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Survey: Personal Health, Sustainability Top Priorities for Employees Returning to the Office

Returning to the office is causing a growing rift between workers and managers, according to a new report from NEXT Energy Technologies Inc. The report shows most employees (74%) are willing to leave their jobs if existential issues like health and sustainability are not adequately addressed in the workplace.

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NEXT says it surveyed more than 450 remote employees and more than 150 senior managers and C-suite decision-makers across business verticals to better understand employees’ priorities in considering a return to in-person office spaces. The report, The Case for Office Space: How Buildings Need to Change to Suit a Climate-Conscious, COVID-Weary Workforce, found that in a quickly rebounding economy, a changed and newly empowered workforce has clear conditions about health and sustainability for their offices.

Productivity Is Steady, but Companies and Employees Split on Returning to the Office

While both employers and employees agree WFH has not diminished overall productivity, they are starkly split on what to do next: One-third (32%) of companies represented in the report are requiring employees to return to the office full-time now that the COVID threat is subsiding.

“We’re seeing a standoff between companies that, for a variety of legitimate reasons, want their staff to return to in-person offices and a high-demand workforce that is holding more decision-making power than ever before,” said Daniel Emmett, founder and CEO of NEXT.

Employees Want Control Over Their Health Through Office Space Influence

When asked to recall their old in-person work schedules, 57% of employees said working in the office negatively impacted their health. Employees cited a number of factors they believed took a toll on their health, primarily their mental health, a lack of sunlight, and inadequate space between employee workstations.

Employees Prioritize Climate and Sustainability

With a heightened appreciation and outlook of their personal health, many workers are focusing on how external factors, those beyond their control, impact their physical well-being. A large majority (83%) believe that the environment, and the imminent climate crisis, play a direct role in their health. According to the report, employees are looking for an office-environment overhaul; they want to have influence over the company’s health and wellness measures moving forward.

“We all went through a lot in the past year, and not just because of the COVID pandemic. Wildfires, extreme heat, droughts, floods, and other unpredictable climate events are all taking a toll on people’s well-being,” continued Emmett.

Companies, however, are not entirely on board with this change. Close to half (42%) of decision-makers said their employees do not currently have influence over their company’s health and wellness measures while 82% of employees believe they should.

“Most rational people, including business decision-makers, understand that the climate crisis is directly linked with their individual health. Employees being asked to return to work are not willing to compromise their beliefs,” concluded Emmett.

Most Companies Not Doing Enough

With the link from health to the climate crisis directly drawn, sustainability measures naturally fall into employees’ expectations for healthy offices, according to the report. Employees expect their companies to take the climate crisis seriously in conjunction with the ongoing pandemic, and they want their business leaders to make changes to the office that reflect this.

The two important factors employees want to be addressed in their workspaces are renewable energy (66%) and reduced reliance on single-use materials (51%). More than half (53%) of decision-makers said they’d be willing to implement more energy-saving and generating features in the office to meet employees’ needs.

Eighty-five percent (85%) of decision-makers believe that overall, their company is meeting some or all of its employees’ expectations for a healthy office environment—employees surveyed in the report did not share that sentiment.

To read more about employees’ and companies’ attitudes around the return to the office, download the full report here.

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