79% of americans value health over work after pandemic

Survey Finds Major Shift in Employee Mindset: Health Over Productivity

And 91% Say Employers are Responsible for Health

Experience brings both renewed priorities and new expectations. While it’s clear there will be new priorities and expectations from the employee-employer relationship, there has been much uncertainty from organizations as to what those are. 

In April, R-Zero partnered with The Harris Poll to survey office workers across the U.S., in an effort to better understand how the employee mindset has shifted after a year of working from home.

  • What are employees’ greatest concerns as they return to the workplace, and what are their expectations of employers?
  • What changes do employees want and more importantly, expect, to see in the workplace?
  • And what will make them feel safe returning?

What we discovered: Employees now possess a powerful new awareness of the impact their office environments — and therefore their employers — have on their overall health. After over a year of living with the pandemic, employees expect significant changes in the office workplace – to not only protect them from COVID-19, but all common illnesses (think the seasonal flu, common cold, etc). This critical workplace transformation is paving the way for innovation and technology that better addresses how organizations safeguard human health. 

The New Corporate Health Responsibility report dives into the findings of this survey and what they mean for corporate employers, while providing actionable insights for employers to improve the health and safety of indoor work environments long-term. 

Here are some of the key findings from our study. You can read the full report here. 

Priorities Have Shifted, Putting a Greater Focus on Health Than Ever Before

The pandemic has and will continue to transform every part of our lives. With reported levels of loss, stress and burnout higher than ever before, American employees are now putting their health first – 79% say the pandemic has led them to value their health over work more than ever. This is a major shift in the mentality of the American workforce. 88% of surveyed office workers feel they have a responsibility to not get co-workers sick, indicating gone are the days of downing DayQuil and “powering through” the workday when we feel under the weather. What results on the other side of this, though, is a workforce that will take action if they don’t feel safe. Employees now expect employers to make significant changes in the office workplace, to not only protect them COVID-19, but all common illnesses. For employers, the consequence of not acting? People will leave. As indicated by our survey, over 3 in 5 American employees would look for another job if their employer didn’t implement sufficient infection prevention protocols at the office.

This sends a critical message to corporate employers: Healthy spaces are no longer just about COVID. 

Survey results banner.

Employees Believe Working in an Office Makes Them More Likely to Get Sick

After a year of working from home to protect ourselves and our families from COVID-19, it turns out Americans (40%) reported getting sick less. As a result of this newfound realization that our health can be better, 65% of employees say their biggest fear about going back to the office is the increased likelihood of getting sick. For over a year now, Americans have had to follow unprecedented safety protocols in order to protect themselves from COVID-19’s severe consequences. This has led to an acute awareness around how infectious diseases, in general, spread. In our survey, 78% of Americans believe offices in particular are a breeding ground for infectious illnesses, and that going back to the office will put their health at risk regardless of whether someone has been vaccinated. In fact, 83% of Americans think that even though people are getting vaccinated for COVID-19, employers should still make every effort to offer better cleaning protocols to help keep employees protected from all kinds of infectious illnesses.

Survey results in an infographic.

Employers are Responsible for the Health + Safety of Employees in the Office

There is a new employee mindset around sick days and the responsibility of employers to safeguard people’s health. 91% of surveyed employees believe their employer is responsible for ensuring safety not just from COVID-19, but all other infectious illnesses at the office. That sentiment increases among a higher paid workforce – as those with an annual HHI of $100k+ hold their employer more responsible for both their health, as well as implementing safety protocols at the office, than those with an annual HHI of less than $50k. Taking steps to create a healthy workplace is no longer a “nice to have,” rather, a requirement that cannot be ignored. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, research showed that companies prioritizing health, safety and wellness in the workplace saw increasingly positive returns. A Harvard University study reported that for every dollar spent on employee health and wellness, medical costs decrease $3.27 and absenteeism drops $2.73 — a 6:1 ROI. A recent study from the Integrated Benefits Institute reported in 2019 alone, poor employee health cost U.S. employers $575B and 1.5B days of lost productivity. 

Today, when it comes to ensuring health and safety in the office workplace, among the most important things American employees believe employers are responsible for providing are: Hand sanitizer (62%), implementing ongoing enhanced disinfection protocols (48%), and air cleaning systems throughout the workplace (45%). 

"Americans think their employer should be responsible for the following at the office" infographic.

The Bottom Line

For most employees in the U.S., health and safety is a non-negotiable as they return to the office. The consequence for employers who fail to do this? People will leave. 

The ROI of a healthy office is, simply put, an organization’s highest performing workforce. Leveraging advanced biosafety technologies (like hospital-grade UV-C) to improve the safety of indoor environments (and the health of those inside them) is now a competitive advantage for attracting top talent. We expect to see a significant reallocation in talent to companies that invest in creating and maintaining healthy work environments.

Ultimately, employers must not forget that a global health crisis is what triggered this new era of workspace transformation. The aftereffects of which have permanently heightened social consciousness about health and wellness in the workplace. 


This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of R-Zero between April 1-5, 2021 among 982 adults ages 18+ who are employed full-time/part-time, among whom 823 worked in an office before COVID-19, and 185 who worked in an office before COVID-19 but currently work from home. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.  

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