When the world went into lockdown in March 2020, few expected the pandemic that necessitated such emergency measures would still be with us 21 months later. Yet on the eve of Thanksgiving 2021, in the state where the holiday originated, the lead story in the region’s largest news publication declared, “As our second COVIDs-giving dawns, clarity feels even further away.”
Alera Group invites you to join us on Thursday, December 16, for a webinar designed to provide some clarity — at least as it pertains to the workplace. “Survey Results Are In: How U.S. Employers Are Tackling Their Next COVID-Related Decisions” will review the findings of our 2021 Employer Pulse Survey, which asked close to 800 U.S. employers of various sizes in multiple industries and regions about how they’re handling COVID-19 issues such as:
- Vaccination mandates and incentives
- Benefit premiums and surcharges based on vaccinations
- Remote work and work-from-home policies.
During the webinar, you’ll gain valuable insights to how other employers — your peers, your neighbors, your competitors — have responded to the pandemic and what they plan to do as we approach Year 3 of a continually evolving work environment.
What We Found
This is the third time since the start of the pandemic that Alera Group has examined steps employers have taken and plan to take to adapt to the challenges and changes brought on by COVID-19. Conducted online from October 18 to November 4, 2021, the survey asked employers around the country: What are you doing? What are you not doing? What are you considering? What are your greatest challenges and concerns?
The results reflect both common challenges and diverse responses, with many of the latter corresponding to industry, organization size or region.
It probably comes as no surprise that the top challenge facing employers is attracting and retaining talent, particularly among those with more than 500 employees. Employee mental health is another leading concern, though here again the challenge appears to be greater for larger organizations, especially those with a workforce of more than 1,000.
Because the survey concluded in early November, it does not include response to the emergence of Omicron, the COVID-19 variant first identified during Thanksgiving week by researchers in South Africa. With Omicron cases since reported in at least 18 countries, excluding the U.S., as of Tuesday morning, November 30, responses to the variant were emerging by the hour.
The survey does reveal that employers are generally better positioned to new developments in the pandemic, with 67% reporting that they have implemented infectious disease response plans and another 18% reporting that they were either in the process of putting a plan in place or planning to do so. In addition, a quarter of respondents said that more than half of their employees were working remotely at least some of the time, with work-from-home and hybrid arrangements made easier by virtual collaboration tools, upgraded conference rooms and more. Large employers are far and away the most likely to implement hybrid work arrangements, with only 10% reporting that all employees were physically back in the workplace and 74% saying their workforce was a mix of onsite and remote.
Policies and procedures related to vaccines, testing and masks varied the most widely. For example, 47% of respondents in the healthcare industry and 40% in education said that they will require employees to be vaccinated by a certain date, compared to only 1% in construction and 7% in manufacturing. Overall, only 1 in 5 employers said they were requiring employees to be vaccinated, with another 18% considering mandatory vaccination.
Although there were regional distinctions in how survey participants responded to questions regarding employee mental health, employer size appears to have been a greater determinant. Overall, about half said the mental health of their workforce had deteriorated during the pandemic and about half said it had remained the same, but the percentage soared to 83% for organizations with more than 1,000 employees. Among businesses with fewer than 25 employees, on the other hand, only 31% reported a decline in mental health.
Most employers who responded to the Alera Group Employer Pulse Survey said they are actively attempting to support their workforce’s mental health. More than half said they were communicating with employees about mental health and wellbeing, with nearly as many saying they were offering more flexible work schedules. About 42% were providing mental health services, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), while 16% indicated they were doing nothing at all to address employee mental health.
Of the top four concerns among employers, attracting and retaining employees was overwhelmingly No. 1, with 55% describing their level of concern as extreme and another 21% describing it as moderate. “Impact of the pandemic on employee mental health and wellbeing was a distant second, with 31% extremely concerned and 29% moderately concerned. Maintaining company culture in a remote work environment was third among concerns, followed by lawsuits alleging labor and employment violation related to COVID-19.
Employers struggling the most with worker attraction and retention were those with between 100 and 1,000 employees, particularly in the healthcare, manufacturing and transportation/warehousing industries. Businesses in finance and insurance appeared to be relatively immune to the employment-related effects of COVID-19.
One inescapable conclusion to draw from the results of Alera Group’s third COVID-19 Employer Pulse Survey is that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to pandemic era challenges. In discussing the results during our December 16 webinar, our goal is to give you a stronger sense of what solutions are available and what comparable organizations are doing in your industry and your region. In developing a better understanding of your competitors and peers, you may develop a stronger vision of your organization’s future amid a period of unprecedented change.
To register, click on the link below.
About the Author
Vice President of Market Research
Spring Consulting Group, an Alera Group Company
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