to remain a high priority as we navigate the return to work.”